Bye-bye body hangups

Dr Linda Papadopoulos unravels the causes of poor body image

I hate my nose

Q

When I was 10, my aunt told me I’d ‘inherited the big family nose’, and it’s crushed my confidence. I hate my picture being taken in profile and I’m convinced people are always staring at it. Why is her comment still affecting me?

A

The way we develop body image can be greatly affected by lots of factors: messages from some sections of the media, bullying, insults, compliments… and comments from friends and family. We stop seeing ourselves from our own perspective but rather, see ourselves through the ‘eyes’ of those other things.

Think of your body image like a pair of glasses. When you’re little, those glasses are clear and smudge-free. But as you grow up they begin to get smeared with the experiences and messages we get from those around us. So a movie that idolises a skinny blonde — when you’re a curvy brunette — can make you internalise the idea that you aren’t blonde or slim enough.

The bully who taunts you about your acne means that every time you look in the mirror you’re more likely to focus on your skin; and in your case, that of-the-cuff remark from your aunt means your smudged ‘body-image specs’ will focus on your nose more than any other part of your appearance and exaggerate what you don’t like about it every time you see a picture of yourself. The way to get around this is to retrain your brain to try to wipe away those smudges.

In research I undertook with people who hated an aspect of their appearance, one thing that helped them was thinking about where the messages that had affected their perception came from, and challenging them. If it was from a bully, they’d think about that person’s motivation in making the remark. And if it was a comment like the one you describe from your aunt, they might consider the fact that, while clearly she had an issue with the ‘family nose’ it was her issue: one you could choose to internalise and feel bad about — or not!

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