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Improve your body image

Your self-esteem is linked with the way you see your body. Jitendra Nagpal suggests ways to remain healthy without giving in to unreal visions

education Updated: Oct 21, 2009 09:27 IST
Jitendra Nagpal

How many of us think that our body is just fine the way it is? A reality check tells us that we live in a world in which it has become normal for young people to dislike their bodies — with even eight-year-old girls worrying about their ‘size and shape’.



Since time immemorial, our bodies have been important not only to ourselves, but also to those around us. But what we aspire to these days are faces and bodies in magazines and billboards. These bodies are often literally impossible to attain as they are computer-generated!



In such images, the legs are made longer or thinner, imperfections airbrushed and the perfect face is manufactured through software like Photoshop. Nevertheless, many of us plant such images in our own minds as the benchmark of beauty.



Body image, one part of self-image, is the way people see their bodies in their mind’s eye. It affects self-esteem because physical appearance is the external presentation people make to others. Our society is very appearance-oriented, e.g., thin is in (for women), muscles and flat stomachs are in (for men), etc. If you feel attractive, you will act accordingly; the reverse is true if you feel unattractive.



Our self-image is affected by the ways others react to our physical appearance. But first, self-image is developed by how we assess these factors where we ourselves are concerned – physical appearance; shape of the body; accomplishments in studies and/or athletics; social skills; value system; abilities and competencies; relationship with family, relatives, siblings, peer group; background and environment; roles played in life (in school, home, workplace and in the community); jobs and job titles held; goals and aspirations. It is from our self-image that we develop labels for ourselves and develop scripts as to how we should act to fit that image.



Below are some easy steps to make you feel comfortable about your body

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Make an honest effort to stop talking about diets and imperfect body parts with your friends. Do not fret over it 24/7. This does not mean you should binge all the time and grow irritatingly overweight. Find out your ideal BMI (height-to-weight ratio) through a web calculator and work on maintaining it. And remember, a ‘diet’ simply means what you eat; it does not mean you have to stop eating.



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When you catch yourself criticising your body or what you have eaten, stop and shift your attention elsewhere.



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Get help if you suspect or know that you have an eating disorder. Symptoms are constantly counting calories during mealtimes, always feeling anxious about food and/or trying to bring up what you have just eaten.



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Challenge the unreal media images. Support products with advertisements that feature normal looking and/or normally sized people.



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Start to appreciate your body’s functions, e.g. if your legs can take you through your daily morning jogs, then it does not matter if they are not the most perfect shape.



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Take good care of yourself. Learn to eat well, get moderate exercise and enough sleep, give yourself treats occasionally, and keep supportive people in your life.



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Exercise and move your body for strengthening, health, pleasure, and/or stress reduction. Avoid exercising in desperate, obsessive, or self-punishing ways. Do not get an inch-tape and measure your waist after every gym session.



A positive body image makes one feel comfortable and proud of their body. With a negative body image, one often compares one’s body to others, feeling ashamed, awkward and anxious.



It is important to remember that when you change your body image, you do not change your body, you change the way you think about your body.



The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity & Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at

hthorizons@hindustantimes.com

, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’