Appearance Self Concept Essay

Society shapes us in many ways, possibly more than we realise – from our interactions, to our personal development through to others’ perception of our bodies as a reflection of self worth.

We are social beings. Genetically we rely on one another for the survival of humanity. That primal connection makes our interactions physiologically and psychologically important. So it’s not surprising that how society perceives us affects us on many levels.

And it’s partly how society perceives our bodies that is of concern; we’re talking body image. So what does that involve?

Body image is both internal (personal) and external (society) 

This includes:

  • How we perceive our bodies visually
  • How we feel about our physical appearance
  • How we think and talk to ourselves about our bodies
  • Our sense of how other people view our bodies

How we look has possibly never held as much societal importance or reflected so significantly on our perceived self worth.

The media in particular, has increasingly become a platform that reinforces cultural beliefs and projects strong views on how we should look, that we as individuals often unknowingly or knowingly validate and perpetuate.

The more we look at perfect images of others and then look to find those same idealised characteristics in ourselves and don’t find them, the worse we feel about ourselves.

It’s a cycle that breeds discontent.

With such strong societal scrutiny it’s easy to see how the focus on how we look can slide into the dark side – negative body image.

The greater our discontent with how we measure up when compared to the societal or media supported norms, the more negative our body image, and the greater the risk for extreme weight or body control behaviours occurs. We’re talking…

  • Extreme dieting
  • Extreme exercise compulsion
  • Eating disorders
  • Extreme or unnecessary plastic surgery
  • Using steroids for muscle building

Who’s to blame for our body perceptions, be it good or bad?

Society gives us a number of reference points that shape our perceptions whether positive or negative. When it comes to our bodies there are a number of sources that affect us more than others.

Today’s embedded ideals – The physical

Life today sees image upon image of fashionably clad women, perfect skin, tiny waists, ample breasts, fashionably protruding behinds (of Kardashian and Beyonce fame) all with a weight of no greater than 59kg.

They are unrealistic images of beauty, genetically impossible for many of us to emulate. The same thing applies to the 6-pack or ripped abs shoved in the face of men via famous sportsmen and male fitness models, which for many is impossible to achieve without illegal steroids.

Yet we are told that these unattainable bodies are normal, desirable, and achievable. When we don’t measure up we develop a strong sense of dissatisfaction and the way that manifests can be ugly.

The Media 

The images of perfection we see in print, film and television project an unrealistic version of reality that we are continually told is attainable – if we work out, eat less and lather our bodies in transformative, firming and tightening creams.

The media is a powerful tool that reinforces cultural beliefs and values, and while it may not be fully responsible for determining the standards for physical attractiveness, it makes escaping the barrage of images and attitudes almost impossible.

Prejudice – Size

Intolerance of body diversity has a lot to do with prejudice of size and shape in our culture. Being thin, toned and muscular has become associated with the hard-working, successful, popular, beautiful, strong, and the disciplined.

Being fat is associated with the lazy, ugly, weak, and lacking in will-power.

With this prejudice, fat isn’t a description like tall or redhead – it’s an indication of moral character and we are conditioned to think that fat is bad.

Those closest to us – family and friends

We learn from other people, particularly those closest to us about the things that are considered important.

Friendships are particularly important in body image development because we place high value on them, spend lots of time with our friends and develop shared experiences, values and beliefs.

Classrooms, University dorms and common rooms are often filled with negative body talk: “I wish I had her stomach” “I hate my thighs” “I feel fat.” Listening to this tends to reinforce the need to focus on appearance and make comparisons between us and other people’s bodies.

So how can we build a strong and positive body image?

Positive body image involves understanding that healthy attractive bodies come in many shapes and sizes, and that physical appearance says very little about our character or value as a person.

How we get to this point of acceptance often depends on our individual development and self acceptance. To get to that all important point of balance there are a few steps we can take:

  • Talk back to the media. All media and messages are developed or constructed and are not reflections of reality. So shout back. Speak our dissatisfaction with the focus on appearance and lack of size acceptance
  • De-emphasise numbers. Kilograms on a scale don’t tell us anything meaningful about the body as a whole or our health. Eating habits and activity patterns are much more important
  • Realize that we cannot change our body type: thin, large, short or tall, we need to appreciate the uniqueness of what we have – and work with it
  • Stop comparing ourselves to others. We are unique and we can’t get a sense of our own body’s needs and abilities by comparing it to someone else
  • We need to move and enjoy our bodies not because we have to, but because it makes us feel good. Walking, swimming, biking, dancing – there is something for everyone
  • Spend time with people who have a healthy relationship with food, activity, and their bodies
  • Question the degree to which self-esteem depends on our appearance. If we base our happiness on how we look it is likely to lead to failure and frustration, and may prevent us from finding true happiness
  • Broaden our perspective about health and beauty by reading about body image, cultural variances, or media influence. Check out a local art gallery paying particular attention to fine art collections that show a variety of body types throughout the ages and in different cultures
  • Recognize that size prejudice is a form of discrimination similar to other forms of discrimination. Shape and size are not indicators of character, morality, intelligence, or success

Each of us will have a positive body image when we have a realistic perception of our bodies, when we enjoy, accept and celebrate how we are and let go of negative societal or media perpetuated conditioning.

