Body Image and Emotions


Body image is a multidimensional construct, which involves perceptions, behaviors, cognitions, and emotions related to individual’s body, that are also connected to the degree of one’s own body image satisfaction and perceptual accuracy. Body image has often been defined as the self-perception of the physical self and the feelings and thoughts that result from that perception (Cash, 2004; Grogan, 2006). Disturbance in any of these domains is referred to as body image concerns or negative body image.

Mayer and Salovey define emotional intelligence (EI) as: “the ability to perceive accurately, appraise and express emotion; the ability to access and/or generate feelings when they facilitate thought; the ability to understand emotion and emotional knowledge; and the ability to regulate emotions to promote emotional and intellectual growth.”

Emotions are messengers that tell us if we are doing something right or wrong, frightening or pleasurable. They may be based on perceptions of need or values, and may be experienced in a range of intensities according to variables such as inborn traits or cultural and family norms. However differently we experience them, emotions are the messengers about the Self and are housed in the body. Sadness can be felt by having a heavy heart or lethargic energy. Fear can be experienced by having a racing heartbeat, heightened sensitivity to sensory information, or pulsating muscles ready to flee, fight or freeze. The body is the narrator of the Self, the text is emotion, and the story is You.

People dealing with challenges to their body image often don’t know how they feel. They have been taught somewhere along the line that their feelings are shameful or unacceptable, or that the needs behind the feelings will not be met. They often cannot differentiate what they are feeling from the feelings of others. This could be because of childhood experiences with frighteningly huge feelings, either their own or others’. They are often unable to identify and fight for what they need as they don’t listen to the messages. They often don’t have a clear sense of who they are and are preoccupied and vulnerable to external messages about their worth. This can lead to an overly controlling focus on the body, a focus that often goes astray.

While the body is a good place to start in knowing and defining the self, it isn’t by controlling the shape of the body that identity and worth are strengthened. Getting to know the self by identifying and expressing the emotions in the body— by respecting the messages— is a much healthier and more effective way. A controlled approach to the body is one that doesn’t listen to messages out of fear or avoidance of pain. Avoidance of emotion is self-rejection and inevitably leads to low self-worth. Your body and the emotions housed within it author your life. What are the messages your emotions are trying to tell you? Have you been ignoring them? If you listen, you may learn more about what kind of experiences you want more or less of, how close or far you want certain people around you, and how you want to be treated. By practicing this listening, you will get better at advocating for your Self and hence feel much better about your own worth. You only have to attend to the story— what you do afterwards is your choice. Will you listen?