September 1, 2021
College is an exciting time for new students. It’s a period of newfound independence and friendships, as well as high expectations and a heavy workload. For some students, the pressure to achieve a certain body image can add an unnecessary stressor. Learn how you or someone you care about can reduce that stress by maintaining body positivity and self-esteem.
What is Body Positivity?
Body positivity is a movement that advocates that all people—no matter their shape, size, or appearance—deserve to be accepted and have a positive view of their own bodies. The message “all bodies are beautiful” encourages all humans to appreciate their body in spite of flaws, accepts its uniqueness, love them self, and reject unrealistic beauty standards.
Having a body-positive mindset can play a significant role in how college students feel about their outward physical appearance and overall self-esteem and self-worth—traits that help them confidently shape their identities as they move into adulthood.
Why Do College Students Struggle with Body Positivity?
People of all ages, weights and genders struggle with body positivity. Research indicates self-esteem issues start far earlier than they should, with 25% of children having tried dieting behavior by age 7. Distorted or negative body image is a serious concern, linked to increased risk for mental health conditions like depression and eating disorders. Signs of unhealthy or negative body image include:
- Obsessively examining or judging yourself in mirrors
- Thinking disparaging thoughts about your own body
- Frequently comparing your own shape and size to that of other people
- Feeling envious over others’ bodies (including friends, celebrities or social media personas)
Both mainstream and social media play a role in influencing negative body image. In the age of smartphones and social media, it’s easy to instantly filter and retouch photos. And the perception that everyone’s physical appearance is always picture-perfect can blur the line between reality and fantasy.
This constant virtual “standard of perfection” can lead students to experience feelings of disappointment about their own bodies, appearances and lives—and ultimately to wish for and work toward a body or physical appearance that simply isn’t attainable in real life.
The 2016 Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found that 7 in 10 women and 6 in 10 girls believe the media and advertising set unrealistic standards of beauty that most women can’t ever achieve. While several companies are moving away from image altering or “photo shopping,” these beauty ideals often become ingrained at a young age.
How to Improve Your Self-Esteem and Body Image
If a negative voice in your head constantly tells you bad things about your body, try to flip the script. List the things you like about yourself and your body and keep adding to it. Tape notes or positive quotes to your mirror so when low self-esteem hits, you are reminded of the amazing things your body does for you:
- Allows you to move around and experience this world
- Helps you walk, dance, breathe, and laugh
- Is far more than the physical aspects you see in the mirror and be grateful
Consider the Company You Keep
Take time to evaluate your social circles and the people you spend time with. What’s their energy like? Do they help you feel good about yourself or tear you down? Do they practice body positivity or are they constantly picking themselves apart?
Examining your relationships and setting boundaries when needed is important in shifting your mindset. After all, it’s easier to be more positive and kind to yourself when surrounded by others who recognize the importance of body positivity.
Clean Up Your Social Media
Unfollow any accounts or acquaintances that emphasize weight and physical appearance, or constantly post altered images of themselves. Remember, these images are photo shopped, airbrushed, or filtered. While these people may appear perfect, they have their own struggles. Try to follow accounts and people who speak to positivity, acceptance, and overall well-being.
Aim to Stay Active
Physical activity isn’t all about your body and physical appearance. A huge part of exercise is mental and emotional. Exercise is related to stronger mental health, confidence, body appreciation, and feel-good endorphins. Find an activity that helps you move your body and brings you joy.
Stop Unhealthy Comparisons
If you find yourself comparing your body to an image in a magazine, or recognize feelings of envy over a classmate or friend’s appearance, remind yourself that other people’s bodies aren’t an indicator of what’s healthy for your body. Healthy habits and overall well-being exist for people of all sizes and shapes. As long as you’re taking care of you, you’re doing the right things for your own body.
Talk to Someone
If you’re having a difficult time overcoming a negative body image, or think you may be suffering from an eating disorder or depression, schedule time with a provider or therapist. Many student health centers or on-campus counseling centers can help, or can connect you with a professional with the tools and treatment necessary for your condition.
If you’re having trouble taking the first step, ask a close friend or loved one to call and schedule an appointment for you. Remember, you’re not alone. There are people and treatments that can help you live a happier, more body-positive life.