What are the common causes of body image dissatisfaction?

It is common and possibly instinctive for children and even adults to classify their bodies in comparison to others. This often escalates in high school, when showers are often required after gym class and hormones start to rage, but the barrage of self-image influences begins long before that. This trait can lead to body image dissatisfaction when the body you see in the mirror does not fit what is socially acceptable. The causes of this poor body image can range from preferred slim figures in the media or in toys to negative comments from others, even comments that are not meant to be hurtful.

From early childhood, the average human being is exposed to a variety of influential media, raised in advertising, television, and movies in which models and actors, as well as newscasters and even politicians, have a high level of physical uniformity. A common practice, even in 2011, is for short men to stand on a box when being filmed or photographed alongside taller women. The look of media, from commercials to blockbuster movies, is regularly altered by lighting, makeup, and "natural selection" to create a set of ideal characteristics that people may feel they must adhere to. Most who view these images will not live up to the standards, causing body image dissatisfaction.

A person's social and family network is also largely responsible for shaping or at least reinforcing their self-image, be it negative or positive. It could be as seemingly innocent as a parent telling a child, "You need to start exercising" or "A little blush would brighten your cheeks." It could also come from classmates, who might tease, "Where did you get your haircut? The bowl factory?" They may also offer teasing that highlights a person's negative characteristics, such as calling an obese person a "fat" or a person who looks different from others a "freak."

Stress is another possible precursor to body image dissatisfaction. A 2009 study by the Australian National University revealed that stress is a common cofactor for experiencing low self-esteem. Worries about the future or just how tomorrow's tasks can be completed could lead a person to see themselves as less than adequate. The types of worries that create stress, and thus lower self-esteem, are varied and can differ depending on a variety of factors, such as gender, age, social class, and income.

Self-esteem and body image go hand in hand. Low self-esteem can develop from body image dissatisfaction, and vice versa. Although self-esteem comes from within, it is reinforced by parents, peers, and even the media. Honestly telling someone that he or she is "beautiful," especially when that person's satisfaction is low, can help boost self-esteem. Sometimes a clinical condition such as depression can make a person more likely to form body image dissatisfaction. In these cases, therapy, various medications, and even spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer may be helpful in improving self-esteem.

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