Last week a mother brought in her son X to me for acne and hair loss. I was gobsmacked as I took in the pubescent teenager with rippling muscles and a heavy frame.
He was just seventeen years of age and was heavily into gymming and taking some supplements ( probably steroid laced ) to get a heavily muscled body. He was probably( I say probably because some teenagers can actually take grave risks to achieve their ideal looks ) unaware that the use of steroids and too many protein supplements can cause acne, high blood pressure, hair loss, skin darkening and kidney problems.
I asked the mother the reason for allowing such a young boy whose bone development is not yet complete, to go for such heavy duty exercises.
The mother then confided that X was an only child and the whole family pampered him a lot .Most of the pampering came through a constant supply of junk food and that lead to the child becoming a grossly obese teenager.
That child gradually became the butt of jokes at school for being ‘fat ‘ and started feeling depressed and angry .
X threatened his parents of quitting his school or committing suicide unless he was allowed to go to a gym. The anxious parents gave in and you know the story after that.
The reason I bring up this case is to highlight a medical issue that is being increasingly reported and recognized as ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)”.
|Sometimes we are not flawed – but it is our judgement that is flawed|
BDD is a mental disorder in which the affected person can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in their appearance — a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable. But the affected person may feel so ashamed and anxious that he/she may avoid many social situations or resort to drastic beautification procedures to correct the self perceived flaw.
The case I mentioned was of course not that of BDD but I shared it to highlight how vulnerable our teens are to peer pressure and media idealization of certain body types.
More and more people are seeking treatments for getting rids of scars, marks, hyper pigmentation, breast enhancement weight loss ,fairness ,hair fall etc. etc. These are all actually non-diseases or sometimes just signs of some underlying imbalance in the body’s hormones. Even though they do not impair a person’s physical abilities they can affect a person’s mental well being.
Role of MEDIA and MEDICAL SCIENCE in encouraging Negative Body Image
The popular “Fair and lovely” fairness cream changed it’s name to “Glow and lovely” , but does that mean our obsession with being fair and lovely has ended ?
Cosmetology is a flourishing industry reaping the benefits of media-portrayed Ideal body types. With Instagram and Facebook on most mobile phones ,suddenly how many people like and comment on your profile has become very important ,everyone now needs to look good .We get bombarded by images of perfect individuals (hence the popularity of beautification Apps) which can lead to a constant comparison of the self with other individuals .The exercise ,diets, cosmetic surgery and digital enhancement that goes behind the making of these perfect models is hidden from our eyes. All we see is the perfect model beckoning us to try the miracle product they are endorsing.
As humans, as social animals, we do have the need to be validated in a group but how far we should go to achieve the validation and how do we know that any negative image of the self that we are harboring is real or perceived is the question.
When it comes to youngsters it is even more important to recognize and understand the symptoms of negative body image so that they can be helped before they undertake any drastic measures .
Let us try to understand Negative Body image
What is BODY IMAGE ?
The term ‘body image’ incorporates themes of body perception (the extent to which an
individual has an accurate perception of their body size, shape and weight) and body satisfaction
(the extent to which an individual is satisfied with their body size, shape and weight).
When a person has low body satisfaction they often suffer from a negative body image, where they imagine their imperfections to be of a greater magnitude than what it is . A woman may think she has too large a nose or has tiny breasts or big hips . A man may think he is too scrawny or too hairy etc. etc.
Can we measure BODY IMAGE Perception ?
Most cases can be diagnosed by keen observation and talking to the affected person and relatives.
Though there is no fool-proof method devised yet there are some tests like a Body Image Score that can give us a rough idea of how healthy is an individual’s perception and satisfaction of his/her body image. These tests are based on Self Report Questionnaire, Figure drawings and Actual body weight and shape of the person. Word of caution , these tests should only be undertaken by a qualified mental health professional.
WHAT can cause a Negative Body Image ?
Studies done so far have thrown up some potential causes of negative body image .These include
A. Being overweight or obese :
As mentioned in my previous example, being actually overweight and obese can make them have a negative body image as being fat is socially not desirable in most cultures and looked down upon.
B. Portrayal of Desirable Body Image by Media
Though Media has often been painted as the sole culprit yet not all who are watching are affected by images of thin and attractive women, or men with well-defined muscles.
But individuals who already have low body satisfaction are more likely to be negatively affected by images of idealized body shapes whereas individuals who have high body satisfaction are unlikely to be affected by images of idealized body shapes.
The duration of exposure to such images also plays a role in affecting the perception of the person seeing them .
|Parents as responsible in shaping our views from the very onset|
C .The influence of family and peers
As parents we influence the body satisfaction of our children both positively and negatively. Our outlook can determine whether our children will have a positive or negative body image.
Children in good quality relationships with parents and peers have higher body satisfaction whereas children with poor quality relationships (facing Rejection, discrimination or bullying ) by parents or peers are relatively less satisfied with their bodies.
Mothers and fathers are able to influence body image in positive directions through words of encouragement and negative directions through criticism and also through being role models Mothers who are concerned about their weight are more likely to have daughters who are dissatisfied with their bodies and more likely to have both daughters and sons who try to control their weight.
D. Individual Psychological factors affect negative body image
Humans have a basic drive to evaluate their opinions and abilities such as an increased tendency to compare yourself to others. As women we are constantly subjected to scrutiny from outsiders.
Low body satisfaction is linked with low self-esteem and depression. Individuals who have low body satisfaction are more likely to also have low self-esteem or depression if they are female or overweight. People who have certain psychological patterns, such as believing they should have perfect bodies or an increased tendency to compare themselves to others, are more likely to have low body satisfaction.
The potential consequences of negative body image include low self esteem, depression, and the use of unhealthy weight control behaviors (such as crash dieting).Negative body image is linked to eating disorder symptoms, unhealthy weight control behaviors, and risky sexual practices like multiple sex
partners and more likely to have had sex after drinking alcohol or using drug.
HOW to combat Negative Body Image ?
There are some actions that can help in preventing and protecting a child from developing a negative body image.
1.Maintaining a healthy weight
A healthy weight for the age and height can help in creating an affirmative body image .
2.Encouraging close relationships with parents and friends
Spending quality time with parents and friends can improve your confidence and sense of well-being .
3. Do not compare
Avoid the practice to compare your child to others and discourage your child from comparing themselves to others.
4. Positive Attitude
Having healthy and positive attitude to your body will set forward a positive signal. If you follow a healthy lifestyle and have a positive body image, it helps your child in accepting their bodies better and following a healthy lifestyle and avoiding a negative body image.
In case all fails , you may need to seek psychotherapeutic treatment with lifestyle changes .
|Love yourself !|
Till then – Stay happy, stay healthy and love yourself !
(Images – Canva )