Body image is the mental picture every individual has of their body; what they believe about it, what it looks like, and the feeling they have about their bodies. Self-esteem, on the other hand, can be said to be the actual opinion individuals have of themselves; how they value and respect themselves as persons. There is a direct relationship between how an individual carries him or herself emotionally, spiritually and physically. Body image and self-esteem directly wield influence on each other- it is not possible to have a good feeling about yourself if you do not like your body. Self-esteem can neither be seen nor felt. It is however always following someone like a reflection in the mirror or a shadow. People with a bad perception of their self-image have a low self-esteem and have a low worth of whom they are and often view themselves as nobody. This feeling of self-worthlessness can take over a person leading him or her into a dark hole with almost no chances of liberation (Scherer, 2013).
As nature has it, the onset of puberty involves transformations that move adolescents away from the standards the society has set especially on the female body. It is the desire of all young ladies to have a perfect physical appearance. Most would like to be described as tall and slender. These qualities are, however, unattainable to a wide majority of women leading to depression and low self-esteem (Tiggemann, 2005). The worry about body image among adolescents has become so widespread that it is now viewed as a natural part of puberty. The body parts of young males, on the other hand, have a likelihood of enlarging. Most young men always dream of attaining a V-shaped masculine appearance with broad shoulders. Failure to achieve the desired masculine body physique leads low self-esteem among the boys (Firth, 2009). In most cases both the preadolescent and adolescents tend to be torn between their perceived body images and their actual bodies. The effect of being in a perceived ‘wrong’ body leads to low self-esteem, self-harm and even substance abuse.
Body dissatisfaction especially among the young population is highly prevalent. The society today paints a very different image of beauty of both genders of all ages. When individuals look at these images, they are torn between their actual body images and their perceived body images and the result is usually distressing. Numerous research studies show that around 40% of the young people are not satisfied with the bodies they are in (Scherer, 2013). Different people face unrealistic expectations and pressure from the society and their peers leaving them vulnerable to going through any hurdle to transform themselves into what others expect and not and not what they are.
The self-esteem and the perceptions of physical appearance or body image are inextricably related in a way that the perceived body image constantly emerges as the main predictor of self-esteem among the young people. Physical appearance has been found to be an important component among the self-esteem and popularity of young ladies. Athletic abilities have been linked to self-esteem and popularity among young men. Satisfaction in body image is thus positively related to self-esteem among the young people. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Body image, children’s social and psychological well-being is affected by being overweight (Scherer, 2013).
On the other hand, being excessively skinny can also be a source of social and psychological trauma. In most cases, being skinny is viewed as a negative thing making people with skinny bodies have a low self-esteem. For instance, when I realised I am so skinny, and people kept on talking about me I was so affected and started thinking of the things I could do to add some weight. My skinny body made me feel I was not attractive, and I resulted in eating a lot to try and gain some weight. There are also other people with the same problem who have resulted to even more drastic measures in a bid to boost their body image and self-esteem in effect.
The body image of an individual can cause mixed reactions on a person depending on his or her surroundings. The manner in which the people around you receive certain aspects of your body determines to a large extent the levels of self-esteem in you. For instance, a girl whose hair tends to have some uneven growth patterns will have a low self-esteem around her peers. Such a girl will tend to have a kind of discomfort around other people. The mere image of the girl’s hair in the eyes of other people can cause her to have a low self-esteem to the point of hiding the hair every time she is around people (Healey, 2008).
Low self-esteem or negative self-esteem is associated with body dissatisfaction. Studies have revealed that children, as low as eight years old, have feelings of self-esteem associated with their bodies. The development of self-confidence in young people is largely pegged to their physical appearance. Further research has shown that young girls aged around 15 years tend to hate their body image and consequently their self-esteem when they are exposed to photos or videos of either average or ultra-thin size models from magazines. The low self-esteem ultimately leads the young ladies to feeling self-rejection. They will tend to lack self-respect, lack self-worth (Healey, 2008). They will always have a feeling of lack self-respect, self-content, self-dissatisfaction, and creates a disagreeable self-image. In most cases, when young people attain adolescent age with a negative self-image they tend to be “stuck”. At this stage in life, self-esteem is highly vulnerable, and intervention measures must be taken, as a result.
