Two-girls-chatting-and-sitting-on-a-fallen-tree-trunk-in-a-park

A guide for young people Body image

Body image is how we think and feel about ourselves physically. Sometimes, we worry about how we look or what our friends think about our body. If you're struggling with body image, here’s some advice that can help you.

What is body image?

Body image is how we think and feel about ourselves physically, and how we believe others see us.

When we talk about body image, there are lots of ways we can think about our body and the way we look. You might find that there are times when you like your body, or parts of your body, and times when you struggle with how you look.

IG-artwork-my-body-is-good-by-allbodiesart

Text on a green background which reads: My body is good regardless of: how it looks, your opinion of how it looks, the mainstream media's idea of how I should look

Body image is not just about our weight, it can also be things like:

  • comparing how you look with friends or people you follow on social media
  • struggling to love and accept your body
  • feeling as though your body shape is not represented in the media
  • hiding your body because you feel ashamed by it
  • struggling to find clothes for your body, particularly if you have a physical disability
  • feeling misunderstood about your body when people make assumptions about things like, why you might need a wheelchair
    feeling like you are not attractive enough
  • birthmarks, surgery scars or acne affecting how you feel about how you look
  • feeling as though your body does not match your gender. For information on this, have a look at our page on gender and mental health
IG-artwork-we-are-all-born-beautiful

Text in red, yellow, green and blue which reads: we are all born beautiful

These thoughts about how we look are often influenced by things going on around us. It can be what we see every day on social media, what the characters we see on TV look like, or seeing adverts about ‘improving how you look’. All of this can contribute to how we feel about our body.

Other influences might be:

  • the media promoting one type of body as ‘fit and healthy’ with little to no representation of different bodies
  • comments from friends or family about your body
  • social media promoting what should be the ‘perfect body’ image
  • clothes limited to fit certain body types
  • adverts, health campaigns or lessons at school on what is a ' healthy body’

If you feel that you are comparing your body with things you see every day, you are not alone. Lots of us are influenced by the things around us, which can impact our mental health.

The world is full of a spectrum of shapes and sizes. And we should all be represented in the media because unless we see this, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist.
Jada Sezer, YoungMinds ambassador

How can body image affect my mental health?

IG-artwork-Men-Struggle-With-Body-Image-Too

Text on a yellow background with the words struggle and body image highlighted in blue. The text reads: Men struggle with body image too

If you are having these thoughts and feelings about how you look, you might be struggling with your body image. You may find everyday tasks like eating, getting dressed or going out with friends becoming more difficult.

This can be at any point in your life or continuously throughout your life, but it is common to have these thoughts when you are going through puberty. During puberty, your body releases hormones which makes you more aware of how you look, and more aware of other people’s bodies. These changes happen to everyone, and can sometimes make you feel out of control or anxious.

It can lead to feelings of:

It is completely normal to feel insecure about your body, and the majority of us will experience this at some point in our lives.
Elsie

Body dysmorphic disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder is when you constantly worry about flaws in your appearance, focus on specific areas of your body and compare yourself a lot to others.

Sometimes when you’re struggling with your body image, you might change your eating habits as this can make you feel like you are in more control of how you look. This can be things like changing what you eat, how much and how often you are eating. If you are finding that your eating habits or relationship with food is taking over your life, you might be struggling with an eating problem.

We all worry about how we look at times during our lives and that’s completely normal. If you are experiencing any of the above, know that there are people who can help you get through this. Things can get better.

artwork-Its-okay-if-you-dont-love-your-body-lets-work-towards-acceptance

Note taped to a surface reading: It's okay if you don't love your body let's work towards acceptance

What to do if you're worried about how you look

It's important to remember that there isn’t a single type of beauty - everyone sees it differently. And there simply isn’t a right or a wrong way to look. But if you're struggling, here are some things you can do:

  • Be kind to yourself

    Try not to compare yourself to the many images you see online and in magazines, which are often digitally changed to make them look ‘perfect’ – they don’t reflect how people look in real life.

  • Notice how social media is affecting the way you feel about your body

    There can be lots of pressure online to have the ‘perfect’ body when we compare ourselves to different people. Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad, and try following accounts that make you feel good instead. Here are more tips about using social media.  

  • Focus on the good things

    Focus on the things you like about yourself, and the parts of your body that you like.

  • Spend time with people who make you feel positive about yourself

    It might help you to write down the nice things people say to you, and not just about how you look. Remember, people value you for many reasons.

  • What would you say to a friend?

    Think about what advice you would give a friend if they told you they were struggling with the way they look, and remember that advice whenever you start having negative thoughts.

