Body image is a perception of our body, and simultaneously, a measure of our attractiveness. It is very closely linked to self-esteem and how much we value ourselves, or believe we are valued by others.
Female body image is a product of personal, social and cultural experiences, and often emerges as a desire to adhere to an “ideal” body shape. Unfortunately, very few, if any, can achieve the airbrushed perfection portrayed in the media.
Hence, many women tend to have an inaccurate perception of their appearance, often believing themselves to be larger and fatter than they actually are. The combined consequence is that many women feel trapped in a cycle of dieting and continual feelings of failure and guilt. In some cases, this may lead to disordered eating patterns, eating disorders and negative outcomes on general physical health.
Body image issues can be a long-term challenge for some women, but they can also emerge at specific periods. The stresses and strains of life, work and family can find expression in altered or lower than usual body image.
Physical and hormonal changes after pregnancy and childbirth, and the onset of the menopause, can often lead to weight gain and be a negative influence on female body image, and create feelings of distress and shame.
Comorbidity with gastrointestinal problems, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which induces hormonal and physical imbalances, can have a huge impact on our perception and attitude towards our body.
The slowing of the metabolism with age might lead to weight gain in older women, together with loose and aging skin.
This can create feelings of fear and anxiety as body shape changes with aging.
Subsequently, the social comparison with younger women can negatively influence body image perception of older females.
Finally, a feminist perspective on body image supports the idea that body dissatisfaction in women emerges from cultural believes around how an ‘ideal’ female body should look.
Most girls from a young age take care of their looks and appearance, and are pressured to have an ideal size of different body parts.
Subsequently, many women are faced with sexual exploitation, as the female body is idealized and seen as an ‘object’ by men creating feelings of misogyny and promoting behaviours of sexual harassment.
Here are some ways your thoughts, feelings and behaviours may change as you become increasingly distressed with your body image: