When you look in the mirror who do you see? Someone you love or someone you despise?
Everyone knows that having good communication skills will help build and maintain solid relationships with others —be it business partners, colleagues, friends or loved ones. Great supportive relationships make life worthwhile. So it’s not a surprise that there are a whole list of articles, books and even training courses that focus on building good relationships with other people but how about you and your body? Psychologist from Sunway Medical Centre, Jessie Foo, shares her advice on the importance of nurturing a healthy, happy relationship with your body.
When it comes to building a relationship with your body, it all boils down to perception. “It is how you perceive your physical appearance and what you tell yourself about your body,” says Foo. However, it doesn’t just stop there. Foo elaborates that the way you feel about how other people perceive your body also reflects on the kind of relationship you have with it.
The building blocks
Foo says that there are a few factors which can influence the relationship you have with your body. This includes:
- Comments from others
Comments and remarks can have a huge impact on the relationship you have with your body. Positive comments will make you feel good while negative ones can affect the way you see yourself. “Besides receiving direct comments about your body, hearing what others think of their own bodies can also affect you,” says Foo. For example, if you know a friend who has a healthy body size but continuously calls herself fat.
The media shapes a lot of your perception and the way you feel about your body. Foo reasons that this is mainly because of our constant exposure to it. “Even though the information you receive from the media doesn’t represent reality because of the constant focus on certain body shapes, you will tend to believe this is how most people around us look and that is the way your body shape should be,” she says.
- Experience of abuse
“If a person was a victim of physical, verbal or sexual abuse, the experience can affect the person’s perception of themselves,” says Foo.
There are various types of discrimination including size discrimination. This could mean shopping at a clothing store and finding out that the store does not accommodate your body size. When you’re discriminated, it’ll affect your relationship with your body.
It all starts with you
“Generally, having a good relationship with your body means that you will have a healthy body image, good self-esteem and self-confidence. You’ll also believe in yourself a little bit more,” explains Foo.
Besides that, a good relationship with your body also makes you worry less about how your body looks. Foo also adds that when you have a healthy connection with your body, you will not be obsessive when it comes to what you look like, the type of food you eat and how much you weigh. “In fact, you’ll have a better relationship with food as well because you worry less about counting calories.”
Foo emphasises that it’s important to remember that physical appearances say very little about character and personality. “Your looks do not reveal if you’re a good or bad person. However, when you have a bad relationship with your body, you will tend to link your body image with who you are” she says. This is also known as self-prophecy belief.
“When you have this kind of belief, you tend to act and respond in a way that reflects who you believe you are. The more you act in a certain way, it’ll gradually match the belief in your mind and the responses you receive from others will confirm that too,” explains Foo.So, for example, if you do not have a good relationship with your body and you think that everyone hates you, people will eventually stay away from you. “It’s a vicious cycle.”
Get better at it
If you’re not having a good relationship with your body, here’s what you can do to improve it. Firstly, Foo’s advice is to shift from focusing on numbers to healthier goals. “If you think about it, people focus a lot on the numbers such as the amount of calories they consume and their weight. If you believe that you need to achieve a certain weight by a certain time and when you’re too preoccupied with that, you might end up resorting to certain types of unhealthy behaviours. This could lead to your goals but will not be helpful in the long term.”
The behaviours Foo is referring to include extreme exercising, extreme dieting and eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia. Instead of focusing on the numbers, Foo suggests that you should set your own healthy goals. This way, you will gradually develop a healthier way to perceive your body and this will improve your relationship with it. Some examples of healthy goals, she shares includes, “Aiming to do certain types of exercises such as jogging with the family or eating three meals a day with the focus on proper nutrition.”
Make the adjustment
“In some cases whereby a poor relationship with your body is negatively affecting your quality of life, seeking professional help is ideal,” advises Foo. At times, who you think you are, may not be exactly who you really are. So, it is best to speak to a professional who can help you with this. “Even if professional help is not what you’re looking for, it is important to re-focus your attention towards developing and loving yourself,” she says. “You should learn how to appreciate yourself.”
Did you know?
How often you compare yourself to others will change the way you develop a relationship with your body. According to Foo, “Research shows that the more you compare yourself with others, the more you tend to have a negative perception about your body.”
Where do you stand?
Image 1 is a figure scale which is often used as a guide to help you identify the relationship you have with your body. What you would need to do is:
- Select the image you think you look like
- Select your ideal image
- Minus the ideal number of the ideal image and the image you think you look like
“Generally, the closer the gap between the numbers, the better your relationship with your body,” explains Foo. “This is just a guide so if you have any concerns, it is best to speak to a professional,” she reiterates.