This post was written by Kearney High School senior, Isabella Breinig, as part of her volunteer hours with Buffalo County Community Partners.
Body image, defined by the Webster Dictionary as, a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others. The concept of how we view ourselves, and how others view us in return, is a complex problem that is constantly shifting. Influenced not only by the surroundings in which we live, but the media that we consume every day, and the atmosphere we’ve grown up in. However, the conclusions you reach can have detrimental effects on your own happiness and well-being. Bad body image is a hot topic when it comes to mental health, something that isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be.
I’ve had my own run in with a toxic view of my body. My entire early years of high school were plagued by the ideal that I was too fat, it consumed my whole personality. All I could think about was my own desperation to lose weight. For two years on and off I would starve myself, only to binge eat and watch the process start over again. At one point I was only eating 400 calories a day. My thinspiration, someone you looked up to as being your body goals, was Kendall Jenner, who is very beautiful but has a completely different body type than me. In the end I wasn’t able to reach my goal, sadly I will never look like Kendall Jenner, but I realized I can be beautiful as me. Which honestly makes me just as attractive.
However, I wasn’t alone, according to SAMHSA’S National Mental Health Information Center it is estimated five to ten million women and girls in the United States alone struggle with body image which branches out to eating disorders. This statistic doesn’t even mention the estimated number of men who experience the same. While bad body image is often brushed off as another side effect of puberty, far too often does it evolve into something more serious. Having a poor body image, especially in women, often leads to bulimia, anorexia, and a plethora of other eating disorders. In extreme cases a bad body image could be body dysmorphia, when a person has a severely skewed vision of themselves usually extremely poor. In many cases like these even if a person does lose weight, or alter their appearance there will always be an underlying flaw preventing them from recovering.
Upon a closer look the root of bad body image in many cases isn’t really someone’s body at all. It’s the other mental pressure that lies beneath. In an article published by Science Daily related to body image, it was stated that in many scientific findings adolescents who suffer from a bad body image can be linked to depression, anxiety, and nervous disorders. Especially in teens it can also be linked to suicidal thoughts. The most commonly attributed to bad body images is anxiety, it feeds into the need to blend in and feel accepted. Teens who experienced severe eating disorders suffered significantly higher levels of depression, anxiety, and eventually suicidal thoughts. Not even our community is safe from the impact. With 16.3% of KPS students reporting that they seriously felt suicidal in 2016, the highest being junior girls at 23.7%, it is important we pay more attention to the well-being of young people in our community. Especially their body image, because it is proven to be a strong indicator to underlying issues.
Thankfully signs of a poor body image are easier to spot than other mental illnesses. For most people they will ask how they look more than normal, put a huge emphasis on their appearance, and start dressing or acting differently than normal. All these actions when done in moderation are fine, and a healthy move into feeling more confident. However, it is important to spot when things start going off the deep end. For example if all someone discusses is their looks, if they start to avoid shopping because trying on clothing gives them anxiety, if they start drastically changing their diet and exercise patterns. All these are giveaways that there needs to be an open dialog about how someone is coping with their body image. While it can be an uncomfortable topic of conversation it can lead to a safer diet plan, or coping strategies. If you or the person involved feel uncomfortable or unequipped to handle their body image issues many counselors specialize is an array of body image related topics. More than not it is much easier to recover with the advice and support of another person, than to go at it alone.