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Body Awareness

Our Approach

Why is body image relevant to our work on health?   There are significant health impacts as a result of our thoughts, feelings and beliefs about our bodies. Body awareness includes the thoughts, perceptions, and feelings that we have about our bodies.  We make meaning about the value of our bodies through our interactions with family, friends, and peers and our culture as well as through food and fashion industries and media.  In these interactions, we receive both corrosive and resiliency promoting messages that influence our health. Consequences of poor body image can include:

  • Fear of intimacy in sexual relationships;
  • Avoiding participation in enjoyable movement;
  • People can attempt to change or control their bodies by:
    • Restrained eating;
    • Abuse of anabolic steroids;
    • Seeking cosmetic surgery;
    • Using skin bleaching products;
    • Preoccupation with food and eating;
    • Continuing to smoke because afraid will gain weight if quit.

Because of all these factors, Community Health addresses body awareness from a health-centered approach as opposed to a weight-centered approach.  Health-centered means that we focus on behaviors and attitudes that improve our sense of self and contribute to more affirmative relationships with our body.

What is a health-centered approach?  How can I cultivate a better body image?

  • It’s helpful to become more aware of messages that people get and begin to choose how to react to or relate to those messages
  • Create a supportive and positive community can help improve body image/
  • Understand the interconnections between all kinds of health, social and environmental issues to help people feel more effective and have more agency.

Consequences of a better body image can include:

  • Free up energy for other things;
  • Enjoy yourself and other people more;
  • Spend less time and money on body altering and controlling efforts, more time and money for other things.

Public Health Perspective

A common public health approach is to focus on obesity as an indicator of health.    This is an instance in which a public health approach may have negative consequences in that it hampers people’s ability to understand their body and health outside of the context of weight.

Right now, because the public conversation is so dominated by a focus on weight, we don’t find much space for a broader understanding of our embodied selves.

A more effective public health approach could include:

  • Focusing on the types and amount of movement available to people;
  • Supporting people in awareness of felt bodily sensations and our relationship to food;
  • Seeing our bodies as a vehicle for pleasure and experience;
  • Considering our place in the food system and media, and making choices that reflect   values;
  • Seeing the resilience and vulnerability in our differences
    • Factors that shape these differences include:
      • Social status
      • Race, class, gender identity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age and others
      • Group resilience
      • History

Scientific Evidence Tells Us

  • Dieting is not effective (95% of all diets fail);
  • The connection between obesity and health is complex (high weight alone does not necessarily mean poor health);
  • Dieting may trigger the onset of an eating disorder.

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