Body image and high sensitivity – how sensitivity influences body image

Body image and high sensitivity

Do you identify as an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) and struggle with your body image?

If so, your high sensitivity may influence the way you feel about your body.

In this post, I explore:

  • What it means to be an HSP
  • 3 ways high sensitivity may influence your body image (and how to manage these)
  • Why being an HSP is a gift, not a curse!

Listen or read below:

My experience of body image and high sensitivity

This post is inspired by a conversation with my friend and colleague Lisa Parkes, an Intuitive Coach for Sensitives, about body image and high sensitivity on her podcast, The Wildheart Diaries.

It got me thinking about how high sensitivity has impacted my body image. So, I decided to share this experience here!

Regardless of whether you identify as an HSP or not, the episode on body image and high sensitivity on The Wild Heart Diaries is packed with valuable content about body image, so check it out!

What is an HSP?

First up, do you identify as an HSP? If you don’t know what an HSP is, it stands for Highly Sensitive Person, a term that was first coined by Elaine Aron.

An HSP, according to Elaine Aron, is someone who has a sensitive nervous system. One that is more aware of the subtleties in the environment.

HSP’s can therefore, experience overwhelm in highly stimulating environments.

Because HSP’s process things around them deeply, they tend to be more reflective, make associations easily and over think things.

If you want to know more about this trait and whether you’re an HSP, check out Elain Aron’s book, “The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.”

I’ve known for many years that I’m an HSP. Growing up, my parents often said I was too sensitive, and I thought that I was flawed because of this.

But learning about high sensitivity in adulthood, I’ve come to value this trait – it’s something that helps me to be attentive and sensitive to others, intuitive and creative.

And it’s important to note it’s a trait, not a flaw or a condition you need to overcome.

How high sensitivity can influence body image

So, how do body image and high sensitivity interact? What impact, if any, does being an HSP have on the way you feel about your body?

Although I couldn’t find any research in this area (if you know of any, send it my way!), I intuitively know high sensitivity impacts my body image

Here are 3 impacts I’ve noticed. See if any of these resonate with you:

You may internalise messages about bodies more deeply

With so much content out there about how your body should and shouldn’t look on social media, TV, and from friends and family, it’s easy for anyone to be overwhelmed with body anxiety.

But for an HSP who processes information on a deeper level, it can have an even bigger impact.

Because HSP’s are more self-reflective, it can result in greater self-criticism and perfectionistic tendencies.

Each time you process some content telling you how to look, it becomes more and more a part of your own belief system (that’s what is meant by internalising messages).

In my 20’s and 30’s I took to heart every piece of information about how I should look. It got to the point where I believed that looks, body size and shape DID determine my value.

It took a lot of work to dismantle my beliefs about appearance and find new ways to relate to my body.

Part of this work was being careful about the information I consumed about bodies and appearance – carefully curating my content.

You’re prone to over thinking

High sensitivity processing may mean you over think, which makes it’s easier to ruminate about your body.

Over thinking can lead to an obsession with how you look, what you eat and how much you exercise. This could potentially make HSP’s more prone to disordered eating and exercise.

I’m an over thinker. In the past, I obsessed over every detail of my appearance, what I ate and how much exercise I did.

Once I acknowledged that my thoughts were a conditioned response, I could separate myself from them and break the cycle of body rumination.

You deeply care about what others think

As an HSP, you may care deeply about how others perceive you, or the impact you have on other people. This can make you more of a people pleaser.

This inclination to please others may mean you take comments about your body to heart. You might even make assumptions about what others are thinking!

Because you want your loved ones to be proud of you, you can feel you’ve let them down if you put on weight or don’t look a certain way.

Caring too much about what others think can lead to ‘body fixing’ behaviours.

This was my experience with an ex-boyfriend who constantly critiqued my appearance. My desire to win his love and admiration led me down the path of compulsive appearance fixing behaviours.

It wasn’t until I could detach my worth from my appearance that I realised I deserve respect within a relationship – this doesn’t include critiques on how I look!

These are just some of the ways I’ve experienced my body image and high sensitivity interacting.

It’s not an exhaustive list, and you’ve probably got your own observations to share. Please feel free to share them in the comments below.

How to protect your body image if you’re an HSP

Now I don’t want you to think that high sensitivity is a curse!

Cultural conditioning suggests sensitivity is weakness. But, there is a real need in this messed up world for people who can feel deeply.

So, please don’t beat yourself up for having this beautiful trait!

I want you to take away an awareness of how high sensitivity might impact how you feel about your body. With this awareness, you can put in place strategies to protect your body image.

That might look like spending less time on social media, taking a break, or coming off it altogether if you find the content overwhelming.

Or, if you’re ruminating about your body, it may be time to get the thoughts out of your head onto paper as part of a journalling practice.

Or, if you worry about what others say about your body, perhaps set boundaries around comments or distance yourself from body toxic people!

As an HSP, it’s likely you’re highly intuitive. Feel into what might work best for you to manage your body image and high sensitivity.

I’d love to hear about your experience of body image and high sensitivity, so please leave a comment below.

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