Understanding body image

Body image is just the way you think about your physical self. Healthy body image is when you feel relaxed about your body, whereas unhealthy body image is when you think about your body in a negative way. If you have unhealthy body image, that's okay. There are ways to help; the first step is just to figure out what's causing it in the first place.

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?

Question what you see in the media

In the media today, you might find an image of ‘attractiveness’ which doesn’t sit right with you. It might not reflect how you or your friends actually look, it might put too much pressure on you to change your size or shape, or it might even be ‘airbrushed’ digitally, meaning that it is impossible to achieve anyway! Instead

  • Look for similarities in body shape that you share with family members.

  • Focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents.

  • Appreciate all the physical things your body can do!

Create helpful media habits

Subtle media messages about body ‘perfection’ have a sneaky way of working into your mind. Try to:

  • Choose media that don’t make you feel crap about yourself.

  • Avoid accounts, channels, sites and shows that make you feel the need to change your appearance.

  • Ignore media that suggest the ‘ideal body’ exists. It doesn’t!

Find a style which makes you feel comfortable

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. If you use Instagram, there are a lot of accounts which might help you find a style you can be passionate about. A few tips:

  • Wear what makes you feel comfortable.

  • Decide for yourself what looks good on you.

  • If you’re into women’s fashion, here are some Instagram accounts which you might find helpful.

  • Alternatively, if menswear is more your thing, here are a few accounts which might be up your alley.

Find foods which work for you

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 ‘trendy’ diets. They backfire in the end!

Remember that love is about acceptance too

Dating and relationships can take up a huge amount of our lives and our thoughts. But it’s important to know that there are more important priorities for your life, especially when they’re a source of negativity and a drain on your wellbeing.

  • Remember that finding that meaningful relationship is something that takes time.

  • Physical attraction can play a pretty big role in romantic relationships, but if you’re in a relationship and your partner is pressuring you to look a certain way, their priorities are all wrong.

  • Whether you’re in a relationship or not, remember that your health and wellbeing comes first.

Friends and family can be helpful, but also hurtful

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 and give your time to the people in your life who inspire you to feel confident.

If you still need help

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. Additionally, there are support services around the country which can help people in your position. You can also call the Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 ED HOPE for help, support, or if you’d like to feel heard.

What can I do now?

  • Read up about body image on the Butterfly Foundation's website.

  • Get personalised support options for body image with the ReachOut NextStep tool.