Changing Perceptions About Healthy Body Shapes
Do you have a healthy body shape? For many people, the answer is defined solely by how much they weigh or whether they have a perfect hourglass figure. Many individuals focus their attention on measurements such as their chest, waist, and hip size, or they step on a scale to tally up the pounds. Sadly, many people judge their own and others’ health, and sometimes personal value, based on these numbers.
Step Off the Scale and Away From the Measuring Tape
The truth is that there’s a wide range of healthy body shapes and sizes. Rather than defining good physical health by shape and size, a more accurate approach to determining good health is through measurements of blood pressure, cholesterol levels, emotional health, and overall well-being. It’s easy to assume that a person with more belly fat is less healthy than a slender person. However, there are many, many factors that determine health. For example, a person with a slim build may look thin but have a larger percentage of body fat than another person with a different body type.
Perceptions About Heavy Bodies
In modern society, there’s a pervasive idea that extra weight means poor health. Assumptions are made about a person’s eating habits, self-control, self-esteem, and activity levels. All too often, when an individual carries extra weight, others assume that the individual can’t or won’t enjoy many physical activities. This is a stereotype that has been busted by athletes, such as Myrna Valerio, a marathon and ultramarathon runner recognized for her success.
It’s important to remember that body types and shapes are often heavily affected by genetics. Your genetic family history determines your bone structure, where you carry extra fat, your frame size, and the speed of your metabolism. The key to identifying healthy bodies lies in identifying the habits of the individual, not in taking their measurements.
Why Changing Perceptions Is Important
Why is it important to change society’s ideas about excess weight and heavy body types? Your perception of yourself does have an impact on your ability to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. When an individual believes s/he is overweight, s/he may have an intention to lose weight, but studies have found that it doesn’t inspire actual changes in diet and exercise. Conversely, when adolescents believe they are overweight, they are more likely to fall into unhealthy, and sometimes dangerous, habits.
Factors That Affect Body Image Perception
The deck is stacked against women, men, teens, and children who believe they are overweight. Every day, they are bombarded with messages about ideal body shapes and sizes. Advertisements on television, in magazines, and on the internet flaunt thin bodies, clearly defined muscles, narrow waists, and photo-edited skin. Adults, teens, and children face criticism from peers and feel pressure to mimic current trends whether they are healthy or not. Messages from companies selling diet plans and exercise equipment often add to existing stereotypes.
Negativity Doesn’t Lead to Positive Changes
Each of these messages tells the individual who feels overweight or underweight that they are somehow less than the people in those visual images. Remember that a negative perception of your own body does not lead to positive changes.
Recognize the Beauty of Your Body
At womenshealth.gov, a healthy body image is defined as positive feelings about your particular body shape. Those women and girls with a positive body image tend to enjoy better physical and mental health – even if they are overweight or underweight. Conversely, those who have negative feelings about their bodies are at greater risk for eating disorders and other mental health conditions. That negative body image may prevent men, women, and children from going out socially, exercising, or making healthy dietary choices.
Developing a Positive Body Image
One of the best ways to improve your perception of your own body is to focus on positive thinking rather than negative thinking. The National Eating Disorders Association recommends several tips for improving the way you think and feel about your body. For example, take time to really appreciate the things your body can do, such as breathing, laughing, and walking. Surround yourself with others who have a healthy, positive outlook on life. Cut out negative social media and any messages that limit your definition of what a healthy body looks like.
The next step is to focus on the things you can control in your life. After accepting your body shape and size, celebrate your own unique qualities and understand that you can enjoy a healthy, fulfilling life whether you’re a size 2 or a size 32. Learn how to make healthy eating decisions and find ways to incorporate exercise and physical activity into your days. Identify and look up to new role models, such as Christa Singleton, one of a group of Plus-Size Climbers who climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2016. Refusing to let her size define her, Singleton is breaking through conceptions about size and health.
Get Treatment for Eating Disorders
If you’ve experienced or are experiencing eating disorders, seek treatment during this process. Again, there are many negative beliefs that may hold you back when the subject of eating disorders come up. Amelia Boone, an elite athlete, knows this all too well. Stories like Amelia Boone and her eating disorder treatment aren’t uncommon among athletes, but these stories aren’t often shared with the public. Move past the misconceptions and seek appropriate treatment.
Recognize the Things You CAN Change
If you are struggling with a negative self-image or the desire to make improvements in your life. You might start by changing your own ideas and discussions about the “ideal” body shape and size. Remember that your strength lies in conquering the things you can control without succumbing to popular ideas about body shape or despairing because of genetic factors you can’t change.