What is body image?

Body image, everyone has it. But what does it actually mean? There’s a big difference between healthy body image and unhealthy body image. Healthy body image makes you feel good, and there are a couple of things you can do to improve your body image over time. If body image is getting you down, and these tips don’t work, you might be struggling with something more intense.

This can help if:

  • You want to know more about body image
  • You feel you have negative body image
  • You want to learn how to improve your body image
girls eating cake

What’s the difference between healthy and unhealthy body image?

Body image is your attitude towards your body - 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 be influenced by your own beliefs and attitudes as well as those of society, the media and peer groups.

An unhealthy body image is thinking your body is disgusting, unsightly or not good enough. For example, thinking that you look too fat even thought others tell you this is not true, thinking that you’re not pretty enough or muscular enough. It can also mean believing what you look like determines your value as a person. Someone with negative body image can become fixated on trying to change their actual body shape.

A healthy body image is being comfortable in your own skin, being happy most of the time with the way you look, and feeling good with yourself. It’s about valuing who you are not what you look like.

How do people get unhealthy body image?

The media has a lot to do with unhealthy body image. We are bombarded daily with pictures of photo shopped bodies that are unrealistic and unobtainable and basically fake – and these can make you feel bad about your body in comparison.

Other things that can influence body image include:

  • Friends or family
  • Celebrities
  • Advertising
  • Cultural background

How to improve your body image

Having negative body image is not only bad for your health, it’s also incredibly time consuming and a waste of time. Spending all your time obsessing over how good you look means you’re spending less time enjoying life and being yourself. It is important to remember that you cannot change some aspects of your appearance. Your height, muscle and bone structure are determined by your genes; this is the way you are born.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to body shape or appearance. Everybody is different in body size and shape and appearance and we can celebrate this diversity and individuality. 

Question messages in the media
So many pictures these days are photo-shopped to the point where those body shapes are impossible to achieve. Don’t compare yourself to the images in the media. If you have to compare yourself, try to recognise the similarities of body shape you have with your parents, grandparents or aunts and uncles.

Give your body some love

Focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents and what your body can do rather than on how you look. The body is amazing; appreciating and respecting all the things it can do will help you to feel more positive about it.

Choose your media
Subtle media messaging about ‘perfection’ have a sneaky way of working into your subconscious, whether you notice it or not. Try to stick to media that doesn’t make you feel crap about yourself. Avoid magazines or television shows that say you need to change what you look like in order to be attractive.

Find your own style

Wear what’s comfortable and what looks good on you. When you feel like your clothing suits you, your body image will improve and you’ll feel a lot better about what you look like. In reality, people find interesting and unique people more attractive than people who look fake or who are trying too hard.

Avoid critiquing other people’s bodies

When we make fun of other people for their looks, we end up feeling crap about ourselves. It’s this weird situation where criticising others gets us focusing on what we don’t like about ourselves. Making someone else feel shit about what they look like is also not something you’d like them to do to you.

Riots not diets
Instead of spending heaps of time thinking about food, weighing food, fantasising about food, Just eat what makes you feel healthy and gives you plenty of energy to achieve what you want with your life. Try to eat healthy and in moderation. Focus on how different foods make you feel – you’ll start noticing which one make you feel tired, bloated, lethargic, and which ones make you feel energetic and awake. Don’t get caught up in fad diets which inevitably end up backfiring, and result in you putting on more weight than you started with.

If body image is getting you down

If negative body image is affecting you, you might need to talk to someone more in depth about it. Have a read of our fact sheet on body dysmorphic disorder which is about a more intense feeling of negative body image related to a specific body part.

It can be hard to know where to find the right support you need. ReachOut NextStep is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with. Try ReachOut NextStep to learn about the support options available for you.

What can I do now?

Last reviewed: 08 March, 2016
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  • Big Macc    (27 days ago)

    I have had the same problem at school with people that look good in everything and when it comes to me I feel fat and a stranger that is not the same body shape as these girls as me.

  • xaviaj    (259 days ago)

    Thankyou for this article, i found it very interesting and I enjoyed reading it. Especially the riots not diets paragraph.

  • Kyleee Mc    (264 days ago)

    Thanks for this. It was really interesting and i really liked the choose your media section

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