What causes negative body image?
Lots of past and current experiences can add up to influence body image. The more ‘negative’ experiences you have, the more likely it is that you suffer from negative body image.
Low self-esteem: stable self-esteem is protective of body image. For those of us with unstable self-esteem, it can seem unconsciously attractive to direct our inner critic to focus on our body, with weight loss then temporarily bolstering self-esteem.
Social comparison: if we have a tendency to negatively compare ourselves to others that we perceive as more attractive, including in the media, this can lead to negative body image.
Family values, expectations and competition: if you grew up in a family with strong expectations for body size, then this can lead to pressure and a feeling of failure if we do not match up to these expectations.
Early puberty: when puberty is reached early, there can be a feeling of difference from peers. Anything that makes us feel different can impact body image, due to body changes in puberty, this can be a particularly sensitive time.
Attention: If you received a lot of attention, particularly related to your looks, then there might be pressure to keep this up, or it might lead to feeling embarrassed about your looks.
Sport experience: competitive sports, particularly gymnastics or dance when body size is often criticised can be particularly damaging to body image. Embarrassing port or P.E. experience can also play a role.
Acceptance or rejection: if you have ever been accepted or rejected because of your size or looks, like not being asked out on a date, or not receiving attention.
Changes in body size: if you have gained or lost lots of weight quickly and had comments about it.
Clothing: if you ever felt left out in some way, such as being dressed differently to your friends.
Comments on your weight, including ‘slimness’: comments about your weight, whether well-intentioned or not, can influence body image. When we get a positive comment, we may seek these out and if we don’t get them again then this can harm body image.
Parents’ shape and attitudes: Did your parents have body image issues? If so, these issues may still be influencing how you feel about yourself. This can be relevant whether you felt similar to your family in terms of body shape, or felt very different.
Dieting: Once you have started restricting and have decided that foods are good or bad, it can be very difficult to go back to food being just food. Restricting food and losing weight can become ‘addictive’ as we seek the ‘rush’ of the number on the scales going down.
Teasing: Being teased for any aspect of your appearance or body can be harmful to body image, unless you have very robust self-esteem.
Physical conditions, including changes: Any physical characteristic that makes us feel ‘different’, including disabilities and any changes to our bodies influence body image.
Traumatic events: Experiencing trauma can lead us to feel separated from our bodies in some way, or uncomfortable within them.