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Mirror Mirror on the Wall: Body image and you

When Snow White’s wicked stepmother asked her mirror who was the fairest of them all, she expected to be told it was herself. We don’t have the same sense of arrogance  when we look in the mirror – more the opposite problem in fact! Many women, and some men, struggle to find even one thing they like about themselves in the mirror's reflection.

Body image is the perception you have of your own body – what you think you look like, not necessarily what you do look like. Your body image can easily be negative and distorted because you compare yourself to the  images of the "perfect person". This negativity fuels self-hatred, depression and anxiety, and can prevent you from achieving weight-loss goals, or from just simply enjoying your own body.

So how do you overcome it? Read on to find out.

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Beautiful illusions

Women have always been attentive to beauty, but over the past two centuries the association between self-worth and appearance has gotten out of control in Australian culture. 

It's almost impossible to pick up a magazine, watch TV, or go to a movie these days without getting the message that ideal beauty comes in the form of a skinny, successful, energetic, young, white, wealthy, and physically flawless female. And it's not so different for males either! This airbrushed illusion of perfection has become a false reality, and the cultural pressure to conform to this illusion has created within many of us a deep dissatisfaction with our bodies. As a result we feel relentlessly driven to change them at any cost.

In the attempt to alter your size or change your body shape, you can go to many extremes, including unhealthy dieting, obsessive exercising, starvation, self-induced vomiting, laxative and diuretic abuse, and even plastic surgery. And yet, you're still likely to be dissatisfied!

There are no quick fixes for this dilemma; there are no pills or herbs that will change how you feel about your body and yourself. You can, however, challenge your own beliefs, attitudes, and feelings, and in this way change how you feel about how you look. You can choose to see through the “beautiful illusion” to a more real and satisfying vision of attractiveness.

Why young girls and women?

Surveys on body image show that at least 80% of adolescent girls say they "feel bad" about their bodies. In fact some of these girls, and women too, admit they will not even look at their bodies because of the shame, embarrassment and outright disgust they feel towards them. Men experience this self-loathing less than women for many reasons.

One reason is that preoccupation with body image is socialised in girls from the time they are very young. Parents consistently describe their infant daughters as beautiful, soft, and cute and describe their sons in terms of ability, strength and even misbehaviour, rather than appearance. Through socialisation, children of both sexes learn that girls' bodies are to be made more beautiful while boys' bodies are to be developed and strengthened.

The media perpetuates this early socialisation by upholding the ideal woman as someone who is always beautiful and slim, whereas, in the media, the ideal man is valued more for his physical abilities and his strength of character than his appearance.

Whether you have been aware of them or not, you have undoubtedly received numerous negative messages about body image throughout your lifetime from your parents, the media, and even yourself. Maybe you can never erase these messages, but you can alter the way you perceive them.

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Next: How to get your body image in proper perspective

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