As a result of the lifestyle changes many people have made due to COVID-19, some people have found themselves struggling with their body image in an increasingly virtual society.
Nicole Lemaster, a graduate teaching assistant in clinical psychology at Texas Tech, said if someone is struggling with their body image, it typically means they have negative thoughts about their body that are not accurate.
Many people struggling with body image will find themselves making social comparisons to other people, Paul Ingram, assistant professor of counseling psychology, said.
“So much of our sense of who we are is built up in these social comparisons,” Ingram said. “And particularly at a young age, body image is a big part of that social comparison.”
Zohal Heidari, a clinical psychology graduate student and coordinator for the Tech Body Project from Oklahoma City, said she has talked to many people in the Tech community about body image.
The Body Project at Tech is an evidence-based body image organization, Heidari said. The goal of the organization is to prevent eating disorders among college-aged women.
Heidari said the Body Project hosts Zoom sessions for people to participate in activities and have a support system. During the sessions, they discuss ways to stay positive and feel better about themselves.
The struggle with body image for some people stems from quarantine when people were gaining the "quarantine 15," Heidari said. Weight gain has caused some to put an increased amount of pressure on themselves, even if they were not gaining weight.
“This spiked a lot of stress for people because they feel like their bodies are changing,” Heidari said. “It's not necessarily the worst thing that can happen, you know, we're in the middle of a pandemic, and there's a lot of other things to be concerned about.”
With limited social gatherings being another result of COVID-19, some struggles with body image are related to mental health, Heidari said.
“They're not able to attend to their mental health, the way they normally would by, you know, engaging in positive activities and getting to hang out with people,” Heidari said. “It creates extra stress, and that stress can manifest for people in different ways.”
This extra stress can cause body image issues, eating disorders, depression or anxiety, Heidari said.
Virtual meetings or gatherings have also impacted people's perceptions of themselves, Heidari said. When people have to stare at themselves while on a Zoom call, it makes struggling with body image more difficult.
“When they're already like worried about their body and then they have to stare at themselves, they start really focusing on the parts that they find concerning, and, you know, we know that we're always our own worst critic,” Heidari said.
To help mitigate some of the effects of COVID-19 on body image, Heidari said the Body Project promotes positivity by teaching strategies to address negative thoughts people have toward their bodies.
“One of the activities that we try is encouraging participants to go sit in front of a mirror and just make positive comments about themselves,” Heidari said.
These self-affirmations should be about a variety of traits, Heidari said. Some of the comments should be about physical characteristics, and some should be about personality traits.
Another activity Heidari said the Body Project encourages people to do is participate in an activity they would not normally do because of body image concerns.
“It could be like maybe you won’t wear makeup for a day, or maybe you’ll go to the pool in a bikini when you normally wouldn’t do that,” Heidari said. “Just challenge yourself to do that and kind of get out of your comfort zone.”
For students looking for resources to help with body image concerns, they can participate in the Body Project at Tech, Heidari said.
For help with severe body image struggles or eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorders Association helpline.