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Frequently asked questions about body image and beauty

What is meant by the term "body image"?

Body image is the term used to describe how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror - and how we believe others see us. Different than a reflection, which is what the mirror "sees," body image encompasses the state of mind in which we view that reflection. For example, a stranger may look at you and see an attractive, well-groomed person. But you may see yourself as overweight, unattractive, or even ugly and believe that others see you that way as well. Part of what we see in the mirror relates to where we have trained our eyes to look first - usually our perceived flaws. The rest of what we see is filtered through our mind’s eye - the image we see reflects back the image we have of ourselves in our head, a picture which may or may not accurately represent the true reflection in the mirror.

What do the terms "negative" and "positive" mean in relation to body image?

A "negative" body image is characterised by a distorted perception of how we really look. For example, you may see your breasts as being too small or your legs as being too short when in reality they are both of average size. People with a negative body image usually view themselves as unattractive, think that others in their life are more attractive (like a sibling or parent) and believe that their unattractive appearance is somehow a reflection of who they are inside. A "positive" body image exists when the reflection we see is an accurate one. It doesn’t mean we don’t see our flaws. It just means we are realistic about them, and we can also see our attributes. Having a positive body image means celebrating and appreciating your physical appearance, and loving what you see, warts and all!

How can I have a good body image when society’s view of my size is so negative?

It’s true that we are continuously bombarded with images of the "perfect" body and that can make us feel insecure. For those with an already negative self-image, these "ideals" can further reinforce bad feelings. The way to counter that pressure, say experts, is to first realise that only a chosen few actually "measure up" to society’s unrealistic standards - and they frequently do so at a cost to their health. Moreover, realise that your personal body image is reflected best by who you are, not how you look compared to someone else.

Is it possible for a woman to have a satisfying sex life if she has a terrible body image?

Interestingly, research shows that sometimes, sexual dysfunction in women frequently characterised by a lack of desire is really all about not feeling desirable. In a study published in the Journal of Sex Research doctors found that women who felt less attractive than they did 10 years before reported a decrease in sexual desire. Women who reported feeling as attractive as they did in the previous decade reported more satisfaction with their current sex life. While the study doesn’t prove that feeling attractive boosts a woman’s sex drive, it does suggest the two go hand-in-hand.

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