Do you ever want to change something about how you look or feel about your body? If so, you are not alone.

What Is Body Image?

Your body image is how you feel and what you think about your body. It includes the picture or image of your body that you have in your mind- this might or might not match your body's actual size and shape.

A positive or healthy body image is feeling satisfied with your body and being comfortable in ‘your skin’ with how you look.

A negative and unhealthy body image is feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with how you look. People who feel this way may often want to change their body shape or size. A negative impression of your body can lead to a body image disorder.

Body image is not just about one’s weight; it also includes things like:

  • Comparing your looks or body with your friends or people you follow online.
  • Struggling to love your body.
  • Feeling as though your body is not the ‘ideal’ type as represented in media.
  • Hiding your body because you feel ashamed of it.
  • Cannot find clothes that fit your body, especially if you have a physical disability.
  • Feeling misunderstood about your body.
  • Feeling like you are not attractive enough.
  • Having birthmarks, surgery scars or teenage acne that affect how you feel about your looks.
  • Feeling like your body doesn’t match your assigned gender.

What Influences Body Image?

Body image is often influenced by things that are going on around us. This can be what we see every day on social media, what the characters look like on our favourite TV shows and movies, or seeing adverts that somehow ‘improve how you look’. All this can negatively impact our bodies.

The media greatly influences our body image by promoting one type of body as ‘attractive, fit and healthy’ with zero representation of different bodies. Sometimes negative remarks from family, peers or others about your body also influence negative body image.

Disability and Body Image

The discrepancy between the ideal body and one’s own body can lead to a great amount of body image pressure for people. The same goes for people with physical disabilities, and the media's lack of representation of similar body types impacts their perception of self.

In many cultures, people with disabilities are considered feeble, fragile and sickly, and this leads to more harmful notions. People with disabilities face many social challenges that can hurt self-worth, self-esteem and body image.

How Does Body Image Affect Mental Health?

If you have recurring negative thoughts and feelings about how you look, you could be struggling with your body image. You can find everyday activities like eating, getting dressed or going out with friends increasingly difficult.

It is very common for teenagers to especially have these thoughts. During puberty, your body releases hormones that change your body, making you more aware of how you look. Many changes occur in your body and you might get acne or puberty hair growth. These changes can make you feel out of control and anxious.

It can also lead to feelings of:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Body image disorder
  • Obsession with how you look
  • Isolation
  • Loneliness                     

What To Do If You Are Not Satisfied With How You Look?

Remember that there is not a single type of beauty- it is different for everyone. Beauty is a perception, and there is no wrong or right way to look. Overcoming negative body image can be challenging, but understanding how does body image affect mental health and practising these tips can help you achieve it:

  • Be kind to yourself: Try not to compare how you look to the many images you see online or in magazines. These are often digitally edited to make them look ‘perfect’ and are in no way a reflection of how people look in real life.
  • Check who you follow on social platforms. There is a lot of pressure online to look and dress a certain way. Unfollow any accounts that make you feel bad about your body, and try following accounts and influencers who promote body positivity and make you feel good instead.
  • Spend time with people who make you feel positive about yourself.
  • Focus on the good things that you like about yourself.
  • Talk to someone you trust, like a sibling or a close friend.

How to get help?

Sometimes, self-esteem issues and overcoming negative body image are too much to handle alone. Health issues, depression and trauma can affect how you feel about yourself and lead to serious eating disorders.

Tell a parent, doctor or therapist what you are going through. Body image and self-esteem can get better with the right help and care.