Understanding Body Image on a Spectrum - Counselors Understanding Body Image on a Spectrum - Counselors

Understanding Body Image on a Spectrum

Body image is how one sees their body and it is subjective. That is, the body image one has in their mind (seeing oneself as too thin/too fat/too) does not always match the objective numerical measure seen on the scale. 

On the negative end is Body Shaming. Body shaming is done when we pass well-intentioned comments like; “You have gained a lot of weight! Better be careful”, “Oh, when did you become so fat?”, “You would be so much prettier if you lost the weight”, “I know this exercise that will help you lose that belly fat”. In spite of your good intentions, the truth is Body shaming is not helpful and does NOT make one Healthy. These comments essentially shame the person for having a certain type of body- a kind of body that is not good enough. 

Body image

We body shame people around us and even ourselves over how our body looks thinking that if we do not criticize ourselves and people around us over how our body looks or has changed – in terms of being fat/obese or weight gain, we are letting ourselves and our loved ones being unhealthy and aren’t caring enough for their health. What we do not realize is when we body shame ourselves or our loved ones- we are harming their physical and mental health because of the sense of shame and guilt these comments create. These comments have a negative impact on physical and mental health. So, what are some physical and mental health impacts of body shaming? 

Low self-esteem 

Negative self-image 

Body dissatisfaction 



Disordered eating (bingeing, consumption of laxatives, purging – purposeful throwing up of food consumed, consuming harmful fad diets – like only drinking liquids, starving oneself for long periods of time, over-exercising) 

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If not body shaming, how do I take care of myself/my loved ones? Body shaming is one end of the body image spectrum. On the other end of the body image spectrum is Body Positivity. What is Body Positivity? 

Body Positivity means to treat all bodies with love, respect, and dignity irrespective of how the body looks and its size. It aims to challenge the unrealistic beauty standard that is set for men (Men should have abs and muscles) and women (the infamous 36-24-36). It means appreciating its uniqueness and realness or what popular media calls flaws such as the extra layer of fat, cellulite, stretch marks, and everything else. For example, my arms are fat and saggy and this sagginess is natural. 

Body positivity is a social movement that has gained vast momentum in social media and is now slowly gaining a foothold as well. We can see it with more plus-size stores opening up,

with more plus-size models walking on the runway, more plus-size actors getting roles other than the funny fat best friend. 

However, some people fear that being body positive is promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. That fear is unfounded and research has found the opposite. Body positivity research has found that practicing body positivity: 

Increases self-esteem 

Improved body image 

and this improved self-esteem and self-image motivate individuals to practice better self-care and cultivate healthy lifestyle habits such as healthy eating of fiber and protein and exercising regularly. 

Body Positivity while a healthier perspective toward one’s body image has still received its own share of criticisms. The major one is, it still puts one body and looks in the center and continues looking at others and self as objects. This is how Body Neutrality- the mid point in the spectrum of body image came to be. 

Body Neutrality means accepting the body for what is, that is ACCEPTING one’s body for how it looks and what it does without seeing it from the lens of positive (as body positivity) or negative (body shaming). It means appreciating your body for all that it does – physical and mental abilities. For example – my arms, however, they look, help me write my diary and cook my favorite food. 

Body neutrality, while not as popular as body positivity is gaining more traction as people become aware of it. Body neutrality has a positive impact on physical and mental health as it encourages acceptance and an attitude of non-judgment towards the body through the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness means being fully grounded – body and mind in the present moment. Being mindful helps individuals be better tuned to their bodies and hence are better able to meet their bodies’ needs and because of this, one eats and sleeps as much as one’s body requires. Being mindful also avoids the risk of over-exercising or doing exercises that leads to aches and pains. 

So, what is better Body Positivity or Body Neutrality? 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach. It is on you to figure it out. 

If seeing your body in a positive light by appreciating its uniqueness is what motivates you to practice a healthier lifestyle – then body positivity may be the approach for you. If you think that body positivity still places too much emphasis on the body and prefer to accept your body as it is – then body neutrality with mindful healthy living may be more suited for you. 

Whatever approach you choose to believe, the ultimate aim is to have a more positive and realistic body image. A body image that motivates you to be healthy – mind and body wise and not one that makes you set unrealistic standards of beauty that media sets. A body image that is flexible enough to accommodate and even appreciate the changes that happen in one’s body with the passage of time instead of shaming them.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQ23qK3CPyo


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