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Body image

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.

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.

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
Two young people standing together and looking up at something.
I wish I’d known when I first found the spots how common alopecia actually is. That there is a vast community of people that will support you, and I can be there to support others too.
Sophie, 21

How can body image affect my mental health?

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:

Three young people sitting together in a park.
Growing up, I spent a lot of time fixating on my body and how it conflicted with my identity.
Charlie, 20

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.

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.

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
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It’s remarkable what our bodies go through to keep us alive! Your body does not need to look a certain way to be appreciated, that is not its purpose. All bodies are beautiful, and no two bodies look the same. That’s what makes yours so amazing.
YoungMinds blogger

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 and bloggers share how a positive body image can help you feel better about yourself:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Instead of focusing on commenting on the physical appearance of your body, you could think about things that your body does that you're thankful for. It's really important to remember that it might take a while - and that's okay. Changing your mindset is something that takes time, but it'll be worth it in the long run.
  • 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. Focusing on things that make you feel powerful.
  • Even if not body positive, being body neutral - accepting this is your body even if you aren’t 100% happy with it.

How you can support a friend struggling with body image

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.

A young Black woman and an older Black woman leaning their heads on each other's shoulders and smiling. Their eyes are closed.
Change, recovery, and healing – these will take time. Set goals, but don’t set unrealistic ones: you are not racing against anyone else other than the person that you were.
Your body is enough, and you are enough, always.

You might also find this helpful

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

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. 

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