What is Body Checking?
Body checking is a habit or compulsive behavior of closely scrutinizing and evaluating one’s own body.(1) It often focuses on perceived flaws and imperfections. The behavior can manifest as repeatedly looking in the mirror, measuring body parts, or frequently touching specific areas of the body.
Body checking is associated with body image concerns and self-esteem issues, and is indicative of underlying psychological distress or conditions like body dysmorphic eating disorder or eating disorders. It severely affects a person’s mental health. Experts recognized an association between body checking, eating disorders, and mental health conditions.(2)
Some experts also think that there may be an association between social media use and body dissatisfaction.(3)
Significance of Understanding Bodychecking
Having an understanding of body checking holds importance for several reasons.
- Recognizing this behavior helps raise awareness about mental health issues related to body image, self-esteem, and related conditions.
- It allows for timely intervention and support that is crucial for preventing the development or escalation of mental health disorders.
- It helps promote body positivity, self-acceptance, and healthy body image.
- It helps in reducing stigma around body image concerns and mental health issues.
- It can help individuals critically evaluate media messages about body standards and body ideals.
Types of Body Checking
Body checking is of two main types physical and emotional:
Physical Body Checking
It involves direct observation and checking on one’s own body through actions such as looking in the mirror, taking measurements, or touching specific parts.
Emotional Body Checking
This involves constantly monitoring one’s emotional state based on how one perceives their body looks or feels. This type is less observable by others but is deeply internalized. It involves linking self-worth to how one believes one looks on a particular day, associating body shape or weight with emotions like shame, guilt, or pride, or allowing perceived physical flaws to dictate one’s overall mood and confidence.
These two types of body checking can overlap. For example, one may engage in physical body checking behaviors, which may lead to emotional reactions based on assessments. Recognizing these types of body checking behaviors is a crucial step in promoting positive body image and mental well-being.
Motivations Behind Body Checking
The motivation behind body checking can be complex and multifaceted. Understanding reasons is crucial in addressing and supporting individuals who engage in this behavior.
- Societal Pressure and Beauty Standards: Media platforms including magazines, advertisements, and social media perpetuate and narrow beauty standards. The individuals are compelled to conform to these standards leading to body checking.
Cultural norms and traditions can place significant emphasis on appearance. This may influence individuals to engage in body checking to meet or maintain expectations.
- Personal Insecurities and Self-Esteem: Individuals with low body image may resort to body checking as a way to seek reassurance or validation about appearance.
Comparison of oneself to peers and celebrities can lead to a feeling of inadequacy, driving the need for constant assessment and comparison.
Symptoms of Body Checking
Body checking affects both males and females. However, females may be more vulnerable to body-image-related influences. Body checking manifests an excessive concern with self-body shape and body size. People may constantly check and have concerns about their skin, hair, or facial features. This may lead to behavioral symptoms.
- Feeling for bones
- Compulsive wishing self
- Checking in the mirror
- Pinching flesh
- Measuring several parts of the body
- Asking for the opinion of another person on appearance
Consequences of Body Checking
Body checking can have a significant consequence on both physical and mental well-being. These include:
- Health Risks: Excessive body checking may lead to extreme dietary restrictions or over-exercising. This may lead to nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, and physical health complications.
- Eating Disorders: Distorted body image may lead to the development or exacerbation of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorders.
- Injuries: Engaging in extreme body checking may lead to overexertion in exercise or extreme dieting leading to injuries, muscle strain, or physical ailments.
- Anxiety and Obsessive Thoughts: Body checking is known to increase anxiety levels and obsessive thoughts about appearance.
- Depression and Mood Disorders: Being dissatisfied with one’s body image along with the emotional toll of body checking can lead to symptoms of depression and mood disorders.
- Negative Body Image: Frequent scrutiny of one’s body may lead to a negative body image, reinforcing feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and self-loathing.
The mental and emotional toll of body checking diminishes an individual’s overall quality of life and ability to fulfil activities and maintain healthy relationships.
Body Checking and Eating Disorders
There is a strong relationship between body checking and eating disorders. In a review and meta-analysis done in 2018, researchers found, that people with eating disorders experienced more body checking than those who did not have eating disorders.(4)
A small study suggested, that people with anorexia nervosa who engaged in body checking also engaged in dietary restriction on the same day or subsequent day.(5)
A review indicated that body checking and eating disorders in males and females differed. Females tend to focus on body fat, while males on muscularity.(1)
How to Reduce Body Checking?
Reducing body checking is crucial to promoting a healthier body image and overall well-being. Some of the important strategies and techniques include:
- Mindfulness and Self-Compassion: Engaging in mindfulness techniques helps in becoming more present and aware of thoughts and feelings without judgment. Self-compassion is cultivated by treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend.
- Challenge Negative Thoughts: Identifying negative or critical thoughts about the body and replacing them with more positive and realistic perspectives can be helpful.
- Limit Mirror and Scale Use: Mirrors and weighing scales should be used at specific times. This is to break the habit of constant checking.
- Focus on Functionality and Health: Focus should be shifted from appearance to what the body can do. Appreciate the body’s strength, resilience, and ability to perform tasks.
- Engage in Positive Affirmation: Positive affirmations should be used to reinforce self-love and acceptance. Remind yourself about the worth beyond appearance.
- Practice Gratitude: Cultivate gratitude for the body for all it does to you. The focus should be on parts of the body that are appreciated.
Research suggests that cognitive behavior therapy may be effective for patients with body checking.(6) A mental health therapist can help a person put some of the above strategies into practice. Also, social media accounts that trigger feelings of body checking should be avoided.
One should not completely avoid looking at the mirror, as it may lead to body avoidance. It involves avoiding situations that may cause someone to interact with their shape and weight. This may also lead to eating disorders.(7)
Prevention and Education of Body Checking
Prevention and education are key components in addressing body-checking behavior and promoting positive body image. This can be done by:
- Promoting body positivity in schools by conducting workshops and seminars on body image.
- Media literacy programs that can teach how to critically analyze and deconstruct media messages about beauty standards.
- Community workshops and support groups focussed on body positivity.
- Parental education and involvement encouraging open communication in the family about body image.
- Advocating representation of diverse body types genders, and ethnicities in media, advertising, and fashion industries.
- Collaborating with mental health professionals to offer workshops, resources, and counseling services focused on body image and self-esteem.
Implementation of prevention and education strategies helps support positive body image, self-acceptance, and overall mental well-being.
Body checking is seeking information about shape, weight, or appearance. Some doing it repeatedly or obsessively may show unhealthy behavior.
Reducing body checking behavior requires a combination of mindfulness, self-compassion, and a shift towards one’s body for its functionality and uniqueness. Prevention and education play a vital role in creating an environment that supports body positivity and self-esteem.
Fostering a culture of compassion, understanding, and education can collectively work toward a society where individuals feel valued and empowered regardless of their appearance.
If someone has a feeling that their body checking is unhealthy or they are having negative thoughts about their weight and appearance can speak with a healthcare professional for further guidance.