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January 10, 2011

Body Image and Social Communication

Body Image is a person's own thoughts, feelings and evaluation of its own body, specifically attributed to aesthetics and attractiveness. In fact, most of us are quite good in size and shape which are strictly adhered with our genetically predisposed features and inherited physical aspects. We are not mass produced and processed in large factories by machines. We mostly get what our parents, grand-parents and genetic lineage give to us, along with a few mutations.
 
However, most of us frequently, unnecessarily, compulsively and obsessively compare themselves with some contemporary and widely advertised standards of physical beauty which are entirely based upon a few fashion models, actors, actresses, athletes and celebrities who entirely don't represent the diversity of the entire human population. Most surprisingly, most of them too suffer from the negative body image because it's not prevalent in so-called average and/or below-average looking individuals only.
 
As per observations, the individuals who are regarded as more beautiful and attractive than averagely looking people also suffer from negative body image. You might have heard about some of the very famous and popular female celebrities, models and actresses sliding into depression due to negative or depreciated body image. Some of them openly speak about the same while others don't. That's it!

Body image also corresponds to self-worth and self-esteem. How worthy you feel about and value yourself affects the way you behave with yourself and communicate with others. While choosing, attracting and retaining a partner in a romantic, committed or marital relationship; an individual's body image strongly dictates its biases, preferences, orientations and choices. However, issues originated from negative body images are denied, suppressed and ignored altogether.
 
Obsession to meet hypothetical beauty standards imposed by others leads to physical and psychological disorders that are very difficult to cure. Negative body image can lead to marital, physical and sexual dissatisfaction too. Also, two partners with dissimilar body images might drift apart due to predictive complexes they develop about themselves.
 
Dissimilar body images is the source of many problems.

We simply can’t deny the crucial importance of body image with respect to the ways we approach, communicate, complement, reciprocate, respond to, behave and express both nonverbally and verbally with others, especially the members of the opposite gender, including existing or potential partners in short or long term relations.
 
It has been widely observed by researchers, psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors that persons suffering with negative body image ('bad body syndrome') avoid spontaneous social interactions as much as possible due to lowered or complete lack of self-respect. Also, it's more common in youngsters going through or following puberty.

Following are of the some combined nonverbal and behavioral clues of individuals suffering from moderate to severe negative body image:

1) They smile very rarely, laugh hardly, walk slowly and appear psychologically occupied, lacking energy and under-confident. They appear depressed, derailed, lost and lacking enthusiasm.

2) They get nervous very quickly and ruminate a lot. They adapt defensive or withdrawal postures most of time. They engage themselves in petty tasks for a long time. 

3) They refrain themselves from exposures, interactions, open discussions or debates. They avoid direct eye contact. They don’t take initiatives by themselves.

4) They seat with arched back and maintain downward gaze mostly. They use excessive grooming gestures and try to seek attention of others towards themselves.

5) Generally, they stay closer with others who suffer with negative body image. They feel paralyzed when they are isolated from such individuals or their group(s).

6) They may also impulsively defend to somebody commenting on their appearance even if it’s a gag or a joke because they feel very pity about themselves.

7) They may express jealousy towards individuals (irrespective of gender, age and looks) having positive body image and confidence. They keep them away.

8) They pass sarcastic, jealous or derogatory comments in the absence of a individual whom they suppose to be more beautiful and good looking than themselves.

9) They are more likely to develop eating disorders which are widely known as Bulimia and Anorexia. They hardly realize that their eating habits are harmful.

10) They frequently peep into mirrors and try different attires that don't match or suit with their present social or professional profile, image, designation or status.
 
11) They pass immature, illogical and offensive comments to the individuals from their own families about their physical attributes which they perceive as negative.

12) They mostly prefer good looks over performance, purpose, functioning, design and utility. They try to feel the deep inner void of negative body image with good looking things.

13) They buy different cosmetic products, cloths and accessories in a huge amount in attempt to enhance their exteriors to compensate the lack of self-worth.
 
14) They copy others blindly with the hope of matching their social and approval status. They remain eager to hear from others the kind of things which enhances their self-worth.
 
15) They assume themselves as incapable, incompetent, unfit and unworthy in giving their best, trying to or even initiating something on their own.

Most women suffer from negative body image world over and there are very strong reasons behind the same. By most, women are appreciated, valued, accepted and rewarded entirely on the basis of attractiveness, physical beauty, good looks and skin color in the male-dominant environments, economies, societies, communities and families. Hence most women focus on their exteriors more than knowledge, personality, thoughts, opinions, aspirations, virtues, skills, qualities, strengths, talents, health, nutrition, well-being, fitness and performability.
 
Exposure leads to comparison, insecurity and urge of acceptance.
 
Especially after World War II and industrial revolution, wide-spread education and socio-economical transformations availed opportunity to millions of women for working in offices, factories and stores. Facing, interacting, traveling, talking and coming in close contact with each other in a large number and on a wider (geographical) scale made women more conscious and anxious about physical beauty and competitive over the same than ever before. Print and electronic media intensified it.

Increasing wide-spread of television, social media, advertisement and fashion industry that thrives on massively materializing female (and even male) physical beauty began propagating and establishing the illusionary standards and measurements that women started to chase desperately. Feeling about lack of control, insecurity and economical freedom fueled it ultimately. Global multi-billion hike in cosmetic product sale, medications and therapies is the strong indication of the same.

Following pregnancy, most women develop negative body image due to sudden change in their body shape, size and weight. Lack of personal care, lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and partner's shifted focus could make it worse. Many women might choose very weird, unusual or illogical strategies, ways, tools and methods to re-evaluate self-worth, re-establish self-respect and re-gain confidence which are not easily, seriously and duly felt, understood, acknowledged, sensed, recognized, accepted, respected or reciprocated by most of their own male partners (in committed relationships).
 
How much you respect and love your own body?
 
If their male partners have focused their entire attention towards their (newborn) babies and/or work, some (working) women suffering from negative body image after pregnancy might start unconsciously and dramatically expressing their unsettling urge of re-evaluating self-worth, re-establishing self-respect and re-gaining confidence in front of outsiders, neighbors, colleagues or friends. It could ultimately lead to (emotional) attachment, flirting and affair with those who attend, accompany, affectionate, listen, appreciate, sympathize, respect and reciprocate.

Both men and women can and do inherit negative body image from their parents. Those who inherit them don't realize that their parents were suffering from negative body image in the first place. Also, their preferences for and expectation in marital partners are dictated by their own parent's hidden, suppressed and unfulfilled wishes. However, two siblings can have dissimilar body images.
 
The only way to overcome negative body image is to accept your inheritance, respect your body, keep it more functional, adapt healthy practices and become as asset of society. Equating healthiness, well-being, fitness and performability with beauty should be kept in mind because it lasts longer. Don’t compare your physical features with others at all. Respect diversity and identify your uniqueness.
 

Bringing down your social media time greatly would be the best first step in getting rid of negative body image. Try to realize what your body is truly capable of doing and performing other than appearing (in front of others) because you are not a mannequin, a doll or a puppet.
 
The individuals acutely suffering from negative body image for a prolonged period of time should approach counselors or psychotherapists as early as possible. Don't waste your life!

(Additional Note: Besides Negative Body Image (NBI), another mental health issue related with external appearance of own body is known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). If an individual is suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, appearance of the individual's body negatively affects the ability to live and behave normally. The individual want to fix the issues.)

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