Are you trying to be more body confident but feel confused about where to start? Or are you on the fence, swinging from loving to loathing depending on your reflection in the mirror?
Think about it this way: would you be able to make a soufflé if you didn’t have a recipe? Probably not. So why would it be any different when it comes to your ability to improve your body confidence? (Mind blowing . . . I know).
In the next few pages, I’ll challenge your idea of body confidence—because have you ever stopped and thought, what is body confidence is in the first place? If a magical fairy came to grant you the gift of body confidence, but she had to know exactly what it required, how would you explain it to her? The fact of the matter is, if you can’t define it, how can you achieve it?
In this blog you’ll learn:
- what body confidence actually is (so you can amaze your friends and family with your mad skills)
- why it’s critical you know the difference between body image and body appearance.
- the four ingredients to body image (and how they apply to you).
The emperor has no clothes (and no body confidence either)
A Google search of the term ‘body confidence’ reveals eighty-two million hits, while the search term ‘definition of body confidence’ reveals only sixteen million hits—with not one single definition of body confidence.
This means that although everyone is talking about it, and everyone wants it, no one has yet defined what body confidence actually is. So while it’s all the new craze (and a great one at that!), it’s also like the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes—meaning it’s going to take someone to speak the truth and blast through the bullsh*t to set a precedent. So, let me step up to the plate.
Body confidence is difficult to define because body confidence means so many things to so many people. For example, does it mean:
- being happy with your body?
- accepting your body?
- not hating your body?
- being happy at any size?
- getting surgery to like your body?
- losing weight to love your body?
As you can see, body confidence is . . . #COMPLICATED.
Who’s allowed (and who’s not allowed) to be body confident?
Have a look at these two photos.
The one on the left is of Miranda Kerr. If you don’t know who she is, you can pretty much guess. She’s a famous supermodel. These are just guestimates from a few different websites, but she’s likely around 5’9 (1.75 m) and 119 lbs (54 kg). The woman on the right is Ashley Graham; again, if you don’t know her, she too is a famous supermodel. She is approximately the same height as Miranda Kerr but is about 81 lbs, or 37 kg, heavier.
So here’s my question to you: are you allowed to say you love your body no matter what size or shape, without having haters hate? Or is body confidence achieved when you accept your body even though it isn’t considered the stereotypical, sought-after body of today’s society?
Now, everyone is going to have their own definition of body confidence, and I have my own, which we’ll get to, but I want to first present some facts so you can come to your own decision on what body confidence means to you.
What Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson has to do with body image
You’re probably wondering why I haven’t presented a standardised definition of body confidence. The reason for this is that there actually isn’t one . . . yet. What does exist is a definition for body image, so let’s start there.
I’ve never met a single person who has never thought about their appearance. They may have looked in the mirror and thought anything from, ‘Oh, that’s a bit hairy’ to ‘That’s a bit flabby’. As a result, most of us will put in some effort to improve our looks. We may use makeup, hair gel, Spanx and padded bras to boost our appearance. But does caring about what we look like mean that there is something wrong with our mental state? No, of course not.
Image, not fact
The most important thing to notice about the term body image is the use of the word ‘image’ rather than word ‘appearance’. If we were talking about body appearance, that would be pretty easy to define because it would simply be the appearance of our body. Super simple. Body image, in contrast, is talking about an image, which is more complicated.
Because an image is only a representation of whatever it is you are talking about, there is lots of room for bias. For example, if you look at this image of Dwayne Johnson, otherwise known as The Rock, we all know that he isn’t this tiny in real life. This photograph is simply showing us a representation of what he looks like in real life.
Memories are another way to show how complicated body image is. If you have a fisherman in the family, you’ll understand this one. Let’s say Uncle Bruce comes home after a fishing trip and tells you about a ginormous fish that he caught. He’d show you a photo but . . . the fish fell out of the boat before he could snap one (#nicetry). Uncle Bruce describes this fish being as long as his spread arms spread. But is that how big the fish actually was? Or just how big he perceived it to be?
Body image is complicated because it actually has little to do with your actual, objective appearance, but more to do with your perceptions and attitudes about your body, which may or may not include biases. But here’s the important bit: negative body image isn’t just about perceiving your image negatively¾the tough part is the negative thoughts and feelings that you experience as a result of the image you perceive.
How body image is constructed (psst, it’s kind of like an onion)
Our body image is created from four features, which can each be either positive, negative, or neutral.
