Body Image: Positive & Healthy
What is body image?
Body image includes many different factors such as how you feel when you think/see about your own body, how you might feel in your body and what you might believe about your own appearance.
Across all demographics such as age, gender, culture, many may struggle with body image and have a negative perception of their own body and appearance. With the increased use of technology and of social media, it’s not surprising that negative body image is becoming more of a concern all over the world.
Body image is mental and emotional. So, it’s the mental image you personally have of your own body, and the way it makes you feel.
A healthy body image means that you truly accept and like the way you look, more than just tolerating it. You are not trying to change your body to fit the way you think you should look. It means recognising the individual qualities and strengths that make you feel good about yourself beyond weight, shape or appearance, and resisting the pressure to strive for the myth of the “perfect” body that you reflected around you in the media and online.
How does self-esteem impact body image?
Self-esteem is about how you value and respect yourself as a person—it is the opinion that you have of yourself inside and out. Self-esteem impacts how you take care of yourself, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Self-esteem is about your whole self, not just your body.
When you have good self-esteem, you value yourself, and you know that you deserve good care and respect—from yourself and from others. You can appreciate and celebrate your strengths and your abilities, and you don’t put yourself down if you make a mistake. Good self-esteem means that you still feel like you’re good enough even when you’re dealing with difficult feelings or situations.
Body image and self-esteem directly influence each other—and your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. If you don’t like your body (or a part of your body), it’s hard to feel good about your whole self. The reverse is also true: if you don’t value yourself, it’s hard to notice the good things and give your body the respect it deserves.
Know and look after your mental health
Know the signs that more support is needed for your own mental health. If your body image struggles have negatively impacted your life to the point that you are unable to carry out normal life and activities, this is a red flag that should not be ignored.
Feelings of depression or anxiety around your appearance or body image should not be overlooked. Confide in a loved one or someone you can trust.
Remember that there are likely many different factors that might be influencing why you feel this way about yourself. Trying to “fix” your perceived flaws is not a means of healing poor/negative body image.
People with a positive body image are more likely to have good physical and mental health. Those with negative thoughts and feelings about their bodies are more likely to develop certain mental health conditions, such as eating disorders and depression.
A negative body image may also lead to low self-esteem, which can affect many areas of your life. You may not want to be around other people or may obsess constantly about what you eat or how much you exercise. But you can take steps to develop a healthier body image.
Past events and circumstances can cause you to have a negative body image, including:
- Being teased or bullied as a child for how you looked
- Being told you’re ugly, too fat, or too thin or having other aspects of your appearance criticised
- Seeing images or messages in the media (including social media) that make you feel bad about how you look
In rare cases, people can have such a distorted view of their bodies that they have a mental health condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is a serious illness in which a person is preoccupied with minor or imaginary physical flaws. Learn more about BDD.
The more you practice thinking positive thoughts about yourself and the fewer negative thoughts you have about your body, the better you will feel about who you are and how you look. While very few people are 100% positive about every aspect of their body, it can help to focus on the things you do like. Also, most people realise as they get older that how you look is only one part of who you are. Working on accepting how you look is healthier than constantly working to change how you look.
Some positive thoughts to encourage a healthier body image:
Treat your body with respect.
Eat well-balanced meals and exercise because it makes you feel good and strong, not as a way to control your body.
Notice when you judge yourself or others based on weight, shape, or size. Ask yourself if there are any other qualities you could look for when those thoughts come up.
Dress in a way that makes you feel good about yourself, in clothes that fit you now.
Find a short message that helps you feel good about yourself and write it down around your home to remind you to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
Surround yourself with positive friends and family who recognise your uniqueness and like you just as you are.
Be aware of how you talk about your body with family and friends. Do you often seek reassurance or validation from others to feel good about yourself? Do you often focus only on physical appearances?
Remember that everyone has challenges with their body image at times. When you talk with friends, you might discover that someone else wishes they had a feature you think is undesirable.
Write a list of the positive benefits of the body part or feature you don’t like or struggle to accept.
The next time you notice yourself having negative thoughts about your body and appearance, take a minute to think about what’s going on in your life. Are you feeling stressed out, anxious, or low? Are you facing challenges in other parts of your life? When negative thoughts come up, think about what you’d tell a friend if they were in a similar situation and then take your own advice.
Be mindful of messages you hear and see in the media and how those messages inform the way people feel about the way they look. Recognise and challenge those stereotypes!
If you are experiencing mental ill health and want to talk to someone, please visit the NHS website here to see a list of support contacts.
Click below to find out about our mental health training in the workplace!