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Body Image and Self Esteem

Updated on January 30, 2015
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JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the author of books for children and adults.

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The way you feel about your body can affect the way you feel about yourself.

Magazines and television advertisements have long been guilty of promoting the “perfect” body shape, although deep down we all realize there is no such thing. But when you’re constantly bombarded by images of beautiful women or men with a six-pack that Adonis would be jealous of, it’s hard to stay objective.

It’s difficult to feel good about yourself if you think you’re ugly, or too fat, or too short, or too tall. It can play havoc with your health as you take steps to rectify problems you see with your figure, especially when those problems are all in your mind.

We all have a natural body shape that we were born with, and the trick is to be able to be happy with what you’ve got. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, after all.

Let’s take a look at how body image affects self esteem in different types of people.

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Body Image and Self Esteem in Women

Sexual equality has come a long way, but there’s still room for improvement. Part of the problem is that women compare themselves to other women, and part of the problem is that women need to feel attractive and sexy.

Movie stars, models and pop singers have whole teams of people working on them before they make a public appearance. They’ve got the resources to take care of themselves and the motivation to maintain a certain look. But catch them first thing on a Sunday morning and you wouldn’t think they were quite so attractive.

Evolution plays a part in the process, too. For a woman, the goal used to be to find a strong, suitable mate who could take care of her and provide for her potential family. To attract the best of the bunch, she needed to dress and look in a manner that hinted she was available. These days the goalposts have been moved, and the players are not as clear cut, but the game remains more or less the same.

Women at work have to present themselves in a certain way as well. Like it or not, the world of work is still a male dominated environment. In order to make an impression, women need to be more than just intelligent. They need to dress in a way that shows they mean business, so when they open their mouth to speak they’re taken seriously. And it’s not just men who have these prejudices; in fact, other women are usually much more critical of a colleague’s appearance and will often exclude them from their circle if they don’t meet requirements.

But the truth is that everybody’s different. Some men are attracted to larger women, and some to small skinny women. Some men like tall women, and others prefer short. Some men like women who wear casual clothes mismatched on purpose, while others prefer the clean-cut image of a lady in a dress or skirt suit. The thing to remember is that you are a unique individual with strengths and weaknesses, and you simply need to accept yourself for who you are and let your personality shine through and do the work for you.

Thin people are not always happy, and fat people are not always sad. The important thing is to stay healthy and focus on what you’ve got, instead of what you think other people want you to have.

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Body Image and Self Esteem in Men

Not every man you meet will be tall, dark and handsome. That’s a good thing; because what makes life so interesting is the variety we see everywhere.

It always surprises me how we can look at an ugly dog or a mangy cat and say: “Oh, isn’t that cute.” And yet if we see a person with imperfections we’re not quite so tolerant.

Very tall men get teased about their height, while short men struggle to be taken seriously. The seven-foot giant yearns to be shorter, while the diminutive five-footer wishes he could grow a few inches. But all tall men aren’t scary, and all short men aren’t aggressive.

What’s more important is what these people are like inside. Men’s roles have changed over time, so that it’s no longer necessary to be a hunter-gatherer. Intelligence, wit and sensitivity are valued more than mere looks these days. It goes without saying that only superficial people care about appearances, and they aren’t the kind of people you’ll be likely to associate with anyway.

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Body Image and Self Esteem in Adolescents

Self esteem issues really begin to set in when we’re teenagers. Physical appearance is important at this stage, as we’re just starting to discover what kind of person we really are. We need the reassurance of “belonging” to a group so that we don’t crumble under the weight of peer pressure.

Some teenagers strive to make themselves resemble their favorite movie stars or pop stars, the idols they see in magazines and on television. But, of course, these people are not “average” by any stretch of the imagination. Young people tend to equate the success and adoration these stars accrue with the way they look, believing that unless they look as good they won’t be worth anything.

It’s hard to feel good about yourself when you’re comparing your body image to a celebrity in a magazine. Some companies are beginning to realize the damage this kind of publicity causes and are representing different age groups and body shapes in their advertisements. But there’s still a long way to go, because profits lie at the root of what they’re trying to achieve.

It’s more important for adolescents to find other ways to build their self esteem. They need to be praised for their intellect, their talents, their energy, their ability to be super optimistic. They need to understand that looks are only important in terms of the way they make you feel inside. Everybody’s different, everybody’s unique, and everybody has the right to be themselves and be accepted for it.

Pop down to your local council office or library. Spend an afternoon at the shopping mall. Notice the people that work in these offices or that pass you by, and you’ll see that they’re all different shapes and sizes. Yet some of them are working in well-paid jobs, some of them are extremely happy, and some of them are living their lives to the full.

Poor body image can shatter a young person’s soul. It can lead to depression, eating disorders, and in some cases even suicide. It’s important for adults to set an example and guide them towards developing friendships, getting involved in healthy pastimes, putting them forward for school activities and generally helping them realize their own sense of worth and the contribution they can make.

Body Image Basics for Boosting Self Esteem

If body image means that much to you, then why not use it to your advantage? Use some of these simple tips to make the best of what you’ve got.

  • Focus on the good bits – which parts of your body do you like the most?
  • Wear clothes that flatter – dress in a way that highlights the bits you like.
  • Celebrate your uniqueness – stop comparing yourself to other people, because they’re probably jealous of the way you look anyway.
  • Treat your body well – take a little bit of exercise whenever you can, and eat foods that nourish and sustain you. Avoid diet fads, fatty foods, drink plenty of water and eat regular healthy meals.
  • Stand tall – good posture instantly makes you look better. It gives you power and confidence, showing the world that you really are worthy.
  • Smile and look straight ahead – when you smile at someone, they’ll be hard pressed not to smile back. Avoid looking down at the ground or off to one side. Face people head on, show them your teeth, and feel your self esteem welling up inside you.

About JohnMello

I'm a freelance writer, author, musician and composer. Visit my self help blog at http://theselfhelpzone.blogspot.co.uk/ for lots of freebies.

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    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      Self esteem is so important, and you offer some very good tips on how to increase low self esteem. I especially like the idea of looking people in the eye and smiling. I've been shy and self conscious my whole life, and tend to look away from people. Think I'll try being more direct. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks mperrottet!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well done. I think that perhaps the self esteem develops a little earlier than you suggest. The old "good dog" bad action, concept starts in toddler times. You did a great job closing with somethings we can all do to improve our self esteem, -- sitting a little taller in my chair now, thanks.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks Ericdierker. I realize that self esteem is an ongoing developmental issue from an early age, I guess it all depends on your background etc. But as the hub deals with body image specifically I think it's more of an issue for older kids, probably pre-teens.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Quite correct: the toddler sees the world as all about him, and the adolescent sees themselves as all about the world.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Nicely put...

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      The tips on the end will definitely help a lot of people. Self esteem goes beyond mere looks. How the family appreciates the person, how friends reinforce perceptions and how society judges peope play significant parts. But in the end, it boils down to how the person can look inward and projects it outwards.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks jpcmc. You're right... it's all about how you feel inside about yourself.

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