How to cultivate a positive body image this summer
This blog was written by Kevin Vermeer, President and CEO of Unity Point Health:
It’s mid-July, and we’re well into summer by now. The pools are packed, and Iowans everywhere are outside taking advantage of the fleeting Midwestern sunshine and warmth.
But for those that have yet to dust off the storage boxes with your favorite tank tops, shorts or swim suits — you’re not alone. How we feel about the way our bodies look starts at a young age and can stay with us through adulthood if we aren’t proactive about shifting the way we feel about ourselves.
Todd Jenkins, licensed marriage and family therapist, UnityPoint Health, explains how body image develops and some things we can do to build a more positive body image this summer.
Positive vs. Negative Body Image
“My definition of body image is the internalized image of a person’s body appearance,” Jenkins says. “It’s how a person thinks their body is perceived by other people. It’s almost as much of a feeling as it is a visual image.”
He says there are negative and positive body images.
“Someone with a negative body image may decline going to concerts or events with large groups of people because they don’t want to be the heaviest person attending. They might be self-conscious that other people are noticing their weight. That’s clearly a negative body image, because it’s impacting their activity level, it’s affecting socialization and recreation,” Jenkins says.
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A positive body image is harder to describe, Jenkins says, because it’s just not discussed as much. He gives this example.
“Say a person goes from not working out for several years, then gets back into a healthier routine at the gym. They start feeling better, their body feels better, they like how their clothes fit. That is what I see as a positive body image,” Jenkins says.
Signs of Negative Body Image
Jenkins says body image usually begins to develop around puberty or during high school. It’s based on a lot of things: feedback from peers, feedback from parents and other adults, comparison to peers and all sorts of media and observation in mirrors and photographs. He says by the time most people get to the mid-20s, body image is more fixed.
“Men tend to be more preoccupied with musculature, size and height. Women, on the other hand, are generally self-aware of excess body weight,” Jenkins says.
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If a parent or guardian is concerned about their young adults, Jenkins says to look for these signs of negative body image:
- Negative comments. An example is if your child says, “I’m too fat.”
- Refusing activities. Especially if they are refusing activities they’ve done before, because they’re self-conscious.
- Unnecessary dieting. This is especially common in high school girls. Instead of cutting calories or fad diets, parents should help young adults focus on healthy eating and being active.
- No desire to put on a swimsuit. Those who have a negative body image may prefer to hide behind their clothes.
Jenkins says, unfortunately the signs of a negative body image, or body insecurities, are pretty common. He says it’s a cultural thing in the United States, where we have such strict body norms about what is the so-called “right” body size.
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If someone is avoiding activities due to a negative body image, it’s time to consider talking to a counselor to improve their quality of life. Otherwise, if a friend or family member notices someone is struggling with body image, try getting them to talk about it. Jenkins knows it can be uncomfortable, so it’s important that these conversations happen in very trusting relationships.
Solutions to Body Image Issues
Jenkins has four pieces of advice for anyone trying to embrace a more healthy, positive body image. If you’re a parent or guardian, it’s appropriate to use these tactics at young ages, too, especially before puberty.
- Don’t be critical. Try to avoid negative comments about anybody’s body. Instead, point out the positives.
- Don’t dwell on weight. Limit discussion about weight and size, but emphasis being healthy and active.
- Talk about the body. Bodies can be an uncomfortable topic. But, be open whenever it comes up in discussion.
- It’s not all about appearance. Take notice that people don’t judge a book by its cover. Our bodies can do amazing things.
For more insight from Jenkins and to learn more about body image, read the rest of the article here.
Kevin Vermeer assumed the role President and CEO of UnityPoint Health (formerly Iowa Health System) in January 2016. He's served the organization in a variety of leadership roles since 2000. Vermeer has over two decades of experience managing financial operations for leading health care organizations. Vermeer participates in community organizations, such as the Iowa Business Council and Greater Des Moines Committee. Vermeer also serves on the Healthiest State Initiative Board.