There is also a correlation between body image, self-esteem and eating disorders. It has been noted that young girls who are, in most cases, heavier tend to have a low self-esteem and end up having eating disorders. Studies have shown that most of these individuals who are heavier consider themselves to be overweight (Ah-Kion, 2006). Most of these people who perceive themselves as overweight often hate their body image and will always have a low self-esteem. They end up picking poor eating habits like dieting, avoiding social situations that involve food, avoiding certain types of foods, and “playing” around with food instead of consuming it. There are also other instances a person might lose weight excessively, either because of sickness or other causes. This might make some people feel bad about their bodies and thus have a negative perception of their body images. In effect, some people might result in wearing loosely fitting clothes to hide the weight loss (Tiggemann, 2005).
Continual low self-esteem stemming from dissatisfaction with body image can lead to suicidal thoughts. Some people are overly sensitive to what others think about their bodies to the extent of having suicidal thoughts (Scherer, 2013). Exposure to images of bodies that some people might perceive to be perfect often leads to an exceedingly low self-esteem and in extreme cases the victims end up taking suicidal routes. Reports have shown quite shocking numbers of people, especially the young people, who kill themselves because they have low self-esteem that drives them to extreme levels of desperation and suicide (Firth, 2009).
People who often think they have not attained the ‘right’ body image are constantly thinking of ways to attain that body image that they perceive to be ‘perfect’. The self-esteem of such people seems to be constantly declining as they try out more techniques to obtain their perceived body images. Most are excessively sensitive to criticism from other people. They view comments from other sources as being constantly directed towards them even if they are not the main points of interest (Healey, 2008). This kind of attitude drowns their self-esteems deeper giving them the wrong impression of their body images. Both heavy and skinny people who do not think that is their right body image will tend to think a lot about their body weight and image and food (Healey, 2008).
The body image of a person will always have a direct relationship to the self-esteem of a person. The people who have acquired their desired body image are known to have elevated levels of self-esteem in their lives. An individual with a low self-esteem will tend to withdraw from family members and friends. Such individuals tend to avoid contact with other people because they do not feel comfortable being around others. People with a certain perceived body image have difficulty relating to others. A person who does not appreciate his or her body image will most certainly have self-esteem issues and will always want to vent it on others. Some of the people who do not get to attain the perceived ‘perfect’ body image slowly develop habits that often result from low self-esteem (Ah-Kion, 2006). Some are seen to embrace excessive exercise. They are also seen to repetitively and obsessively check their weight. Others are seen to visit the washrooms immediately after having meals.
In conclusion, the body image of an individual can lead to extremely low levels of self-esteem. Individuals will tend to have a certain perceived perfect body image that they always want to attain. Failure to achieve this goal leads to low self-esteem that in most cases leads to different people doing different extreme acts in a bid to attain that perceived ‘perfect’ body image and in turn boost their self-esteem (Healey, 2008). Some of the things people end up doing include overfeeding to try and add weight, dieting and avoiding food to lose weight, visiting the washroom immediately after meals to lose weight and exercising excessively (Firth, 2009). People also tend to have aggressive behaviours to counter their low self-esteem caused by ‘bad’ body image. Some may be too sensitive to comments about food and others may end up being suicidal in the process.
An image if a lady looking at her body through the mirror
Ah-Kion, J. (2006). Body image and self-esteem: a study of gender differences among mid- adolescents.Gen&Behav, 4(1). doi:10.4314/gab.v4i1.23344
Firth, L. (2009). Body image and self-esteem. Cambridge: Independence.
Healey, J. (2008). Body image and self-esteem.Thirroul, N.S.W.: Spinney Press.
Scherer, L. (2013). Body image. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.
Tiggemann, M. (2005). Body dissatisfaction and adolescent self-esteem: Prospective findings. Body Image, 2(2), 129-135. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2005.03.006