The term “body image” refers to the way a person perceives their own physical appearance. The feelings we have about our bodies or other people’s bodies can be positive, negative, or a combination of both which are influenced by many different environmental and social factors. Family members, friends, teachers, coworkers, advertisements, and social media all have a huge impact on how a person feels about their body.
People of all ages and genders are bombarded by unrealistic body images that have been altered by computer editing software to create unattainable “perfect” looking bodies. They send strong messaging to reaffirm that in our culture thin is beautiful and healthy for females, and ripped muscular men is the ideal for males and if we can achieve those body types we will be happy and successful. While striving to achieve your healthiest body weight is the goal, comparing your body to “perfect” air-brushed types of images will only lead to body dissatisfaction, which can be damaging to your psychological well-being.
There are 4 aspects of body image:
- The way you see yourself
- The way you feel about the way you look
- The thoughts and beliefs you feel about your body
- The things you do in relation to the way you look
This may seem straight forward, however, research suggests it is actually quite complex. Current research indicates that body image dissatisfaction is greater in women than in men. Unfortunately, the stigmatization regarding obesity and excess weight in our society may add to the increasing cases of people with body image distortion.
Following bariatric surgery, patients experience rapid weight loss of anywhere from 60-100+ lbs. This transformation can sometimes occur within the first 12-18 months after surgery, depending on a person’s physical activity level, age, and medical conditions. Sometimes the way a person perceives themselves needs time to catch up with the way their new body looks. The way you see your body is not always a correct representation of what you actually look like to others. Having positive body image is key when it comes to overall happiness, psychological health, and having self-esteem. So as you go through your transition following surgery, try these suggestions for a positive body image:
Speak Kindly to Yourself
It’s very important to practice positive self-talk.
- If you find yourself saying or thinking that you don’t like the size of your legs or shape of your hips, then stop!
- Instead, focus on your positive qualities! Maybe you love your hair or the color of your eyes, etc.
- Forcing yourself to acknowledge and say something positive about your body will at least begin to break the habit of negative self-talk, and eventually get you to a point where you celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you on a daily basis.
Focus on Improvement
- When you find yourself saying something negative about your body, reflect on how much it has improved. Where were you 1, 2, or 3 years ago?
- Chances are post-surgery you have lost weight and sometimes a look back at where you were a year or two ago will help you have appreciation and re-gain focus! Our bodies are amazing; appreciating and respecting all the things it can do will help you feel more positively about it.
- Don’t just think about changes in your appearance, what about changes to your physical health? Take a moment to appreciate the small things like being able to go up a flight of stairs without being out of breath, being able to tie your shoes without a struggle, being able to fit on a ride with your kids, etc.
Set Health Focused Goals
- Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, set some non-weight related goals to strive for. Maybe it’s being able to ride a bike again, go for a hike with your family, or being able to walk a certain distance without having to sit down or stop.
- Self-care is not selfish! Doing things to care for your body physically and mentally may help you have a better relationship with your body.
- Try taking a relaxing bubble bath, yoga or meditation, getting a massage, or enjoying some quiet time with a new book or magazine. This can help you relax, recharge, and re-connect you with your new body.
Enjoy the Compliments
- Enjoy the compliments you are getting, and accept them! Receive the compliment graciously… you deserve it!
- Think about how nice it feels to receive a complement and keep it going by giving someone else a compliment too – it just might turn their day around.
- Sometimes negative self-talk and poor body image stems from comparing ourselves to others.
- Unplug from social media and stop scanning the internet for pre- and post-surgery photos to compare yourself to! Everyone is unique and on a different journey towards health. Compare yourself to you and no one else – it is not a race to see who loses weight fastest!
- Unfollow any accounts on social media that make you feel negative about yourself, and start following ones that promote body positivity.
Attending support groups to further help you with your body image concerns is strongly encouraged. Sometimes hearing affirmations from others can help improve your self-esteem. Do what you believe is best for you to live your happiest and healthiest life!