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How our body image relates to our self-esteem

Experts say many of us don't like our bodies, but we should lighten up a bit.

You've probably noticed that more and more reality shows are being added to television these days. On just about every channel you'll see folks of all ages doing the craziest things to be on camera and become famous.

Most people on reality shows seem to be outgoing with plenty of self-esteem, which could make you believe the average person has that same level of confidence too.

However, according to a study released by Anytime Fitness, one in three people has either low self-esteem or very low self-esteem and a lot of those negative feelings have to do with their weight gain and body image.

Statistics show that 53% of the U.S. population is interested in covering up their problem areas when choosing outfits or that they'll pick clothes to compensate for the areas of their body they don't like.

Other results show that 20% feel too embarrassed about their bodies to be seen in a gym, so they don't go, and that these kinds of body image issues affect 57% of women and 29% of men.

Long-lasting problems

Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of Explore What's Next, a company that helps people with their emotional challenges, says tying your self-esteem to how your body looks can cause some long-lasting problems.

"There are people out there who hate their body for what it is. A lot of overweight people judge themselves in a way they would never judge anyone else," wrote Aletta on PsychCentral.com. "When we get like this, every ounce of our self-esteem is wrapped up in what the scale says. Our lives are measured by pounds lost and gained from day to day, week to week, month to month.

"At its worst, this way of thinking can lead to a serious, life-threatening eating disorder. But even at its best, self-esteem/weight dependency is not good," she wrote.

Covering up

Dr. Daemon Jones, of Healthydaes Naturopathic Medical Center, says weight management and low self-esteem can go hand in hand, especially for women.

Many of the patients who struggle with self-esteem and body issues wear  specific clothes to not only hide certain body parts, but to hide the people they really are, says Jones.

"One of the things that I've noticed is when women come into the office -- if they're carrying more weight than their frame can manage, which is  the way I like to look at it and think about it -- then they may not be wearing clothes that they feel good in or they feel sexy in," she said. "They may be trying to hide themselves and they may not be really willing to share who they are with the people around them."

No gender boundaries

Of course it's not just some women who suffer from low self-esteem and body image issues. Plenty of men suffer too.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida shows today's men want to be bigger with more muscles.

"If you look back at what was considered the ideal male body 50 years ago it wasn't this super hyper muscular physique that we have now," said Heather Hausenblas, a psychology professor at Concordia University, who did her doctoral dissertation at the University of Florida.

"Body image problems such as eating disorders and striving to be thin have always been attributed to women, but now we're seeing a significant rise in men who are dissatisfied with how they look and want to become more muscular," she explained.

And when it comes to which area of the body people have the most trouble keeping in shape, 21% of women said it's their legs and hips. Four percent of men said same thing.

The road to self-esteem

While many of us aren't too thrilled about our bodies or our lack of proper diet and exercise, that's no reason to let your self-esteem go down the tubes, experts say.

Lori Osachy, a therapist and body image expert at The Body Image Counseling Center in Florida, said building your self-esteem has to do with retraining your brain, even if you have to fake being self-confident at first.

"Even if in the beginning that means you have to jump in front of the mirror and shout, 'You're awesome,' and then immediately jump back out that's okay," she said in a published interview. "The goal is to retrain your brain how to think positively about your reflection and your body."

What to do

Other experts say many of us will go out of our way to be kind to others, but won't be kind to ourselves, so it's important to think highly of yourself -- even if you don't feel like doing it.

In addition, experts say exercising and eating better for health reasons, instead of weight reasons, can help you with your self-esteem issues. And seeing yourself as a complete human being instead of seeing yourself as a person with out of shape body parts can help, too.

Experts say focusing too heavily on reaching a desired weight or getting upset with yourself because you've gained a few pounds is a big no-no.

Instead, pay more attention to the entire person you are, meaning your personality, how you treat others, how important you are to your family, and so on.

This will allow you to see yourself as a complete person and not just a number on a scale.

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