The causes of negative body image

A negative body image refers to when somebody thinks about their body in a negative way. There are ways to improve a negative body image, but the first step is figuring out what triggered it in the first place. If negative body image is really get you down, there are some things you should consider.

This can help if:

  • You have a negative body image
  • You want to improve your negative body image
  • You want to better understand why you have a negative body image

feet reflection in mirror

What does it all mean?

Our body image refers to our perception of our own body. A negative body image is when we see and think about ourselves in a negative way and we feel uncomfortable and unsatisfied with our physical appearance. Maintaining a healthy body image has a strong impact on our wellbeing. The first step to improving negative body image is figuring out why it’s negative in the first place.

Why do I feel this way?

There are a few common causes of negative body image, and each one has its own unique way of overcoming it:

  • The cause:  Puberty. 
Especially when we’re young, body image can be closely linked to self-esteem. It’s a time of life when our body goes through a lot of natural changes. On top of this, as our bodies change, we tend to compare ourselves to our classmates whose bodies are also going through transformations. It’s a period of great change and uncertainty and it can have a huge impact on the way we think about ourselves and our bodies. 

What you can do:

If you feel like the changes happening to your body are contributing to you having a negative body image, find comfort in the fact that puberty is a natural and unavoidable part of life for every adolescent everywhere. Every single adult in the world went through puberty, whether they liked it or not. While it may be a really hard time where your body is doing things against your will, it will come to an end. Your body will eventually settle down – all you can do is wait it out and learn to feel comfortable in your skin. 

  • The cause: Mass media.  
We are growing up in an age where we’re constantly bombarded with images of ‘attractiveness’ in the media. Over the years, the media has constructed an image of ‘attractiveness’ in our minds which appears to be absolute truth and has been firmly ingrained in our way of thinking. All that pressure can lead to negative body image.  

What you can do:

You just have to look back 50 years and you can see that the concept of what is ‘attractive’ is always changing and totally flexible. Why not make up your own mind? If you are having trouble with negative body image in the face of the stereotypical idea of ‘attractiveness’ that we see all around us, remember that a lot of what you see has been altered using technology. They have created an idea of what is attractive that even they can’t live up to! There is no such thing as an ideal body - try to steer clear of media that suggests there is. 

  • The cause: Friends and family. 
You might find yourself subconsciously comparing your body to the bodies of your friends and family. Alternatively, they might be saying things to you explicitly about the way your body looks. Either way, it can be really easy to develop negative body image and really tricky to ignore strong messages coming from people you hold so dear.

What you can do: 

Remember that you are not defined by the way you look, and a having a healthy body is the most important thing. If your friends and family say things that make you feel bad about yourself, and are contributing to negative body image, remove yourself from the situation and find people who encourage you to feel confident and comfortable in your skin. 

  • The cause: Your boyfriend or girlfriend.  
Physical attraction plays a pretty big role in a lot of romantic relationships. While this can be great in a lot of ways, it should never become the most important thing. 

What you can do:

If your partner is pressuring you to look a certain way, it means their priorities are all wrong.  Have a chat to them and let them know how it makes you feel, and if they persist with negative comments you might want to have a chat to someone you trust about what you can do, or consider the option that they might not be the person for you. 

Other things to consider

Sometimes it will take more than simply recognising the triggers in our environment that make us feel badly about our body. If you feel like you have negative body image, or you’ve been struggling to come to terms with your physical appearance and it’s getting you down, have a chat to a healthcare professional and they will help you come up with a plan to manage this.

What can I do now?


Last reviewed: 22 July, 2016
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2 Comments

  • Ben-RO    (268 days ago)

    Hey Big Macc I am so sorry to hear this happened to you. And it's totally reasonable to feel weird or not okay to go swimming because of what has happened. It's okay to not go swimming if it's to triggering for you and there are lots of place you can go to get a little more support as a survivor of sexual assault if that's something you're ready to do. www.lifeline.org.au http://www.blueknot.org.au/ and www.kidshelp.com.au are all amazing and can help a lot. I've also sent you an email too just in case you need to talk a little more.

  • Big Macc    (269 days ago)

    I am always comparing myself to my friends and say to myself "Oh I wish I could look that skinny." And now we do swimming at school next term at school and I hate when I go swimming becuase there are girls in my class that come up to me and say that I have nice swimmers and after being sexually assaulted in a pool, I feel very strange when I swim at school.