Monday 17 August 2020

The Seven Stages of Body Confidence

Our bodies - the Home of a lifetime.

In 2012, I published "Seven Stages of Style" ( and it remains one of my most read blogs to date. I've recently reflected on how this might apply to Body Image and so I've adapted it into the blog below!

According to Shakespeare in “As you like it”, there are several stages of 'man' – infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, pantaloons, and second childhood.  

Here’s my take on how Shakespeare’s stages might relate to body image, not literally but as a seven-stage principle that we may work through. These stages are not solely about age in years! - you may skip some stages entirely, rattle through others, and some may merge.

Here are some things to consider as you go through this:

1. Warning: As I type this I'm sad at how much negativity is 'forced' on us at various stages, and you may be too reading this. However, at every stage, there is always an up-side so focus on and amplify that... and it ends well (see what I did there?!)

2. Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion/reflection; not a scientific study. 

3. Note: This is fairly general. I recognise that there are factors that aren't detailed here like race, disability, trauma, family history. I'd encourage you to think about that in case it helps your reflections. 

4. Reminder: Your body is ALWAYS worthy... of care, at the very least. Take care.

5. Read '4' again and keep it in mind as you read on...

  • Stage one – Infancy:
Image: Pixabay

Technically this term covers up to the age of two. At this stage, it is unlikely that body image issues will show up in 'us' as the focus is on having our basic human needs met. However, those around us may already be describing and relating to us in ways that link to personal and societal perceptions based on our looks. This may in turn impact our parents and how they 'see' themselves and us. The current sad trend of showing an 'ugly' baby to get a shocked reaction is proof of this.

๐ŸŒžThe bright side: People are generally nice to babies and toddlers. They themselves are usually focused on learning to walk and talk, and discover how their bodies work over how they look. We are also usually well shielded at this stage. And parents: (you) have a miracle to focus on!

  • Stage two – Childhood:
And boom, here it starts. Whilst kids should be focused on play, friendship, learning, growth at this time, some studies suggest children as young as three are starting to think about their bodies, negatively. I'd suggest that school and family have a vital role to play at this stage, as social media and peer factors probably come into play more strongly later on. Having said that Molly Forbes points out that the 'baddie' in Disney films, for example, is portrayed as fat and/ ugly so managing what children watch, as well as the language they hear around them is important.

And as if low self esteems and poor body image were not enough, evidence suggests that actual eating disorders are on the rise in this age group, though small mercies it's still not 'common':

As adults we mustn't start to perpetuate the negatives and that we actively challenge the stereotypes. We need to watch what we do to our kids, who we let in/influence them, and watch what we say and do around children. 

How do you show up around the children around you?

๐ŸŒžThe bright side: We can catch it early, and there is plenty around to help us navigate body image at this age. You can still (largely) influence and redirect children, eg chose the things to watch, what they are read. Most children will still be more interested in how their bodies work and are quite fearless and playful for much of childhood. Harness that. Damn it grown-ups - be childlike in this respect!

2016 -
2019 - 

Image: Cottonbro, Pexels

  • Stage three – Our teenage years:
By this stage, a young adult may have been carrying around body confidence issues for nearly a decade. If you know/remember, or have read, anything about the teen years you'll know this is a tough time to navigate for many reasons (and backed by science about a teenager's brain development). Social media and peer pressure, puberty, hormones will all play a part in amplifying body image issues even if these haven't been present before. Often, but not always, eating disorders rear up at this stage.  In my experience (sadly) whilst bullying may have been an issue before now, teens can be pretty mean to each other, and it can be the worst time for bullying with the number one thing people will target inevitably being appearance. 

During the teen years, though, people often 'come into their own' - brain growth stabilises and how a person looks at 13 can change significantly by 19, along with their lifestyle moving through school to higher education or work. 
(* remember the reminder)

๐ŸŒžThe bright side: This is perhaps the age where energy most goes into addressing body confidence issues, with targeted resources and PHSE a key (although not mandatory) part of the national curriculum. Also, in the teen years, there is access to social media - whilst it is often seen as part of the problem, SM gives you choice: you can choose/be directed to a wider range of bodies and views than can be presented in the mainstream media. 

If you're a teacher or someone who works with young people, you should check out this workshop

  • Stage four – The (early) work years: 
Even here, body image &/ confidence plays a part, though by now we may have learned to mask it a bit. Again, there is evidence to suggest that society's stereotypes have an impact. Our looks such as facial features and weight affect our careers - what we go for, get, what we are paid and how we progress. If we have always had a challenging perception of ourselves, the chances are that these are deeply internalised by now and only serve to further hold us back/down. 

However, we probably have a more honed group of friends by now, more money, more choice,, and more voice (if we can find it and use it). The challenge is how we use the likely 'more' we have and how much of our 'rebellious teen spirit' we've held on to. 

๐ŸŒžThe bright side: All the 'more' mentioned above whereby we're at least faking it on our way to making it. Hopefully too, we're simply focused more on life itself than the body we're living that life in... 

                 What's the bright side of this stage in your opinion?

  • Stage five – Settled lifestyle time:
In my experience, we are a little less focused on our own bodies now – maybe because as partners or parents, we focus more on how others (eg our kids) feel rather than ourselves. It may also be a time when we are more sidetracked by practicalities like bills, home, and work. This doesn't mean that our body image issues have gone, that they no longer have an impact on us... just that they are less likely to be front stage.

However, based on a number of conversations, I also think this is the time when past/latent issues are most likely to creep up. It's possibly when we get frustrated about what we settled for... the 'midlife crisis' stage. We've time to think, ruminate, ask 'what if' and 'why'. Like our teen years, we can go for the 'easy target' - ourselves and what we look like (compared to what we think we should/could look like). It can also be when others start 'preaching' about their changes and try to dictate what you should do too, often under the guise of advice, care, help, concern. 
TIP: Do you. You are not a teenager anymore!

๐ŸŒžThe bright side: If you're in the settled phase of your life, we can turn that rumination into reflection - now might be the time to reflect, discuss body image with less fear/need/care, embrace who you, get on the road towards better self-care/self-esteem, challenge what you've held that is no longer serving you. Just a thought!

Image: Marcus Aurelius, Pexels

  • Stage six – Body Confidence Maturity?
It's not just about what we do now, it's why we do it. It's the time when we are hopefully freer-thinking, and not just doing things because work, society, partner, parent, other is telling us what to think, feel, do about/with our bodies. 

This is the one where we peak, wherever that means or needs to be for us. Not everyone will need/get to self-love, for example, body appreciation may be the place that represents our maturity. As I said at the beginning, our bodies have always been worthy. Maturity is when we embrace that. And remember, this 'maturity' is not purely about age... if it was, this is also the stage I'd most likely have to be talking about peri/menopause. (But that's for another time!)

๐ŸŒžThe bright side - reaching and maintaining a fairly even keel at this stage is the brightest of the bright sides. 

  • Stage seven – Old age/second childhood:
Oh to reach this stage - I'd say if you've come 'this' far I hope you're able to embrace your body for all it has done and still does despite what you may have done to it over the years. Better yet, perhaps you're more than grateful and a total 'Baddie'+!* It's brilliant to see older bodies increasingly celebrated in the media. This stage doesn't mean that long-held body issues have all gone, but it is likely your perspective/focus has changed. 

๐ŸŒžThe bright side:  See above. 

Image from 'Advanced Style' google search

So does this resonate or ring true for you (or someone you know), what stage are you at, and... Are you happy there?*

Wherever you are, I see you!
Denise ๐Ÿ’ž๐Ÿ’ž๐Ÿ’ž

*Please let my cards help you through the stages.