But the media and society in general, are not all bad.

As with most things, with the bad comes the potential for good and increasingly, people the world over are waking up to the negativity and conditioning that we are bombarded with daily.

If not for this awakening we would not have initiatives like Live Life Get Active; where awakening ourselves to a healthy and fulfilled life is at the core of what we do.

Live Life Get Active is a social initiative built to create a fitter, healthier and happier Australia.

We approach health and well-being from a fun and socially engaging perspective and the importance we put on a healthy lifestyle is reflected in our pricing structure – there is none.

So, if you’d like to take your first steps to feeling better about yourself and working on a fitter and healthier you, then register and come and join us in the park. You’ll be able to enjoy the friendship and support that comes from training with others that feel the same way.  We have camps in locations across Australia so join today – And don’t forget EVERYTHING is FREE and EVERYTHING is provided so all you need is you.

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Factors influence an individual’s self-concept

rodrigo | November 21, 2016

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Self-concept is usually defined, in a generic sense, as the set of images, thoughts and feelings that an individual has of himself/herself.

Most authors interpret self-concept as a series of attitudes towards the self, globally integrated by three factors: cognitive, behavioral and affective.

Self-concept includes assessments of all parameters that are relevant to an individual’s development: from physical appearance to social and intellectual capacities.

This essay will look at some factors that influence the development of an individual’s self-concept: age, gender, education, media and culture.

Self-concept and factors of influence

Robert B. Burns (1979) interprets self-concept as a conceptualization that the individual made of her/his own self, being elaborated by powerful emotional and evaluative connotations. Moreover, the subjective beliefs and factual knowledge that the individual attributes to himself/herself are highly personal and intense, varying thereby in degrees to its unique identity.

With regard to self-esteem, Burns describe it as the process by which the individual examines his actions, skills and attributes compared to criteria and values that are internalized from society and significant others. However, self-esteem and self-concept are usually considered as interchangeable notions (Byrne, 1996; Harter, 1999).

In general terms, it can be distinguished three main characteristic of an individual’s self concept (Bracken, 1996):

  1. It is not innate: The individual’s self concept is constantly being formed by experience. Moreover, it also depends on the symbolic language.
  2. It is an organized whole: The individual tend to ignore perceived variables that are not adjusted to his/her conceptual whole, conforming thereby his/her own hierarchy of assessments.
  3. It is dynamic: It can be modified by a reinterpretation of the own personality or external judgments.

Self-concept includes all the parameters that are considered relevant by an individual: from physical appearance to sexual capacities, social and intellectual abilities, age, media, culture, appliance, education, gender, income, environment, etc.

Outline of factors that can influence the development of an individual’s self concept

As a dynamic attribute, an individual’s self concept is characterized by being in a constant feedback (positive or negative) with the social environment, in which the opinions and assessments of the persons we establish intimate relations with (family, couple, friends), are determinant factors.

From the various factors that influence an individual’s self-concept, the focus will be directed towards the following:

  • Age: Self-concept changes during the individual’s life span, being its maximum peak of permeability from seven to twelve years old.

It then begins to be formed during childhood and starts to decrease at adolescence.

  • Gender: Although it exists considerable studies about gender differences in self-concept, it seems that there are no conclusive results regarding this issue.

Overall, the study of gender differences in self-concept in adolescence has generated considerable interest in recent decades. Despite the fact that the results of these studies are varied, most of them conclude that there are clear gender differences in self-concept, so that girls, particularly after the age of twelve, tend to have worse self-concept than boys. Thus, according to research, age acts as a moderating variable of the differences between girls and boys (Orenstein, 1995).

  • Education: Education is a vital feature for interpersonal development. Academic achievements in the school as well as parental guiding and social interaction, are factors conforming the individual’s self-concept.
  • Media: In contemporary society, the media is a vital factor of influence in the development of individual’s self-concept. Perhaps the most relevant of its effects is on the conception of the body image. In this respect, advertising and marketing has been producing and reproducing a dissociation between ‘ideal body image’ and ‘real body image’. Such dissociation might have pathological effects on individuals (i.e; from eating disorders to anxiety and depression).
  • Culture: Majority of the studies focus on the divergence between Western culture, characterized by a more dependent auto-conception of the self, and Asian culture, in which interdependence stands as the fundamental factor in the development of self-concept.

