Anxiety + Body Image

How Body Image Can Be a Concern

There are many factors that go into self-esteem, or the level of confidence one has in their own abilities or qualities. Some of the factors of self-esteem include academic self-esteem, relationship self-esteem, athletic self-esteem, etc. While there are so many factors, it is especially concerning that the strongest indicator of self-esteem is physical self-esteem, or the confidence one has in their appearance. Today, there is a thin-ideal, but today’s ideal was not always the norm. The idea of obesity being bad or a “disease” is only found in more industrialized and Western countries. In fact, 80 percent of societies throughout history have had a preference for larger women. However, this historical preference is not prominent nowadays, and girls as young as seven years old exhibit signs of adult-like body dissatisfaction and are knowledgeable about dieting.

How Body Image Dissatisfaction Correlates with Anxiety

Body image concern is often related to anxiety. Higher body image dissatisfaction is associated with higher initial symptoms of general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and school avoidance. As we see girls experiencing a lot of anxiety, we also know that adolescent girls are unfortunately the most vulnerable to weight-based dissatisfaction. One reason for this higher vulnerability is that girls are highly influenced by their peers, and are more affected by weight-based teasing. Adolescence is a time of rapid growth, which leads to rapid weight gain. For girls, this growth spurt means an increase in body fat percentage. It is important to remember that this weight gain is natural! Despite its naturalness, a lot of girls try to push against this necessary weight gain, and around two-thirds of teenage girls say they are trying to lose weight. Furthermore, girls state that school is one of the places where their feelings of weight dissatisfaction are reinforced.

Graphic by Loran Schultz

You are NOT alone

For girls, the strongest predictor of body dissatisfaction was the internalization of messages, not what their body looked like or what their BMI was. This means that society encourages girls to hate their bodies regardless of the size, and their feelings about their bodies depend on how much they internalize these messages.

It is not BMI that contributes to body image, but rather the perception (e.g., internalization, pressures, social comparison) that appears to play a key role in adolescents’ assessment of the body. Lots of adolescent girls are struggling with anxiety related to how they appear, but it is important to remember that you will get through this and you shouldn’t be ashamed of asking for help.