This blog post is focused on body checking. I will define what body checking is, why we body check, why it is harmful, and how to reduce body checking.
What is body checking?
Body checking is the tendency to think about and check your appearance. Body checking goes beyond the scope of what is considered normal mirror checking. We all look in mirrors, but body checking is more than doing things like putting on an outfit and looking at a mirror to see how it fits, or seeing if you have food in your teeth after a meal.
There are many different ways in which people engage in this habit including body checking by feeling parts of their body and mirror checking. Some behaviors that can be a sign of body checking include:
Feeling for and squeezing fat on your body
Needing a lot of validation from others about your appearance
Comparing your appearance to others or to old pictures of yourself
Spending too much time in front of the mirror assessing your appearance
Measuring body parts or fit of your clothes
Why do we body check?
We typically body check in order to reassure ourselves about our appearance. It tends to happen when we are feeling anxious in general or feeling anxious specifically about our body. Sometimes body checking can give a small sense of relief and give us a sense of control over how we appear to others. Ironically however, this checking and focus on our body only tends to increase our dissatisfaction in our appearance because we are looking for our perceived flaws. It also gives us more anxiety over our appearance and weight in the long term. It makes us spend more time thinking about and doing behaviors related to our appearance. Research shows that people who body check have poorer body image.
Social media is worsening the problem of body checking for many people. There are body checking trends and challenges going viral. Social media also sets unrealistic body expectations for viewers. Many “ideal” bodies that gather so many likes and views are not realistic for the average person. These bodies can be due to making a career out of fitness, genetics, an eating disorder, or plastic surgery. The lack of representation of different body types and features sets dangerous body image standards and remarkably high beauty standards. The problem with these videos is also that they send the message that you need to look a certain way to get attention, likes, and compliments. It can additionally be hard to escape body checking videos because many social media sites have an algorithm that recommends these videos to its users. In a society that tends to place such a high value on appearance and being thin, it can be difficult to maintain a positive body image and keep your appearance separate from your self-worth.
Ways that checking our bodies can be harmful to us
There are many ways in which body checking can be harmful to not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. Before going into how to reduce body checking we want to highlight some of the ways body checking can be harmful. Body checking can increase the chance that you will restrictively eat or excessively exercise. With so much focus on your body and your perceived flaws it increases the chance that you want to take extreme or unhealthy measures to make changes to what you do not like about your body. Frequent body checking can open the door to an eating disorder, it also may be part of the picture of an eating disorder. In addition to the effects on our physical health, body checking can take a toll on our mental health. Body checking can take us away from being present and in the moment in our lives and in our relationships. We can perceive our flaws as much worse than they really are, leading to increased anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. Oftentimes, body checking results in reliance on our bodies for relief of feelings of anxiety or loss of control. We aren’t dealing with the root of the problem, instead we are avoiding our negative feelings and putting the focus on our bodies.
How to reduce body checking
First, if you want to know how to reduce body checking it is important to be aware of how often you check your body. Sometimes, it can become a subconscious behavior that you do without even realizing it. It may become so much a part of your daily routine that you may need to actively bring attention to when you are body checking. Notice how much time and thoughts you spend preoccupied with your body. It should not take up a significant portion of the day. Ideally, it should not take up much of any time during your day. You can keep a log of how often you are body checking on your phone or a journal if you are not sure how often you are doing it. Once you have more of an idea of how much you engage in the behavior, ask yourself some questions such as:
How does this make me feel afterwards?
Is this benefitting me in any way?
What am I looking for and why do I feel the need to check?
How does this affect my behaviors?
Has anything changed since the last time I checked?
You may not know the answer to every question but challenging your thoughts will likely reduce the amount of time you spend staring at the mirror. There are other tips you can use to stop body checking such as using distractions to pull your attention away from your body. You can also only use the mirror when you’re getting ready to go out. You can try allowing yourself to body check only during a small window of time each day and then lessen that amount of time each week.
It can also be important to think of your social media usage. Think about who you are following and how these accounts make you feel about your body. Try to follow accounts that have bodies of all different shapes and sizes. Above all else, remember to be kind to yourself and remind yourself that your body and your weight do not define you.
It also may be beneficial to seek a professional’s help in finding the root of the problem and working with you on how to reduce body checking. Here at Best Within You Therapy & Wellness, our psychologists have significant experience in disordered eating, eating disorders, and body image issues. It can be overwhelming to go through this alone, so feel free to reach out and schedule a therapy appointment. You can schedule an online therapy appointment or free phone consultation. You are so much more than your body and it’s very possible to spend less time focused on your body.
This blog post was written by Atlanta Psychologist Dr. Rebecca Leslie and Marcella Peach. Marcella is interning for Best Within You Therapy & Wellness and is a college student at the University of Georgia.