What is body image? Body image refers to a person’s feelings of the aesthetics and sexual attractiveness of their own body. In the simplest term and most convenient definition, body image is how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror.
Human society has at all times placed great value on beauty of the human body and the pursuit of the “perceived ideal” has lead to body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, the proliferation of plastic surgery, self loathing and depression. So why do we care so much what we look like? Why do we allow societal expectation and perceptual ideals to define what we look like? And why is self-value tied into our outer appearances? Because we have been programmed to think that way.
The “male” ideal has always been defined as having small joints, low body fat, large round muscles, broad shoulders and a small waist. From a young age, this is the image we males strive for as it has been imprinted on our subconscious. Ancient Greek statues portrayed the gods as lean and muscular. Advertising and media has programmed men to believe that women want beach muscles (aka. Charles Atlas) or the highly coveted six pack-washboard abs. Even the comic book Super Heroes we all grew up emulating were always built like competitive bodybuilders.
Although the “male” ideal has remained relatively constant throughout time, the “female” ideal has evolved from one that covets curves and shape all over (the voluptuous Venus de Milo) and a relatively realistic and healthy image to the modern day images splashed over Fashion Magazines and Entertainment Periodicals. Long lean legs and arms, flat tummies, round bottoms, large breasts and wasp-like waists. Once again, this is what society ,through advertising and media, has imposed upon women and girls from the time they put down their “anatomically correct” baby dolls and pick up their first “Barbie”. Trust me, we’re all programmed to think “I wanna look good naked”.
Now I know there are some people reading this who are saying, “I honestly couldn’t care less what people think about how I look!!”. But be honest with yourself, do you handpick which pictures you post on Facebook? Do you cringe at the thought of wearing a revealing bathing suit or tight outfit? Have you ever postponed meeting an old high school boyfriend or girlfriend (or even friend) for coffee because of how much you’ve changed? Be honest… are you 100% fine with everything the way it is?
What I’m getting at is this; we all care to some degree about how we look. If we didn’t there would be no gyms, no fitness infomercials, no “aesthetic” plastic surgery, no diet programs and no fashion industry. We DO care how others see us, and we DO care how we look to ourselves. However, I strongly believe that individuals should define their own body image!! It should be customized to that person’s specific requirements as they relate to health and wellness, and personal comfort.
Genetics should play a major role in realistic expectations. I think most of us want to change something about our appearance, so move toward this change with realism and honesty… and do not be sabotaged by the media. People naturally come in different sizes and builds, and that’s okay. Your body is okay and your size is okay.
Because first and foremost I write this blog as it pertains to fitness, I want to discuss how even a basic investment in fitness and activity can help to consolidate a healthy body image. Ok, so from a purely physical standpoint, what can we do to improve our own body image? Simple; pre-define what it is that will make you happy in your own terms, factoring in the following; age, activity level, genetics, commitment and time management. You have to start with a SPECIFIC goal or target, without specificity, the target is ambiguous. If you say “I want to lose weight” you will not succeed because there is no accountability. It’s not until you decide HOW MUCH weight and WHEN you want to lose it by that you can start towards the goal. Be specific and be realistic!!
You also need to realize that with age comes limitation with muscular capacity, flexibility, and cardio-respiratory capacity. So if you are currently inactive, start slow and follow a basic regime. You can always work harder as you get fitter. Aside from dangerous and expensive surgeries, you cannot change your genetics, so work with what you have.
Focus on the aspects of your body that you DO like! Train to improve other area’s but take pride in the positives whether it be eye color, hair style, leg length, curve, muscles size…it doesn’t matter…everybody has something they like about themselves. At the same time, set small, attainable, frequent goals for yourself.
An example would be “Today during my walk, I plan on jogging for 3 sets of lamp poles”. Take pride in that accomplishment! Not only will it boost your self-esteem but it will inspire and motivate you to set loftier goals the next time… maybe 5 sets of lamp poles. You also have to invest time into this, and it is an investment.
We live in an age where time is a premium, but if it’s truly important we make time, if it’s not important then we make excuses. Commit to change, changing your routine will change your appearance and will change your outlook. You need to commit to a minimum of 3 times per week for 20-40 minutes per session. That is approximately 1% of your time per week… 1%!!!!
Also remember to be patient and stay the course. Give the program a minimum of 12 weeks. It takes 4 weeks for you to see a change, 8 weeks for friends and family to see a change and 12 weeks for the rest of the world to see a change. By constantly changing our goals, and by making them small and attainable we set ourselves up for success and that frequent success leads to positive self talk, positive self image and by affiliation, positive body image.
So if you want to get started on setting up a program, begin on line. If you need help, do some research, check into local gyms. Ask around your office as to what others do. Don’t be shy and don’t be intimidated. There are facilities and programs out there for everybody, for every fitness level and you need to be comfortable and not intimidated. Be healthy and be happy!
Peter Courtney is the Director of Sales for 360fit in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He lives in Sackville, Nova Scotia with his wife Carmelle and step daughters Lauren and Jenna.