What influences body image is different for everyone. One factor might weigh more heavily for you than for me. However, there are certain social influences that impact how all women feel about the way they look.
Surprisingly, your body image and the way your body looks are often unrelated. While many fitness ads and voices in your head will tell you “if I’m more attractive, I’ll be the happiest person in the world,” those voices are wrong.
There are plenty of average looking (and even below average looking) people walking around with a healthy body image. So clearly, the way you look isn’t a “make it or break it” when it comes to body image.
Whether you’re a legit super model or an overweight post office employee with a disfigured hand, you must be taught how to like your looks. If being good looking automatically meant having positive body image, celebrities and super models would be the happiest people on the planet.
Especially for female body image, this can be a very difficult thing to do when you get hundreds of messages a day saying, “you’re not good enough”.
Messages like this destroy our confidence in many areas other than just the looks department. They make us question our value as a romantic partner, employee, friend, and mother.
The best way to combat those messages and strengthen your resilience to negative body image messages is to identify them and understand where they’re coming from.
So why haven’t we been taught how to like our looks? The first people you learned body image from were your parents. If they had poor body confidence and self esteem, chances are you do too. Humans are “copy cats” we like to fit in and behave like our parents in order to be accepted by the family unit. Most parents don’t know what influences body image in their children, so they unintentionally foster negativity. When your parents spoke negatively about their looks,
“I’ll never wear a bathing suit, no one wants to see my fat legs!”
“I’m surprised your father still shares a bed with my tired, wrinkled face.”
“I need to pluck my eyebrows before we leave, I look like a gorilla.”
you internalized those speaking patterns. Maybe you began saying them to yourself. Even if a mother said these things in a joking or lighthearted way, the message is clear: fat, wrinkled, and hairy is unattractive and unlovable.
Growing up, everything your parents say is “right” in the eyes of a child. They’re the ones teaching you how to walk, talk, read, and use a fork instead of your fingers. They know everything! So when parents say negative things about their body, children take it as gospel.
Some parents even speak negatively of their children’s body. Perhaps your mother was openly critical of your weight during puberty. Still, today you feel like it’s a contest to see who’s skinnier whenever she’s around. Or it could be your dad called you “string bean” all through high school and you keep trying to put on weight in order to get him to stop.
Whatever the case in your family, your parents and siblings were the first influences on your body image. Good or bad, the relationship your family has with their body (and yours, too) impacts how you feel about yourself.
Yes, the title of the show is a clever play on words with a sprinkle of alliteration (which I love!) but by no means should you even try to keep up with the likes of the Kardashians.
Instagram and Bravo TV shows give us normal folks a glimpse of the glamorous life celebrities lead. Do you ever walk away feeling like your life sucks? Like you need to change your hair color or start your own makeup line?
Our brains have this strange tendency to confuse correlation with causation. Meaning we think because a bunch of gorgeous people have nice things, we must also be gorgeous to have nice things. So if the question is what influences body image when it comes to celebrities? A celebrity with great hair and a killer body has a “happy” marriage. Our brains tell us, if I had better hair and a hotter body…my marriage would be happy too!
Some celebrities do a very good job of using their social influence to promote things like joy, laughter, and generosity. (looking at you, Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres!) But others, even unintentionally, promote an effortless lifestyle of red carpets, makeup artists, and designer handbags we “normal folks” can only dream about.
So, naturally, you believe if you look like them…maybe you would get that promotion at work and be able to afford the designer handbag you saw Lisa Renna had on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills! Ahh, a girl can dream.
But that’s the problem. First, because it doesn’t work that way. You can get a promotion without getting botox to fill in your wrinkles. Second, dreaming about changing yourself to get materialistic things subconsciously sends the message “fancy things are more valuable than who I am.”
Women are more likely to be influenced by what society tells them if they were never close to their family and don’t pay much attention to celebrities. Our cultural standards of beauty are based on not only praising people who meet them, but also being cruel to those who don’t.
When you believe something is wrong with you, companies can make money from your desire to change. Whether that’s toning your thighs, upgrading your wedding ring, or trading in your car, business booms when you’re unsatisfied.
Marketing and advertising has capitalized on our tendency to associate external traits with lifestyle results. What influences body image the most when it comes to our culture is the unspoken assumption that beautiful people are successful and well liked. You see this everywhere, if you know what you’re looking for. It’s in movies, TV shows, and ads. It heavily influences the way humans behave in relationships and the workplace, too.
Notice which characters in your favorite TV shows are stupid or annoying, are they attractive? Most likely they aren’t. Many shows emphasize how one or more characters were “losers” before they got a nose job, makeover, or lost weight. Only now can they be “cool” because they’re finally attractive (friends, new girl, how I met your mother, etc)
This sends a subliminal message that, in order to have friends and be accepted, you must be attractive. The American culture defines “attractive” for women as usually white, athletic bodies. They have big eyes, full lips, sleek, yet voluminous hair. Their hips are wide and butt is firm, with a slender waist, and large breasts. And that’s just the beginning.
Anyone without this combination of features is seen as having less than optimal attractiveness.
Ads show beautiful women using a certain brand of razor. Suddenly, you feel like if you use that razor, maybe you’ll be beautiful, too. It’s the “copy cat” mentality we have in order to fit in with the social unit.
Your personal level of influence depends on how often you’re exposed to each factor. Spending lots of time around a family that allows negative self talk will influence your body image.
Same goes for constantly fantasizing about being more like celebrities and mindlessly internalizing harmful cultural standards of attractiveness.
Overall, each of these factors influence body image for women in some way. You have to discover for yourself what influences body image for you. If you find yourself constantly comparing yourself to celebrities or treating yourself like the “ugly” people in TV shows, you might need help repairing your body confidence. Which is why I created the Body Image Self Evaluation Quiz to increase your awareness of the thoughts going on in your mind.
Restoring your body image and self confidence takes time. Think about how long your insecurities have been lying dormant in your mind. If you can track these feelings back 5, 10, or even 20 years it’s going to take more than a few weeks (or months) to clear them out. Don’t give up, it’s worth it!
Rebekah Buege is a body confidence coach helping strong women process critical thoughts and heal insecurities.
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