Paul Ferdinand Schilder (1886-1940), an Austrian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and student of Sigmund Freud, was the first to coin the phrase body image in his book The Image and Appearance of the Human body. Schilder contributed greatly towards including psychoanalytic theory in psychiatry.
Body image, in medicine and psychology refers to a person's emotional attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of their own body. The term is used when discussing various disorders and illnesses, such as body dysmorphic disorder, body integrity identity disorder, eating disorders, and somatoparaphrenia.
Every single one of us has a body image. We cannot avoid having feelings about how we look; it is part of human nature. We are influenced by how we imagine others might see us. People's overall body image can range from extremely negative to very positive.
It is normal to like some parts of your body and dislike others. Body image refers to the overall perception, not just certain parts of your body. It refers to how comfortable we feel in our bodies, how much in control we feel, how agile we are, as well as our attractiveness.
In our society today, body image has become significantly influenced by the media - TV, the press, the Internet, radio, magazines, etc.
Over the last few hundred years, women have tended to be under pressure to look nice, have tiny waistlines, and curvaceous bodies - often, the target ideal body was an unnatural one. During some periods, they had to endure much more pain to "look good" than they do today.
A woman wearing a straight-front corset, 1905. Women used to endure extreme discomfort and pain to acheive tiny waistlines
How do we shape our body image?People's body images do not develop in isolation. We are influenced by those around us and our culture. Families and friends convey to us positive and negative messages regarding our bodies continuously - virtually as soon as we are born. Studies have shown that children brought up in families where parents enjoy physical exercise and explain the benefits of being physically healthy tend to have a more positive body image, compared to those who are criticized for the way they look.
Our age - during our lives we go through several milestones, from prepubescent childhood, puberty, menopause (females), andropause (males), to old age. During these milestones, our body image may change.
Illnesses, which are more prevalent as we age, may also change how we feel about our bodies. A man with prostate cancer who had a radical prostatectomy, and the urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction that often follows, is likely to feel very different about his body; woman with breast cancer who had to have her breast removed as well. For a cancer patient, body image is more of a battle for identity than looking good.
Emotional state - our emotional states can go through different phases during our lives. A couple which initially enjoyed affection and love may find their body images change if the relationship suffers from prolonged stress. People living in war zones tend to have more negative perceptions of their bodies.
The impact of the media in body imageThroughout history, art, poetry, literature, fashion, and other societal factors have had an impact on how people have perceive human beauty. However, it was not until the creation of silent movies, and then the introduction of televisions into our homes, that humans were exposed to so many hours each week of themes linked to how we should look. Today, there is concern and alarm that the overall impact of the media has become so powerful, that people, especially young girls and young women, are progressively comparing themselves to clinically underweight professional models, and setting themselves unrealistic and unnatural targets.
The fashion industry has for many decades paraded underweight females when displaying their wares. Being as thin as current fashion models is not only detrimental for physical health, but may also damage mental health. Many say that the increased rates of eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, are partly due to more females having a negative body image, caused by media exposure.
In March 2012, the Israeli parliament passed a new law banning clinically underweight models from catwalks.
Some studies have shown that females in "Western" societies, where thinness is promoted as good, have higher rates of eating disorders and negative body images than elsewhere; but others have shown there is no difference.
The definition of a positive body imageIf you have a positive body image you are happy about the way you look and feel good about your body. You may realize that your looks do not match what is presented in the media, or what family members might say, but you carry yourself with pride.
You do not have an urge to become thinner or taller or to change any of your physical features in order to expect to gain a positive body image. Having a positive body image is about how you feel about yourself, how you feel inside.
Being physically fit has a positive impact on how you feel about your body. If you feel agile and know you can run up the stairs, do the gardening, move furniture about, carry heavy shopping from your car to your home, you are much more likely to have a positive body image. A study at the University of Florida found that the simple act of exercise can convince people that they look better, without necessarily having to be physically fit.
A positive body image is seen as one based on reality - the individual sees himself/herself as they really are. They accept parts of their body that are not ideal, but are generally happy with the way they look and feel.
Psychologists say that a feeling of self-worth should not be linked to how we look. People who realize this tend to feel good about their appearance.
A study carried out at the University of Arizona found that women who had high family support and minimum pressure to become thin and beautiful had a more positive body image.
Definition of a negative body imagePeople with a negative body image feel that their looks do not measure up to what society, family, friends, and the media expect. There is a feeling of inadequacy when they compare themselves to others, which they tend to do more frequently than those with a positive body image.
Usually, people with a negative body image are not being realistic. When they look in the mirror, they see parts of their body in a distorted, unreal way. They do not see who/what they really are.
It is normal to have negative thoughts about certain parts of one's body now and again. If the way you see yourself overall is negative, and this perception persists for a long time, it could be a sign of a problem, and possibly a serious one, psychologists say.
Researchers from the University of Illinois found that normal weight and underweight girls who had a distorted belief that they weighed too much were much more likely to pursue unsafe weight-loss behaviors than their peers who could accurately assess their weight status.
Women who engage in fat talk tend to have more negative body images, researchers from Northwestern University reported. Fat talk means talking negatively about the shape and size of their bodies.
Are women are more dissatisfied with their bodies than men?Right from childhood until old age, females tend to be more dissatisfied with their bodies than men. However, according to some recent studies, men are starting to catch up. Experts believe it is because the media has started targeting males more heavily.
It seems that throughout their lives men place more importance on their physical appearance than women, although women are more frequently dissatisfied with their body image.
Research has also shown that as women get older, their appearance becomes less of a stressful issue. Even during their college years, young women become less dissatisfied with their bodies during their second year. College males, on the other hand, are more dissatisfied during their second year.
Both men and women become less negatively bothered about their physical as they age. During late middle and old age, the functional aspects of the body become more important. Men take longer than women to become less affected by how they look as they get old.