SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Your body image is how you perceive, think and feel about your body. This can include your body size, weight, shape or your appearance more generally.
- A negative body image can develop from many different influences, including family, peer group, media and social pressures.
- A positive body image can improve self-esteem, self-acceptance, and a healthy relationship with food and physical activity.
About body image
Your body image is how you perceive, think and feel about your body. This can include your body’s size, shape and weight, or individual body parts. People can experience a positive or negative body image and can be influenced by both the internal and external factors in our lives.
Body image may not be directly related to your actual appearance. For example, a person may think and feel that their body is much larger or smaller than it is. A positive body image is associated with better , self-acceptance and healthy lifestyle behaviours, including a balanced approach to and .
Body image issues affect people of all ages, genders and across all cultures. Recent research suggests that 80 per cent of Australian women are dissatisfied with their bodies to some degree. Research also shows that, after moving to Australia, some women from other countries take on habits that are not common in their country of origin.
Body image and health behaviours
A negative body image increases the risk of engaging in unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, such as dieting or restrictive eating, over-exercising and other disordered eating or weight control behaviours.
Dieting is a significant risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Research shows that even ‘moderate’ dieting increases the risk of developing an eating disorder in teenage girls. While dieting is normalised in society, it is not normal or healthy, and can lead to serious physical health complications. Dieting is also not effective in the longer term, with many people who lose weight from dieting regaining the weight over time. Ultimately, dieting is not effective or sustainable and can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and eating.
Body image can also impact a person’s engagement with physical activity. Feeling self-conscious or uncomfortable with appearance, body size or shape can lead to women and girls reducing or avoiding physical activity engagement. This could be associated with the feeling that being active or engaging in particular activities exposes their body to the public eye.
Alternatively, woman and girls may engage in excessive or compulsive exercise to change their body weight, size or shape. A healthy relationship with physical activity means engaging in regular physical activity that is focused on maintaining or improving physical fitness, and that is also fun and enjoyable.
Contributors of negative body image
Some of the factors that contribute to a negative body image include:
- appearance or weight-related teasing or in childhood
- family and friends who diet and express body dissatisfaction
- a cultural tendency to judge people by their appearance
- peer pressure among girls and women to be slim, engage with diets, exercise and compare themselves with others
- media and advertising images that promote particular appearance ideals
- people who internalise society’s appearance or body ideals
- a tendency in media targeting women and girls to encourage diets and weight loss programs
- well-meaning public health campaigns that urge people to lose weight
- being a perfectionist, where rigid ‘black and white’ thinking can increase the risk of body dissatisfaction.
Improving your body image
Your body image develops and changes over the course of your life, so the process of shifting a negative body image can take time and effort. Suggestions for improving your body image include:
- Reflect on your experiences and try to unravel the development of your body image over the course of your life.
- Access information about body image and strategies to support you to feel better about your body.
- Talk about your feelings and experiences with other women and girls who have similar concerns and who you feel safe with.
- Make a pact with yourself to treat your body with respect – this could include giving your body enough food and rest.
- Avoid negative body talk about your own body and the bodies of others. Instead, focus on what you appreciate about your body – what your body can do rather than how it looks.
- Celebrate the positive qualities, skills and interests that you have as a person, rather than focusing on appearance-related qualities.
- Give yourself a break from social media and other forms of media where you are noticing appearance-focused messages and images. Filter your social media feed so you can avoid interacting with these messages and images.
- Try to focus on eating a wide variety of foods for nourishment and enjoyment, and try to be flexible with your eating.
- Try to focus on the benefits of physical activity for physical, mental and social health, rather than for changing body size, weight or shape.
- Try some form of physical activity purely for the fun of it and for enjoyment.
- Avoid weighing yourself.
- Seek support from a mental health professional if you are concerned about your body image.
If you feel dissatisfied or unhappy with your body, that your body image gets in the way of being able to live your life and do the things you would like to, or you are engaging in restrictive eating or other unhealthy eating or exercise behaviours, then seeking professional help is important.
Psychologists, dietitians and other health professionals trained in body image and eating disorders can assist you to improve your body image and relationship with food and physical activity.