Body image refers to the way you see your physical self — your body — and the thoughts and feelings that are caused by the way you see it.
Having a healthy body image means being comfortable and knowing that there is more to you than just your physical appearance. Conversely, having an unhealthy body image involves always thinking your body is unattractive. Sometimes, it can also make a person forget that they have value beyond what they look like.
Why is negative body image an issue?
If you have a negative body image, you might:
- think you look too fat
- feel like you're not pretty or muscular enough
- believe your value as a person is determined by your looks
- be fixated on trying to change your body shape
Having a sustained unhealthy body image can be associated with illnesses that affect the mind and body such as body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia nervosa and binge eating. It's beneficial to be aware of negative body image and actively attempt to develop a healthier body image.
How to improve your body image
Having an unhealthy body image is bad for general wellbeing and can be time consuming. Below are a few tips for improving your body image:
- Question media images — we are bombarded with images of unrealistic and unobtainable bodies; try not to compare yourself with them and remember that often what you see on TV and online are not true depictions of real people.
- Avoid any media, social media or websites that make you feel bad or suggest you need to change the way you look.
- Focus on the positive things your body can do.
- Look for similarities between your body and the bodies of other members of your family.
- Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable.
- Try positive self-talk.
- Avoid being critical of other people's bodies — negative attitudes are contagious.
If you are not satisfied with your body or are developing unhealthy eating or exercise habits, you can seek professional help. Some counsellors and psychologists have specialised knowledge in body image.
Call the Butterfly Foundation national helpline on 1800 33 4673 for support, information and access to resources or referrals to counsellors.
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Last reviewed: September 2019