  • Talk to someone you trust

    It could be your parents or wider family members, like older cousins, aunts or uncles. Outside home, it could be a teacher, a neighbour, a close family friend or someone from a club you attend.

Our Activists share their experiences

If you feel unable to cope, or particularly worried about one part of your body, talk to your GP about how you’re feeling. They can listen, tell you about local services and support groups, or they may suggest specific treatment for the way you’re feeling.

How to speak to your GP
Medium-shot-of-a-group-of-young-people-chatting-and-laughing-on-a-park-bench
Growing up, I was bullied a lot. I always stood out from the crowd and I hated that element about myself because I thought that if no one could accept and love me for who I am, then I couldn’t either.

I hated the way I looked. I hated everything about myself, and because of this, I know exactly what it’s like to hate the body you were born in. And this was the darkest time of my life.
My journey to loving my body
Samantha
  • We need to realise that behind the 'perfect bodies' that we see on Instagram are often personal trainers, specially-planned diets, makeup artists, fashion designers, and Photoshop! What you typically see in magazines, on TV and on social media, is not real.
    Honor
  • Ultimately, true beauty is not about how you look. It's about how you are as a person and how you make others feel about themselves.
    Lily
  • The truth is you are SO much more than how you look. You are unique in every possible way. No one else has your experiences, your passion, your way of living, your smile, your heart and soul. You are YOU. And that is worth celebrating.

Body positivity

Body positivity is a movement to accept all bodies no matter what type, shape or size. It promotes seeing different bodies on things like social media to encourage us to accept our body and the way we look. If you are struggling with your body image, body positivity can help you feel better about yourself. By thinking positively about how you look, you can feel more comfortable and confident.

Changing the way we think about our body and how we look can take time. It can feel difficult on some days more than others. That’s okay. Accepting your body is a process. Our Activists share how a positive body image can help you feel better about yourself:

  • Focusing on how you feel and looking after your health more than how you look.
  • Accepting the way you look and not comparing it to what others look like.
  • Not seeing the most important thing about you as your weight/body/shape/size.
  • Even if not body positive, being body neutral - accepting this is your body even if you aren’t 100% happy with it.
  • Focusing on things that make you feel powerful.
IG-artwork-We-Need-To-Learn-To-Respect-Every-Body-Credit

Text at the top of the image reads: we need to learn to respect every body. Below the text is an alien next to different humans of different shapes, heights and sizes. A couple of them are waving and others are holding hands.

How you can support a friend struggling with body image

IG-artwork-Thank-you-for-helping-me-see-talk-move-and-walk

A hand-drawn person in a blue top and blue trousers stands in front of a mirror smiling. To the right of the person there are four speech bubbles. They read: thank you eyes for helping me see. Thank you lips for helping me talk. Thank you hips for helping me move. Thank you legs for helping me walk. 

If you have a friend or family member who is struggling with their body image, here are some ways that your support can help.

  • Talk to them and encourage them to focus on what they like about themselves and what they can do – not just how they look. Help them to see all their good points and the things you like about them – these can be simple things, like being a good sport, a caring friend or making people laugh.
  • If you're finding it difficult to know what to say, writing their good points as a list together can be another way to help them. They can keep the list for the days they are struggling as a reminder of all the good things they like about themselves.
  • Sit with your friend in front of a mirror. Together, thank your body for all the positive things it does. You and your friend might find this strange at first, but by doing this together, you can encourage your friend and show them how to see positives in their body. It can help them to learn to love themselves.
  • Support your friend to have a positive online space. If you know that your friend is struggling, you could send them a message to let them know they matter and remind your friend how brilliant they are.
  • If you think they’re feeling overwhelmed, encourage them to see their GP for professional help.
Your body is enough, and you are enough, always.
Laura

Get help now

Where to get help

If you're struggling with how you feel about the way you look, you're not alone. Here are some services that can really help. 

  • YoungMinds Textline

    Text YM to 85258

    Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.

    All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.

    Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.

    Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • The Mix

    Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

    Free short-term counselling service available.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, seven days a week
  • Youth Access

    Provides information about local counselling and advice services for young people aged 12-25.

    You can find local services on their website.

  • Anorexia and Bulimia Care

    Offers support to anyone affected by eating disorders.

    Hosts an online community for anybody supporting someone with an eating disorder.

    Opening times:
    9:30am - 5pm, Tuesday - Friday
  • Beat

    Offers information and support for anybody affected by eating disorders.

    One-to-one web chat available.

    Enter your postcode in the HelpFinder to see what eating disorder support is available in your area.

    Information on helpline accessibility and confidentiality available here.

    Opening times:
    365 days a year - weekdays (9am - 8pm); weekends (4pm - 8pm)

You might also find this helpful

More tips, advice and real stories on what to do if you're struggling with your body image.