Body image, understood as the perception, thoughts and feelings of an individual in relation to their own body, seems to become particularly relevant with the arrival of summer. As temperature increases, people tend to expose more of their bodies, increasing the tendency to compare one's own body with the images or standards of beauty conveyed by society.
Although body image-based social comparison processes are natural, current beauty standards are markedly unrealistic, increasing the likelihood of a clear discrepancy between an individual's current body and an idealized body image. It is precisely this perceived discrepancy that defines body image dissatisfaction, the most likely precursor of body-enhancing behaviors. However, the greater the perceived discrepancy is, the greater the investment in these enhancing behaviors, leading the individual to enter dangerous waters. Indeed, if we think about caloric restriction used as a means of body improvement, we can argue that in the face of this marked discrepancy, an individual may be significantly interfering with his/her “natural weight” or “biologically determined weight”, and probably entering unhealthy restrictive behaviors, with a series of associated harmful consequences.
Other apparently harmless behaviors are the use of weight-loss drugs and overexercising, which, once again, can become extreme in the face of the perception of a big difference between one's own body and the idealized body.
It is not just eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder that require clinical attention. Disturbed eating behavior, even if it does not meet the diagnostic criteria recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, puts the individual at risk for serious health problems. Some warning signs/disorder symptoms of these phenomena are: frequent dieting, accompanied by marked anxiety about certain foods; skipping meals; rigid physical exercise routines; feelings of guilt and shame about food; a level of concern about food, weight and body image that interferes with quality of life; feelings of loss of control over food intake; and the use of physical exercise, food restriction, fasting and/or induced vomiting to compensate for the consumption of “bad foods”. All these symptoms have a markedly negative impact on quality of life, and harmful consequences for the health of the individual in the short, medium, and long-term, being a reason for urgent psychological attention. The coordinated intervention of psychologists, psychiatrists, and nutritionists is considered effective, leading to the elimination of negative symptoms and the restoration of the individual's psychosocial functioning.
A valuable antidote to the problem of body image and disordered eating behavior is positive body image. In a healthy individual, a positive body image enhances a state of good psychological functioning, while in an individual with difficulties, it allows one to go beyond the simple elimination of negative symptoms towards a state of optimal functioning. It is defined as the acceptance of the unique and distinctive characteristics of the body and its functionality, even recognizing the existence of some fewer desirable characteristics.
It also includes holding a broad and inclusive view of human beauty, filtering messages related to physical appearance transmitted by the media, and adopting an “internal positivity” that can reflect in the posture itself. Some suggestions for cultivating your positive body image are:
Surround yourself with people with a positive body image;
Train the recognition of characteristics that you like about yourself;
Be actively critical of the beauty standards imposed by society;
Focus on and praise transitory aspects of body image, such as someone's hairstyle, color of clothing etc;
Take care of your body, pampering it and feeding it healthily.
Be on the lookout for signs of concern about your body image and eating behavior and warning signs regarding your psychological quality of life and mental health. Allow yourself to live your mind and body to the full, in the summer and in the 365 days of the year.