Negative body image is defined as having unhealthy feelings, thoughts, behaviours, and perceptions about one’s own body. This condition affects a significant portion of the population, ranging from 40%–60%; with a higher prevalence among young girls. Negative body image can have severe mental health consequences, such as clinically significant eating disorders, anxiety, and depressive disorders.
A recent meta-analysis published in the journal Body Image suggests that one way to potentially prevent these problems is by training yourself to appreciate the functionality of your body image.
Negative body image issues arise because too much emphasis is placed on what the body looks like. According to some theories, this harmful mindset is perpetuated by media, advertising, and societal pressures that promote an idealised body type. This creates a toxic culture that can have damaging effects on one’s mental health.
When an individual internalises the belief that obtaining the ideal body type will lead to happiness, success, and popularity, they may eventually become dissatisfied with their own body. This is because the current beauty standards are often unrealistic and nearly impossible to achieve. An excessive focus on outward appearance is the root cause of negative body image, which can lead to a range of other psychological problems.
Fortunately, researchers believe that it is possible to disrupt these processes by thinking about your body from a different perspective. That is, rather than paying excessive attention to what the body looks like or how it appears to others, we should start to focus on and appreciate all of the things that our body allows us to do on a day-to-day basis, like allowing us to run, carry a baby, fight off disease, and communicate with others. This concept is known as “functionality appreciation” and is considered one of the key components of a positive body image.
Although functionality appreciation is a relatively new concept within the body image field, a large number of studies have examined the potential benefits of this new way of thinking. A new meta-analysis identified 56 studies on functionality appreciation and found that it was associated with fewer symptoms of eating disorders, depression and anxiety, and higher self-esteem, well-being, and self-compassion levels. In addition to this, they also found that men appreciate their body functionality more than women, which they explain could be due to women facing more societal pressures to achieve an idealised appearance than men.
One of the key discoveries in this meta-analysis is the possibility of acquiring an appreciation for the functionality of your body. The study revealed that interventions specifically designed to teach individuals how to adopt this novel way of thinking not only resulted in noticeable improvements in their ability to appreciate their body’s functionality but also led to other significant mental health benefits.
Another valuable approach to nurturing an appreciation for your body’s functionality is to engage in a regular journalling practice. This involves writing down the activities that your body enables you to perform, which you cherish the most, and contemplating the potential impact if you were unable to carry them out. This practice encourages you to view things more broadly and shifts your focus from fixating on the aspects of your body that you dislike. By adopting this method, the research suggests that you can experience significant mental health benefits over time.
Taking the time to recognise and appreciate your body’s functionality can have a positive impact on your well-being and quality of life.
Jake Linardon, PhD is the founder of Break Binge Eating and works as a research fellow at Deakin University. Jake’s work involves trying to better understand and treat eating disorders, particularly through the use of innovative technologies.
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