By Sergio Vignali, MD
Women who struggle with the image they see when they look into the mirror are not alone.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), body image is a very real and common battle for American women. Women are bombarded on a daily basis with images that set an unrealistic and, in some cases, unhealthy ideal of what they should look like. The message: Women need to be thin or appear young in order to be valued.
A poor body image can have a negative impact upon a woman’s health, and lead her to diet in a way that doesn’t give her appropriate calories or contribute to the development of an eating disorder.
Women need to remember that a healthy body is not always linked to appearance. Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Changing a woman’s body image requires her to change the way she thinks about herself as well as the lifestyle choices she makes, the HHS says. Healthy eating can promote healthy skin and hair, along with strong bones. It also helps a woman maintain a strong immune system. Regular exercise has been shown to boost self-esteem, self-image and energy levels. And adequate rest is vital to managing stress.
A woman’s body image may be formed throughout life from those she trusts such as friends, parents and teachers. As a result, women need be mindful of the girls in their lives that they influence. Studies have shown that girls who show concern over their own image have mothers who have been concerned about their own appearance. Young girls pick up on comments made by women in their lives even if they are not intended for them or are said in a harmless manner.
The body image battle may seem like an uphill struggle at times, but it doesn’t have to guarantee defeat. Women can help create a healthier body image by following these steps:
Seek support — Begin by forming a support group that consists of loved ones who can help improve your perceived body image and increase your level of confidence. Find a partner and agree to help one another to eat healthier and stay active.
Create healthy expectations — Find out what a healthy weight should look like for you. Every woman’s ideal weight is different according to her height. A good place to start is to consult body mass index (BMI) calculator. A woman’s BMI indicates if she is overweight, on target or underweight.
Shift your thoughts — Identify negative or distorted thoughts about your body and make a choice to arrest them before they go any further. Learn to challenge unrealistic assumptions about your body appearance. Lean on the help of friends or counselors who can help you change your thought processes.
Learn to discern — The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) encourages women to become a critic of what the media places before you. This includes both advertisements and posts made by others on social media. Pay attention to images, slogans or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself and choose to decrease your exposure to them in the future.
Sergio Vignali, MD, is an OB/Gyn physician with Premier Health Specialists who practices at Upper Valley Women’s Center in Troy.