Description of the factors that can influence the development of an individual’s self-concept

The definition of oneself from 5-6 to 7-8 years provides an ability to discriminate between different domains of experience.

Between 7-8 years and 11-12, there are significant changes in regard to intellectual abilities and social environment, having remarkable implications for both self-concept and self-esteem. During this range of age, children have the ability to compare themselves to others, but the information extracted from such comparisons is just in service of self-evaluation (Byrne, 1996).

At the end of childhood, there is an increase in the permeability to social values, so the prototypes of each culture become another valuable source of comparison, which, in most cases, contribute to the discrepancy between the ‘real self’ and ‘ideal self’ (Harter, 1999).

According to current research, age acts as a moderating variable of the differences in girls and boys.

In this respect, there are empirical evidence showing that girls have a positive perception of themselves during primary education and yet around twelve, it is produced a decrease in self-confidence and acceptance of body image (Orenstein, 1995).

The role of women in society may be among the factors behind this decline in female self-esteem. Thus, the observation of what happens in their surroundings, take the girls to infer that their social role is secondary to that played by men.

By contrast, Crain (1996) insists that it is indispensable to remember that the gap between boys and girls about the different facets of self-concept is not exceedingly large, and thus such theories have a limited clinical and educational significance. Girls and boys are more alike than different, and the divergence between male and female are fairly consistent with gender stereotypes.

Fundamentally within the field of Educational Psychology, there has been a constant preoccupation regarding the links between self-concept and academic performance. However, there is a lack of evidence indicating the precise nature of the relationship between both variables (Marsh and Seeshing, 1997).

What it is clear about the role of education in the development of an individual’s self-concept is that it not only intervenes the relationship teacher-pupil, but also the rest of professionals within the educational system. Importantly, since education does not end in the school, family is key for a positive development of self-concept.

The media has been played a fundamental role in how individuals perceive themselves.

Importantly, marketing and advertising have been contributed to a general attitude of compulsive consumption as well as to the creation of an ideal body image as a way to personal and professional success.

Such strong pressure from the media about unattainable aesthetic models has as its immediate result an increase of personal dissatisfaction along with a rise in metal pathologies, such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders (Cash, 2011).

However, research shows that subjects with a positive self-concept are less vulnerable to the influence of the media than those with a lower self-esteem

Majority of research on cultural differences in self-concept is focused on the comparison between Asian and Western culture.

The former, collectivistic and vertical societies (high power distance), report higher belief in cognitive-behavioral consistency, share more belief related to dependent affiliation, but also agree more with belief related to achievement, self-direction and distinctiveness motivation (Smith and Bond, 1998).

By contrast, subjects from Western culture, vertical individualistic societies, report higher agreement with need for uniqueness and higher level of behavioral flexibility. Some authors state that such characteristics of individuals from Western culture are due to a higher importance of positive self-representation (Worchel et al, 1998)


An individual’s self-concept undergoes notable changes during development, evolving from a structure in which diverse dominions of experience are distinguished to another stage in which the fundamental aspects are integration and high-level abstractions.

In summary, the development of the self-concept during the life span of an individual is subjected to multiple factors of influence.


Ashmore, R., y Jussim, L. (1997). Self and identity. Fundamental issues. New York: Oxford University.

Bracken, B. (1996). Handbook of self-concept. New York: John Wiley y Sons.

Burns, R. B. (1979). The self-concept: Theory, measurement, development and behavior. New York: Logman.

Byrne, B. M. (1996). Measuring self-concept across the life span: Issues and instrumentation. Washington, DC: American Psychologist Association.

Cash, T. F. (Ed.). (2011). Body image: A handbook of science, practice and prevention. New York: The Guilford Press.

Crain, M. (1996). The influence of age, race and gender on child and adolescent self-concept. In B. A. Bracken (Ed.), Handbook of self-concept. (pp. 395-420). New York: Wiley.

Harter, S. (1999). The construction of the self: A developmental perspective. New York: The Guilford Press.

Marsh, H. W., & Seeshing, A. (1997). Causal effects of academic self-concept on academic achievement: Structural equation of longitudinal data. Journal of Educational Psychology, 86, 439-456.

Orenstein, P. (1995). School girls: Young women, self-esteem and the confidence gap. New York: Anchor.

Smith, P. B. & Bond, M. H. (1998). Social Psychology across cultures (2nd ed.). London: Prentice Hall Europe.

Worchel, S. Morales, J.F., Páez, D. & Deschamps, J-C. (1998). Social identity. International perspectives. London: Sage.


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