Strategies for Improving Body Image

What is meant by healthy and unhealthy body image?

Body image is the way a person thinks and feel about their physical appearance. Body image is based in a person’s perception of their body. This perception can be influenced by many factors including a person’s age, family experiences, peer group, cultural beliefs, societal expectations, past individual experiences, and other environmental or individual factors. A positive or healthy body image is one in which a person has an accurate view of their body’s appearance and feels good about their body and comfortable with their physical appearance. An unhealthy or negative body image is one in which a person is critical of their body and unhappy with how they look. They may not have an accurate vision of how their body really looks or may focus on parts of their body that they dislike.

Some factors that contribute to unhealthy or negative body image include:

  • Comparing one’s self to others; to peers, athletes, celebrities, images on social media, etc.
  • Peer pressure to wear certain clothing or look a certain way, especially in school or certain work settings.
  • History of being teased, bullied, or belittled by other people.
  • Hearing other’s criticize their own bodies.
  • Body changes during the course of the lifespan; puberty, pregnancy, getting older, illness or disability, etc.

An unhealthy or negative body image can be linked to low self-esteem. It can sometimes lead to feelings of depressed mood and anxiety. Sometimes negative body image can even lead to disorder eating or other unsafe behaviors.

Strategies for improving body image

Since body image is directly connected to how a person perceives their body, strategies to improve body image can focus on changing the way one thinks about their body and themselves. In addition, limiting external factors that have a negative influence on this self perception can also be helpful. A positive body image is not based on having a “perfect” body, it is about having a positive and realistic perception of one’s own body – improving body image is about feeling good about your own body.

Some strategies to improve an unhealthy body image are:

  • Acknowledge that the reality is everyone’s body is different – there is no “perfect” body and that is more than ok. We are all different.
  • Stop focusing on what your body is or isn’t or can’t do and focus on all the ways your body works for you every day – embrace what your body does for you
  • Surround yourself with a positive social support system – people who encourage and help you feel good about yourself
  • Focus on taking care of yourself and your body – engage in activities that make your body feel more relaxed or rejuvenated and healthy
  • Focus on the parts of your body that you like – maybe it is your smile or your freckles or your strong legs. Make a list of what you like about your body.
  • Consider your other talents and abilities – remind yourself of all your positive qualities, don’t just focus on the physical – add these qualities to your list of what you like about your body and look at your list regularly as a reminder of all the things you like about yourself
  • Don’t body shame yourself or other people and don’t compare yourself to others – recognize these critical thoughts as they happen and remind yourself that they only contributing to feelings of unhappiness and dissatisfaction
  • Seek out social media, entertainment, activities, etc. that promote body positivity. Block or limit exposure to the ones that contribute to negative body image
  • Practice positive self-talk – create a positive affirmation and repeat it when you find yourself returning to critical thoughts (examples “I have a beautiful smile”, “I like ____ about myself”, “I am learning to love my body”, etc). Try to talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend you were trying to encourage.

Having a more healthy body image can improve self confidence, self esteem, and self worth. It can influence one’s behaviors and choices in all areas of life, including how a person interacts in relationships, school and work performance, etc. Mental health professionals can help support people in utilizing strategies to improve body image and self esteem.