As a female student, and nutrition major, I see first hand how important body image is to maintaining a healthy mind. According to Brown University Health Education, 74.4% of normal weight college women, often or all the time had thoughts about their body image. 46% of college men, who were at a healthy weight, had the same thoughts.
Because we live in a society where there is such a strong emphasis on a “perfect” body, negative thoughts arise in many young people. College has such a dense population of 18 to 23 year olds of all shapes and sizes. It is so difficult not to compare yourself to someone who appears to be “prettier” or “skinnier” than you. I often hear women saying things like, “I wish I had her hair”, or, “I wish I had nicer skin like hers.” I even hear men around campus saying, “I need to bulk up”, or “I want to gain 15 pounds”. The more emphasis you put on the body parts you don’t like about yourself, the worse you will feel. Unfortunately, due to their negative body image, many college students will participate in risky body control behaviors like unhealthy dieting, obsessions with exercise, laxative use, binging, purging, smoking, and steroid use.
Young people who are at all insecure about their body image will take even the smallest comment to heart. Something as simple as a friend saying, “I love my body”, or “I don’t like my legs”, can affect the person suffering. Negative body image has been linked to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, thoughts of suicide, and eating disorders.
So how can we help boost body image?
- We can realize that media is not reality. Media is just a form of advertising that the producers want us to see as real.
- Do not dwell on numbers like BMI or weight. Healthy eating habits and exercise are way more substantial in the scheme of things.
- Do not weigh yourself. Do not let the scale determine how you feel about yourself. You can choose to be happy in your own skin that day without the consent of the numbers the scale shows.
- Realize that you are who you are. You can’t change that and you are beautiful.
- Do not compare yourself to others. You are you and you are perfect.
- Get energized. Run, walk, and join a team! Focus on other positive things in your life.
- Surround yourself with people who have healthy personal body images. Refrain from “fat talk” with friends and family.
Stop negative thoughts in their path. As soon as you start thinking about your body in a negative way, replace the thought with something that makes you happy. For example, if you start to think about your legs and how much you don’t like them, replace that thought with how much fun you had at the hockey game with your friends last night or how beautiful of a day it is.
For more tips on how to boost your body image, visit Brown University’s Health Education page. Also, if you feel like you have a negative body image or if you have eating concerns, reach out to the Eating Concerns Mentors on campus here at UNH or to the UNH Counseling Center. They are there to get you back to loving yourself and realizing how special and beautiful you are.