Three ways to feel good in your body and improve body image
What is the difference between embodiment and body image and how to cultivate it
Our bodies are the often the most complex and fragile battlegrounds. Places where there is a complex mix of the internal and external; our skin a site of self-expression or self-imposed warfare as we break and ache for a measure of self-acceptance and search for a sense of belonging within our own skin.
We frequently separate ourselves from our bodies and treat them like something that needs to be punished for betraying us by not fulfilling our own or society’s beauty ideal, as opposed to cultivating a greater sense of bodily connection and focusing on our lived experience over looks. This can be hugely detrimental to our mental health, body-image, and ability to lead an abundant life.
What Is Body Image?
Body image can be described as the perception of an individual’s body. Body image is a complex concept and often understood as being influenced by cultural and/ or social norms, individual attitudes towards weight and shape, biological variables, history of bodily experience (e.g. trauma history) and weight change/ fluctuation . Therefore, it is constantly changing and may exist on a continuous spectrum.
Positive body image refers to accepting, respecting and appreciating one’s body, include it’s unique capabilities, functionality and characteristics. Research suggests that those with positive body image are more self-confident, comfortable, and happy with their bodies – irrespective of whether they meet the “thin ideal” or not . Fostering this level of self-acceptance and appreciation enables the individual to have a greater appreciation for the diversity of body shapes and sizes and the ability to identify and challenge unhealthy and unrealistic social ideals and beauty standards .
More often than not body-image and self-esteem is based primarily on appearance, yet in order to develop a greater sense of embodiment it is important to look beyond the body. Learn more about how to cultivate a sense of self-worth beyond appearance here.
What is Embodiment?
Embodiment, or the concept of positive embodiment can be understood as a positive body connection, a sense of bodily comfort, personal agency and self-care . The construct of embodiment overlaps with positive body image, and may also exist on a spectrum, as both concepts place emphasis on fostering both appreciation for and a connection with the body.
For instance, it is the difference between viewing the world through your own eyes and viewing the world through how you believe others see you through their eyes; positive embodiment is the difference between being hyper fixated on how your body looks in a swimsuit versus being appreciative of what your body allows you to do, and how strong and powerful you feel cutting through the water.
Embodiment introduces the idea of the lived experience or the experience of agency to act in the world and a measure of comfort with bodily needs.
The body acts as the point between the interior and exterior—a means to interact with and experience our external world while housing our internal world). After all, hugs feel best you’re immersed in how another person’s arms feel around you instead of worrying about how your body fits or doesn’t fit in their arms.
A lack of positive embodiment, or a sense of disembodiment, has been negatively associated with self-objectification and restrictive or restrained eating (in women) .
Why is it Important to Address Embodiment?
Cultivating positive embodiment is empowering, as research suggests that it positively correlates to an increase in self-esteem, body-esteem/ appearance-esteem and overall life satisfaction . It could be argued that this improvement in life satisfaction is partially, if not arguably primarily, due to it shaking off the shackles of self-limiting beliefs and enables us to enjoy life and experiences without being preoccupied with how your body looks during those experiences. Having a greater sense of embodiment and body-acceptance, if not appreciation, can help improve body-image and self-esteem and therefore guard against self-destructive behaviours and coping mechanisms such as disordered eating and/ or easting disorders.
Studies further suggest that cultivating a more positive sense of embodiment may be protective against negative appearance-based messages (e.g., via social media, mass media, etc) and is uniquely associated with a range of other body and appearance affirming attributes such as joyful movement and intuitive eating .
Three Tips to Help Support Re-Embodiment
Studies demonstrated that women who engaged in mind and body practices such as yoga scored higher on positive body image and embodiment, and lower on self-objectification than non-yoga practicing participants . Cultivating bodily connection through joyful movement, such as yoga, that focuses on breath work and listening to the body may be protective against adopting an observer’s perspective of the body and therefore self-judgement 
Abilities > Appearance
Linked to the above tip, in order to re-embody yourself, it can help to concentrate on your abilities over your appearance and progress over perception. For instance, this could translate into setting yourself the goal of lifting progressively heavier weights in the gym instead of aiming for a lower weight on the scale.
Compassion > Comparison
Body acceptance can be challenging in a society in which we are consistently fed messages as why we should hate are bodies and all of the ways in which they “betray’ us by not looking a certain way or fulfilling a specific ideal. In order to combat this, it is paramount to cultivate a measure of self-compassion instead of comparing yourself to others. Instead of looking in the mirror and potentially focusing on all of the aesthetic aspects you may perceive yourself to lack, write a list of all of the things that you are – the immaterial qualities like being a great listener, or being able to make people laugh and then write the ways your body enables you make those immaterial qualities material e.g. “my ears enable me to listen, my mouth allows me to speak kind words, tell jokes…” etc.
If you are on a journey of self-discovery and are ready to re-embody your body and call it home once again, our team of experts would love to support you! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Charlotte Munro, BSc
EHL Team x
- Mahlo, L and Tiggemann, M (2016), ‘Yoga and Positive Body Image: A Test of the Embodiment Model’, Body Image, 18, pp. 135-142. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2016.06.008
- Slade, P.D (1994), ‘What is Body Image’, Behaviour Research and Therapy, 32(5), pp. 497-502. doi: 10.1016/0005-7967(94)90136-8
- Sundgot- Borgen, C et al. (2020), ‘The Norwegian Healthy Body Intervention Promotes Positive Embodiment Through Improved Self-Esteem’, Body Image, 35, pp. 84-95. doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.08.014