Think healthy, feel healthy

With hoardings, television shows and magazine covers screaming for your attention, is it difficult to imagine just how much stress is being put on simply 'looking good?'

Everywhere you turn, the undue importance given to looking a certain way and being a certain size, is alarming health experts. While trying to appear a certain way is fine, what is even more important, is to have a positive body image.

Body image is the way we see ourselves.
If one has a negative or distorted perception of their bodies, they tend to correct that in ways that may not be healthy. "The most common example is being overweight. Many women (and men), especially teenagers, think they are 'fat' and resort to unhealthy weight loss practices, which may actually do more harm than good. Eating disorders like Anorexia Nervosa are directly linked to a negative body image, and even a very thin girl may perceive herself as overweight and continue to diet to the point of losing her health. Body image is closely linked to self esteem. A positive body image translates into feeling good, more confidence, loving oneself and taking care of one's health," says Psychologist Dr Suman Bijlani

Psychologist Devaunshi Sampat says that when a person believes that their body has a flaw, it causes a negative body image. "This makes the person restricts their lifestyle, sometimes even giving up on good opportunities. They may lose out on a good job because they may lack the confidence to go for an interview because they believe they're ugly or too fat. When a person has a bad body image, resulting in a low self esteem, it impacts them more than they realise. They may never gain the confidence to do the things they love, the confidence to date, to just go out and have a good time."

Are women more self critical?
Are women over critical of their appearances? Yes, says counselling psychologist and behaviour therapist, Lajja Sanghavi-Shah. Research shows that women are over critical of their appearances. In a society where women are continuously bombarded with images of the ideal face and figure, the likelihood of having a negative body image increases. "A recent survey indicated that over 80 per cent of women over the age of 18 were unhappy with what they saw in the mirror. And most will not even see an accurate reflection. And increasing numbers of normal, attractive women, with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders, look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat," says Lajja.

How it affects you
People who have a poor image of themselves are more likely to feel anxious, self-conscious, uncomfortable, awkward and at times even ashamed of the way they look. This influences the ease with which they relate to people making them uneasy in the company of others, especially if they perceive the opposite person to be more attractive than themselves. Thus it adversely affects a persons social relationships and the ability to make friends. A negative body image is likely to result in low self-esteem and low-confidence, which may lead to isolation, depression, anxiety, an inferiority complex and in some cases even eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. They may go on unhealthy diets and exercise excessively in the hope that they will reach their ideal body weight. They may end up becoming pre-occupied and obsessed with their appearance leading to dissatisfaction and built-up frustration.

What to do
Your mind essentially controls the way you feel about yourself.

- Stop criticising your body and start treating yourself right.

- By practicing positive affirmations, eating right and exercising your mind and in turn body will feel healthier.

- Wear clothes that you're comfortable in and which make you feel good about yourself - work with your body and not against it.

- Don't get carried away by everything you see around you. Set your own goals and standards.

- Once in a while, it is okay to pamper yourself. Go for a massage, make time for a nap, curl up with a good book, find a peaceful place outside to relax.

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