What does "body image" mean?
Body image is the attitude you have towards your body. It’s how you see yourself, how you think and feel about the way you look, and how you think others perceive you. Your body image can also be influenced by your own beliefs and attitudes, as well as those of society, social media, and your peers.
Types of Body Image
There are two types of body image, healthy and unhealthy:
- Having a healthy body image means that you’re comfortable in your own skin and are happy with the way you look.
- Having an unhealthy body image means that you have a skewed perception of your own body, such as seeing your body as bigger or smaller than it is in reality or not being perfect on the outside.
You may think that what you look like on the outside defines who you are or what your worth is, but in reality, you are more than just your body!
Why can people have an unhealthy body image?
In mass media and society, you come across images of models who are extremely thin or ripped, bodies that have little to no body hair on them, and people with flawless skin. People of all ages, sizes, and genders are being bombarded with images that might make them feel bad about themselves or skew what they think their body should look like.
You may feel obligated or pressured to look like these images portrayed in the media or popular culture because it is seen as what you SHOULD look like. As a result, a lot of people try to control—sometimes in unhealthy ways—their appearances to look a certain way.
The History of the Ideal Body Shape
In actuality, the ideal body shape has changed greatly over time, and this ideal often has more to do with what your body shape says to other people than what it actually looks like.
For example, during the potato famine in Ireland, it was very stylish to be plump; as it showed that you and your family were wealthy and could afford food. Today, it is stylish to be slim and well-toned because it shows that you have the money for a gym membership or a personal trainer. Same reason but an entirely different shape!
Steps to Self-Acceptance
Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their body, but having an unhealthy body image can damage your self-esteem and confidence. Once you feel bad about the way you look, you may be inclined to think that you, as a person, are not as worthy.
No matter what you look like, you are beautiful the way you are! Having a healthy body image will help you feel more comfortable in your own skin and more confident with your body.
Check Your Relationships
Surround yourself with people in your life who you find supportive, affirming, and accepting of who you are. If you’re not sure if a particular person fits this description, pay attention to how you feel about yourself after spending time with them. Take note of whether you leave feeling warm and supported or whether you leave feeling not good enough in some way.
If your friends have a habit of also negatively focusing on their bodies and sharing that around you, it might be helpful to talk to them about it, tell them that it’s triggering for you (if it is), or spend less time around them when they’re more likely to say that kind of stuff.
You get to choose what kind of vibes you’re around. Do they lift you up or leave you feeling drained and bad about yourself?
Avoid Talking About People's Bodies Negatively
Try to avoid conversation that emphasizes how you or other people look. Instead, talk about all the amazing things you can do and things you’re interested in! What you focus on is what you see more of. If you think of all the ways you’re not enough, you’re going to find more and more reasons to prove that to yourself.
Remember that people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and are no less capable and deserving than anyone else. It might be helpful to remind your friends of this, too.
Question What You Hear or See In the Media
Learn to detect and challenge the powerful messages on social media that promote a narrow ideal of beauty and value, which emphasize our bodies as objects. What we see and hear around us, often affirms certain messages we tell ourselves. Make sure you’re affirming the messages you really want to be telling yourself.
NOTE: You are so much more than the body you have and what it looks like. Your worth is not dependent on how attractive you are or what kind of body you have. You are expansive and unique, something far greater than what looks alone can speak for you. You are a whole universe contained in the body you carry with you every day.
Following hashtags, pages, groups, and content creators on social media that align with positive values is far better for your mental health than seeing demoralizing, objectifying content in your feed. Some examples of hashtags you could follow include:
Stand Up for Your Rights
Activism is a great way to protest messages in the media and culture that contribute to body dissatisfaction. By taking action, you are helping the cause and telling yourself, “I matter, I’m worth it, and these messages aren’t okay!” You have the right to be happy with who you are, as you are. Don’t let anybody take that away from you.
Be Compassionate To Yourself
How we treat ourselves impacts our self-acceptance and our comfort in our own skin. Treating yourself kindly generates compassion and this compassion fuels more kind self-care.
Some great ways to be kind to yourself and your body include:
- pledging not to diet (eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, also called intuitive eating)
- engaging in exercise that is fun and empowering, not for punishment
- listening to your body when it needs rest or comfort
- putting kind notes to yourself on your mirror or door, speaking to yourself as if you are your best friend
- Practicing more positive self-talk when you’re feeling upset. Imagine you’re talking to your 6-year old self. Speak with gentleness.
Describe Yourself Without Referring To Your Physique
Think about the wonderful parts of your personality and what makes you truly you. People will come to see you as you see yourself and will describe you as you describe yourself. This goes for how you talk about your friends too!
Body talk can be limiting, so be sure to speak more about the richness of your inner self compared to what your body looks like or can do compared to others. Instead, try focusing on seeing yourself and others for who you all are, beyond what is seen at first glance. We are more than what meets the eye!
Remember, what we focus on we see more of.
Find Your Own Style
Wear what you want to wear and don’t avoid wearing things because of the perception of others. You’ll never fully avoid people making their own judgments, so you might as well enjoy life to the fullest while you can.
Wear that bikini you’ve been eyeing at the store! Wear those clunky boots you swear came out of the 90’s! People will see you being in tune with your own vibe and may be inspired to do the same. Be fierce when it comes to being yourself.
If you are feeling inadequate about your body or yourself in general, it may be worth talking to someone about it. This may be a family member, friend, teacher or counselor. If you feel that you might be trying to control your weight in unhealthy ways, please check out our articles on anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and overcoming an eating disorder.
Having a poor body image can be incredibly draining. If you find yourself constantly body-checking (checking your body’s weight/size, like in the mirror or on a scale) and your thoughts are often on how you look and policing what you can and can’t eat or do, it might be time to bring this up to someone. In the meantime, practicing self-love through different coping strategies could also be helpful.
You deserve freedom from feeling like you’re not enough because of your body. The world is lucky to have you here, no matter what shape or form you take. Please reach out to a loved one or a counselor if you feel you need to. You deserve peace.
Information for this article was also provided by:
SAMHSA Family Guide, Body Image
South Carolina Department of Mental Health
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com