If you’ve ever felt intimidated walking through a gym, felt less confident after scrolling through social media pages or felt ashamed simply looking at your own body, you aren’t alone.
Body image — how you feel about your body rather than how it actually looks — is a mental representation a person creates. It may closely relate to how others actually see you, or may not at all.
Either way, experts say it influences behavior, and body image issues are widespread among teens, women and even men.
“I think a lot of issues come from seeing fad diets in the news, on social media and in children’s homes so much now,” said Kelly Devine Rickert, a Franciscan WELLCARE registered dietitian and health coach. “I have a handful of teenagers now dealing with body image problems and eating disorders that stemmed from all the misinformation on health and nutrition in the news and on social media today.”
The issue is so prevalent that a new study is suggesting body issues are stopping some women from doing breast self-exams.
The study, published this month in the journal Body Image, focused on a group of British women and found that due to their body image issues, they were less likely to perform routine cancer checks — something that’s vital in detecting breast cancer.
Misty Sturges, owner of MWM Fitness in Crown Point, said what children and adults see online and on TV isn’t a realistic representation of what it means to be healthy and happy.
“With perfection being all around us, filters being used on Instagram and other editing tools for photos, it sets the standards too high and unrealistic, causing self-esteem problems,” she said.
Health professionals say these self-esteem problems can lead to eating disorders and severe anxiety at any age.
“As women, we are expected to look a certain way — fit, young and beautiful,” Sturges said. “Aging is tough, and as we move into our 40s, our bodies change, our skin changes and it’s much harder to lose weight.”
Although social media and other online sites often get much of the blame for body image issues in teens and children, Devine Rickert said these problems typically start at home when other adults express concerns over their own body image.
“Parents need to be positive about health wellness and their bodies,” she said. “Watch what you say in front of kids. It doesn’t matter how old they are.”
Instead of “I need to lose weight, I’m so fat,” Devine Rickert recommended phrasing it instead as, “My goal this year is to start exercising more so I have more energy,” or “We are going to start eating at home for dinner to save money and eat more healthy as a family.”
She also said avoiding the next fad diet and instead focusing on permanent lifestyle changes can help lead to greater health and an overall better body image.
“Family meals are so very important at every stage of childhood, and adolescents and kids need to see their parents eating healthy foods as well,” Devine Rickert said.
At her fitness facility, Sturges said she works with clients of all ages to help them understand the way they look is not as important as the way they feel.
“With self-confidence, we create a better self-image,” she said. “No one is perfect, but everyone can be the best version of themselves and that is our focus.”