- First, it includes your perception about your appearance. This is the tricky component as it’s hard to figure out if your perception is accurate or not. For example, in this photo, is the turquoise face of the cube at the front or the back? Cool, eh? As for your body, what do you see in the mirror that you don’t like? Is it actually there, or is it just what you think is there? The mind can certainly play tricks on us, can’t it?
- Second, it includes your emotions and feelings about your body. For example, how you feel about your height, shape and weight. If you’re short in stature and walk into a room of tall people, do you feel belittled (pun intended)? Or do you not even think about it?
- Next, it includes your thoughts and beliefs about your body. For example, do you believe you’ll be happier if you have bigger boobs or bigger muscles? This is especially complicated as social media portrays attractive people as happier, healthier and more confident. Think about Cinderella and the handsome prince—it wasn’t the ugly stepsisters or the town jester who were the stars of the story. But are attractive people really happier, healthier and more confident?
- Finally, it includes your behaviours due to the way you think you look. For example, I used to over-exercise and under-eat in an attempt to improve the appearance of my body. As a result, I secluded myself from friends and family members, thinking I’d be social again when my appearance was what I wanted it to be. Do you change your behaviours due to your appearance?
The onion body
We can look at the features that make up our body image like the layers of an onion, with each of the features making up a different layer.
- At the core is how we perceive our body.
- Next is how we feel about our body.
- Then what we think and believe about our body.
- And lastly, how we behave due to what we think our body looks like.
Of course, body image and how it is formed is far from a simple matter— hence why I have created an entire online course about it—but for now consider this; there are several factors that will influence your body image, including your past experiences and memories, your religious beliefs, your age, your values and even what you choose to do as a job. Can you think of any factors that may have influenced, or continue to influence, how you think about your body?
Can you fix a complex problem with a simple solution?
To cut a long story short, it took me years, but I’ve finally developed a (working) definition of body confidence (you have to start somewhere!). I developed it by breaking it down into simple parts and looking at individual components:
BODY: a physical structure, including the bones, flesh, and organs, of a person or an animal.
This is fairly clear, right?
CONFIDENCE: a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.
Much less clear, so let’s break it down further.
FEELING: an emotional state or reaction to something.
ABILITY: a talent or skill in a particular area.
QUALITY: a distinctive attribute or characteristic possessed by someone or something.
Now we’re getting somewhere!
‘Body confidence is not relying on your appearance but rather focusing on both your body and mind’s abilities and your distinctive appearance characteristics for your confidence.’
As you can see, body confidence is complicated. I believe it has little to nothing to do with your appearance, and almost everything to do with your thoughts, feelings and beliefs instead. The complicated bit is that your thoughts, feelings and beliefs will not only be individual but influenced by anything from your past experiences, to social factors, to the culture you live in.
Meaning that body confidence will mean something different for everyone. Body confidence is as unique as your DNA.
You’re not taking the bait because you still want the body
Still not sold, are you? I get it. You’re still in the mindset of ‘I need to love the appearance of my body to be body confident’. I get why; I was in that mindset too for years upon years, and indeed, I’m not going to deny that appearance is an important aspect of self-esteem.
It’s important to note that just because you want to change your appearance, whether it’s through weight loss, surgery, makeup, new clothes or cosmetic enhancements, doesn’t mean that you are a cop-out to the world of body image inspiration. Not at all!
The most important thing to as yourself is this: are you relying on your changing your appearance to gain confidence? Because if you are, know this—it’s risky. It would be the equivalent of putting all of your life savings on a hand of poker. Great if you win, life-shattering if you don’t.
Just remember, issues with body confidence are not the same as issues with body weight.
Final summary and action points
Here is your key take-home message:
We often consider negative body image a one-dimensional problem, and therefore try and tackle it in a single dimension. This would be like trying to solve homelessness by just giving a homeless person a home. While this is a great start, it likely doesn’t cover the immense complexity of their situation.
With our own body image concerns, we need to tackle problems with curiosity and investigate our situations from multiple angles. The purpose of this blog is to show that body image has many different layers, and we need to consider them all to improve.
Rather than thinking about your appearance, start to think about the thoughts you have toward your appearance. For example:
- How often do you think about your appearance? Can you aim to reduce this by thinking about something that makes you happy instead? (Such as shoe shopping or cute puppies?)
- What are the most common thoughts you have towards your appearance? Can you modify your language to be kinder to yourself? (Such as swapping ‘My thighs are disgusting’ to ‘my thighs are not what I would like them to be’.)
These seem like such simple tricks, but it’s amazing what an incredible effect they can have on your mindset!
Dr. Katherine x