Body image 101

We’ve all got a ‘body image’, but do you know where yours came from? Or how healthy it is? Getting to grips with those things can be a helpful place to start.
Published 13 December 2016

Body image guide

Body image, or your attitude towards your body, is something we all have. And research shows it can play a role in healthy lifestyle choices and even weight-loss success. So what’s your body image like? And what helped to create it? Here’s what you need to know.

The difference between positive and negative body image

A negative, or unhealthy body image, is thinking that your body’s not good enough in some way. It can also mean that you believe what you look like determines your value as a person. In contrast, a healthy or more positive body image is being comfortable in your own skin, so that most of the time, you’re happy with the way you look and feel good about yourself. Importantly, it’s about valuing who you are, not what you look like.

Where does your body image come from?

A few things go into creating it, including:

1. Your personal history

This can include whether you were teased about something, the messages you received via your family and incidents around puberty. For example being teased about your appearance in childhood, or growing up with a parent who was unhappy with their body shape.

2. Cultural influences

This means the prejudices, biases and discriminations that exist regarding weight, in society. For example living somewhere where there’s a cultural tendency to judge people by their appearance, or media and advertising images that promote a certain body shape.

3. Self-talk

How we talk to ourselves can also influence how we think and feel about ourselves.

Sometimes, faulty assumptions that we make about our appearance can lead and contribute to a negative body image, too. For example thinking things like:

  • Physically attractive people have it all.
  • The first thing someone will notice about me is what’s wrong with my appearance.
  • A person’s outward physical appearance is a sign of the inner person.
  • If I could just look the way I want to, my life would be so much happier.
  • The only way I could ever like my looks would be if I could change them.

Turning things around

To start improving your body image, try to live by these seven principles every day.

1. Embrace diversity

Remember that our differences are what make us special and unique, so try to avoid comparing yourself to others.

2. Be positive

Make an effort to talk positively to yourself every day, and avoid focusing on negative or self-critical thoughts.

3. Appreciate yourself

Pay attention to the things you’re good at, and celebrate your achievements.

4. Develop a new approach

Rather than setting goals that are focused purely on a number on the scales or your body shape, set goals that relate to your health and wellbeing, instead.

5. Be kind to other people

Speak compassionately and kindly to the people you meet, and don’t encourage any negative self-talk behaviours you hear in others.

6. Get smart about what you see

Remind yourself to be aware of unrealistic images that you see in the media. Ask yourself how they were developed and what they’re trying to achieve, to zap their power.

7. Get help if you need it

If you’ve got concerns about your body image, talk to someone you trust or seek professional help. The earlier the better!