The vast majority of women – and quite a few men - don’t see themselves as they really are. They look in the mirror and focus on the areas they don’t like: hips and thighs that are less than perfect; unsightly hair growth; a post-baby paunch; wrinkles that weren’t there yesterday – the list goes on. The problem is that as poor body image develops people stop seeing the good bits and just focus on the areas that they are unhappy about. Self-confidence, self-acceptance and self-love can turn quickly into self-loathing.
So, when you look in the mirror, can you see all of yourself, or do you only see the wobbly bits?
How Poor Body Image DevelopsA quick trawl through the psychological research can turn up a myriad of reasons why people develop a poor self-image. Some of the things that are said to contribute to the development of negative body images include:
- The media – pop videos and airbrushed images in magazines that focus on the very thin as icons of beauty
- Barbie – let’s face it, she’s out of proportion, but is she completely to blame?
- Celebrities endorsing new diets – especially when they start to become painfully thin
- The size zero ‘phenomena’ – and can anyone bigger than size zero look ‘good’ in the clothes that they wear?
- Attitudes of friends and family – especially those of anyone inclined to voice criticism based on appearance or weight.
- Trauma – the loss of health and well-being through accidents and/or through long term illnesses like cancer can also contribute to poor body image.
- Abuse –detailed case studies taken of those struggling with eating disorders sometimes reveal a history of abuse that can be responsible for instilling a sense of self-loathing.
Why Massage for Poor Body Image?Poor body image is just one of an array of symptoms associated with more serious mental health issues. Amongst others, it has been connected to anxiety, depression, anorexia and bulimia. When professionals look to treat mental health issues, one of the first things they focus on is finding a way of helping someone to feel good.
Massage is well known for its ability to make people of all ages feel more relaxed and better about themselves. Hence, researchers started to investigate massage as a way of improving mental health in general and body image in particular. Over the past decade, the research teams world wide have managed to collect some interesting evidence to prove that regular massage can make a significant difference to how you feel about yourself. Here’s a small sample:
- Female university students taking part in a controlled experiment relating to the effects of massage on body image reported feeling better about themselves and their bodies after having massage. The control group (who did not receive massage) showed no change in their attitudes. (Bridgewater State University, USA, 2011).
- Post-menopausal women taking part in an experiment to examine the effects of massage on abdominal fat, waist circumference and body image received a full body massage once a week and massaged their own abdomens twice a day during the six week experiment. Half the group received massages with grapeseed oil. The other half received an aromatherapy massage with a standardized blend of essential oils. Both groups felt better after the treatment, but the group receiving aromatherapy massage showed significant changes across all areas – body image, waist circumference and abdominal fat. (Department of Nursing, Wonkwang Health Science College, Korea) 2007)
- Twice weekly massages were given to women undergoing treatment for anorexia nervosa. As well as reporting lower levels of stress and anxiety, they also commented that they felt less dissatisfied with their bodies during the weeks that they received the massages. Blood tests also revealed lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) immediately after massage. (Touch Institute, Miami University, 2001)
The Feel Good FactorIf you want to focus on massage as a means of improving body image, the evidence suggests the following:
- Have regular treatments
- Try self-massage between treatments and focus on those problem bits. Positive attention of this kind will help you to change how you feel about your problem areas.
- In between treatments, find ways of focusing on what makes you feel good –being happy more of the time will help to improve how you feel about yourself and your body.
- Consider increasing your physical exercise – as well as releasing additional endorphins, regular physical exercise can help your body to feel stronger, more powerful and healthy.
- Turn around and nurture others with massage – it’s up to us to ensure that the next generation won’t develop similar hang-ups about their bodies. Regular massage for children helps keep them happy in themselves as well as improving sleep and reducing aggressive tendencies (additional studies carried out at the Touch Institute in Miami).
If you feel that you may need additional support to overcome any negative body image issues you have, find psychotherapists or counselling services in your area.