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Body image – everyone has it, but what does it mean? Healthy body image is when you feel relaxed and good about your body, whereas unhealthy body image is when you think about your body in a negative way. There are ways to improve negative body image - the first step is figuring out what’s causing it in the first place.

This can help if:

  • you want to know more about body image
  • you feel you have a negative body image
  • you want to better understand the causes of negative body image
  • you want to learn how to improve your body image.
Girl sitting on her bed looking at camera

What do ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ body image mean?

Healthy body image is about feeling comfortable in your own skin:

  • Feeling happy most of the time with the way you look.
  • Feeling good about yourself.
  • Valuing yourself by who you are, not by what you look like.

Unhealthy or negative body image is believing your body isn’t good enough:

  • Thinking that you look too fat.
  • Feeling like you’re not pretty enough or muscular enough.
  • Believing that your looks determine your value as a person.
  • Fixating on trying to change your body shape.

Why do I feel negative about my body, and what can I do about it?

Media imagery: Question it

Today’s popular media have constructed an idealised image of what ‘attractiveness’ is. But most images are photoshopped to show body shapes that are impossible to achieve:

  • Look for similarities in body shape that you share with family members.
  • Focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents.
  • Appreciate all the cool physical things your body can do!

Media messages: Choose what you view

Subtle media messages about body ‘perfection’ have a sneaky way of working into your subconscious:

  • Choose media that don’t make you feel crap about yourself.
  • Avoid sites, mags and shows that say you need to change your appearance.
  • Ignore those media that suggest the ‘ideal body’ exists. It doesn’t!

Fashion: Find your own style

Fashion can make you feel like you’ve got to dress a certain way to be attractive. In reality, people find others more attractive when they are their authentic, unique selves:

  • Wear what makes you feel comfortable.
  • Decide for yourself what looks good on you.

Other people’s bodies: Everyone has positive features

When you make fun of people for their looks, you can end up feeling crap:

  • Focus on people’s positive qualities.
  • Compliment people on some aspect of their personality or behaviour, rather than on their appearance. You’ll also feel good about yourself!
  • Treat others the way you’d like them to treat you.

What you eat: Riot, not diet

Instead of obsessing about calories, start noticing what makes you feel healthy and gives you energy:

  • Try to eat moderate-sized servings of healthy foods.
  • Cut down on foods that make you feel tired or bloated.
  • Avoid fad diets. They backfire in the end!

Puberty: Be patient

As your body changes, you might compare yourself to classmates who are changing at a different rate from you. Puberty can feel like a period of huge upheaval and uncertainty:

  • Puberty is a natural and unavoidable part of life.
  • Every single adult in the world went through puberty.
  • Your body will eventually settle down – wait it out; it will come right.

Attraction: Be loved for who you are, not what you look like

Physical attraction plays a pretty big role in romantic relationships, but if your partner is pressuring you to look a certain way, their priorities are all wrong:

  • Let them know how it makes you feel when they don’t accept you as you are.
  • If they persist in trying to get you to change the way you look, then chat to someone you trust about what you can do.
  • Consider the possibility that they might not be right for you.

Friends or family comments: Hang with positive people

Friends or family might say things about your body and how it looks. It can be really tricky to ignore people you hold dear. Remember:

  • You’re not defined by the way you look.
  • Having a healthy body is more important than your shape.
  • Try to find other people who encourage you to feel confident.

If body image is getting you down

If you’re struggling to come to terms with your physical appearance and it’s getting you down, have a chat with a health-care professional who can help you to manage your feelings.

What can I do now?