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Body image

10-minute read

Key facts

  • Body image refers to the way you see your body and the feelings you have about it.
  • Having a healthy body image means that you know you are more than just your physical appearance.
  • Body image can fluctuate between positive and negative at different times.
  • Having an unhealthy body image can affect your wellbeing.

What is body image?

Body image refers to the thoughts and feelings you have about your body. This includes your:

It is normal for your body image to change between positive and negative at different times.

It is impacted by:

  • internal factors — such as your personality and temperament
  • external factors — such as your social environment and media influences

What is a positive body image?

Having a healthy body image means that you can:

  • respect your body
  • appreciate your body
  • accept your body, regardless of its shape

What is poor body image?

Having an unhealthy body image involves always thinking your body is unattractive.

This 'body dissatisfaction' is driven from an internal process but can be influenced by external social factors.

Sometimes, you can forget that you have value beyond:

  • what you look like
  • what you weigh
  • what size clothes you wear

What are the signs of a poor body image?

Some signs of poor body image are:

  • repetitive dieting
  • too much exercising
  • spending a lot of time on your appearance
  • thinking or talking a lot about appearances
  • comparing yourself (usually poorly) to other people

You may also change some of your behaviours such as:

  • avoiding situations where body image may cause anxiety — such as swimming
  • changing your eating and exercise behaviours — to change your weight or muscularity
  • engaging in risky behaviours — such as smoking, abusing drugs or alcohol, or increased sexual activity

Poor body image can make you:

  • withdraw from things you enjoy, like sports and social activities
  • change your relationships with your friends and family

It can lead also lead to:

Having a sustained poor body image can make you susceptible to developing an eating disorder. It can be associated with body dysmorphic disorder (where you believe there is a flaw in your appearance).

It's beneficial to be aware of negative body image and actively attempt to develop a healthier body image.

What factors affect body image?

Anyone can have poor body image. Factors that affect your body image include:


Body image develops at a young age, but dissatisfaction with body image can happen at any age.

Puberty, pregnancy and after giving birth

These are all times when your body changes naturally. They can also be times when poor body image may increase.


High achievers and perfectionists are more at risk of being dissatisfied with their bodies.

Being teased or bullied about your appearance

Teasing and bullying can lead to an increased risk of developing poor body image.

Having mental health problems

Having depression or anxiety leads to a greater risk of negative body image.

Poor role models

Having friends and family who have unhealthy attitudes to their own bodies can increase your risk of poor body image.

How can I improve my body image?

Having an unhealthy body image is bad for your wellbeing. You can develop a better body image by:

  • challenging unrealistic beauty ideals
  • learning to accept your body

Below are a few tips for improving your body image:

  1. Focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents.
  2. Try positive self-talk and avoid negative self-talk.
  3. Focus on your positive qualities.
  4. Appreciate what your body can do.
  5. Look at the different body shapes of the people you like and love.
  6. Set health goals rather than weight-related goals.
  7. Don't compare your body shape to other people.
  8. Unfollow people on social media whose posts trigger negative body image thoughts.

Body image and the media

Viewing images in the media can trigger body image concerns. We are bombarded with images of unrealistic and unobtainable bodies. Try not to compare yourself with them.

Remember that often what you see on TV and online are not true depictions of real people.

Try to:

  1. Question images you see in the media.
  2. Avoid any media, social media or websites that make you feel bad or suggest you need to change the way you look.

When should I get help?

Speak with your doctor if you have body image concerns.

There are counsellors and psychologists who have specialised knowledge and experience in body image.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How can I help my child with their body image?

You have a big influence on how your child feels about their body. Encourage your child to have a healthy relationship with their body and with food.

Your own attitude to your body will influence your child, so try not to be negative about your body. Try to model feeling comfortable with your body.

Don't talk about diets. Talking about diets can give your child the impression that you highly value weight and size.

Help your child understand that images in the media are not realistic and help them to recognise diversity.

Resources and Support

Call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 for support and referrals to counsellors.

You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023

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