Don’t Give Up On Your AppearanceSep 08, 2022
‘If I work on my body image, won’t I just let myself go?’
People instantly get turned off from working on their body image if they think it means giving up on how they look. That’s not what it’s about at all.
You don’t have to stop caring about how you look or taking care of your appearance.
In fact, positive body image involves regularly engaging in appearance-related self-care, such as grooming behaviours that reflect our style and personality.
Maladaptive Appearance Investment
Appearance investment refers to the importance we place on our appearance and its significance to our identity, or who we are. Taking care of our appearance isn’t always harmful - it just depends on why we’re doing it and the importance we place on it.
Changing our appearance can become maladaptive when we do so because we are preoccupied with how we look, we believe our appearance defines who we are, we experience distress when we can’t attend to our appearance, and/or engage in harmful practices that interfere with self-care.
Take dieting, for example. When you’re on a diet, do you worry about eating out with friends? Do you get anxious if you don’t have access to a gym or have to take a rest day? Do you constantly check your appearance, compare yourself to others, and feel inadequate as a result? If so, it is likely that this is an unhelpful focus.
Adaptive Appearance Investment
On the other hand, research suggests that engaging in appearance-related practices to enhance identity, style, and self-care may contribute to a sense of personal uniqueness and well-being, which is connected to higher body appreciation.
When we feel comfortable with who we are, any modifications we make to our appearance are like to:
- Follow our own values
- Be flexible
- Focus on health, self-care, and expressing our personal style,
- Not take significant time and energy away from other important aspects of our lives
At the time of writing this, I have 7 tattoos. I like how they look and each tattoo expresses something of personal significance to me - I don’t do it for anyone else. Besides a few hours in a chair and a chunk of change, getting a tattoo isn’t too much effort. If all of my tattoos were wiped clean and my body was a blank canvas again, it would be a bit of a shame but it wouldn’t change how I feel about myself as a person. Yet if I were to do this to try to impress others, or to improve my self-worth, this would be linked to a higher negative body image.
Let’s take another example.
Exercising regularly is positively associated with body appreciation, but only when our appearance-related motivations are low. When we exercise primarily to change our body composition, exercising loses its positive impact on our body image and well-being. Engaging in exercise for other reasons, such as enjoyment, health, and self-care, is positively connected to appreciating our bodies.
So remember, it’s not necessarily the things we do, like getting tattoos or exercising, that are adaptive or maladaptive.
What distinguishes between helpful appearance practices and unhelpful appearance practices are:
- The extent to which we engage in appearance-related practices
- The importance we place on them, and
- Our motives for engaging in them
Have a think:
- How important is my appearance in defining my self-worth?
- Is my appearance more important than other areas of my life? What do I neglect in order to focus on my appearance?
- How much of my engagement in appearance-related practices is about trying to express my personal style versus changing my appearance to be more attractive to others?
- Which appearance-related practices enhance my health and well-being?
If you want to work on taking care of your appearance in a healthy way, the Body Image Workbook will help you get started.
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