Body image is how you think about, feel about, see and judge your body. What beliefs do you have about yourself based on the way your body looks? Our beliefs and attitudes about our body shape, weight and size can affect the way we behave, including our reactions to situations.
Our goal is to provide informative, supportive, and educational content. While we have done our best to remove details that could be particularly triggering, we encourage you to check-in with yourself before reading any further or stop reading if you feel triggered at any time.
What is it?
What do you see when you look at a photo of yourself or look in the mirror? What beliefs do you have about yourself based on the way your body looks? Our beliefs and attitudes about our body shape, weight and size can affect the way we behave. They may change the way we eat and exercise and that can impact our health and well-being. Body image can be shaped by internal factors, such as personality and by external factors, such as our life experiences or culture.
Positive body image means you are comfortable in your body and the way it is naturally. You know that who you are as a person has little to do with your appearance. Your worth as a person is not tied to your body weight, shape, size or features.
Negative body image is also known as body dissatisfaction. You feel like your body weight, shape, size or features are flawed. You may believe you are less than others when you compare yourself to them. If you are unhappy with your body, you may have feelings of shame and low self-esteem. You also may be unhappy with the way certain clothes look on you.
Signs of negative body image may include if you:
- Check your body often (for example: looking at your appearance, pinching skin, measuring body parts)
- Avoid places or situations where your body is exposed (for example: swimming)
- Spend a lot of time and effort on your appearance (for example: hair, make-up)
- Think a lot about how you look or how you could change your appearance
- Compare yourself to others too much
- Greatly desire to change your body weight, shape, size or features
- Think and say negative things about your body
A negative body image can exhaust and isolate you. People with body image concerns are more likely to have mental health concerns, and/or develop an eating disorder.
Positive and negative body images are at opposite ends of the spectrum. You can be anywhere on the spectrum and how you feel can change from day to day or even hour to hour. Body image has different ways of showing up.
What can contribute to negative body image?
We all go through experiences that can negatively impact our body image regardless of our age, gender, and background. We are not born disliking our bodies, but body image concerns can start early in life and continue over the years. Different factors can lead to negative body image. One or more of the factors that can affect you include:
- Going through puberty. Puberty is a time when a lot of change can happen to things like weight, size, shape and hair growth. It is absolutely normal for bodies to change as we mature, but it can take some time to get used to. And it may not be what we expect.
- Going on a diet is when you restrict what you eat to try to lose weight or change your body. There are so many diets and trends it’s hard to know what information is true or could be harmful. Going on diets can build up negative feelings about food and increase how much we focus on our bodies.
- Sports or activities that may emphasize certain body weight or size like modeling, ballet and wrestling. If you feel like you have to fit a certain body standard it can add pressure to change your body. Athletes that play sports that focus on leanness are more at risk of disordered eating.
- Comments about weight and appearance. We are all affected by the people we spend time with. The way someone talks about their body or your body can influence the way you focus on and look at your own body. Even comments meant as compliments such as, “you look like you have lost weight” can contribute to negative body image or harmful behaviours. Check out the Talking about our Bodies section for more information.
- Being bullied or teased. A bully may say or spread hurtful things about your weight or appearance which may impact how you feel about yourself. Bullying is serious and not acceptable. It is the repeated attempt to scare, hurt or intimidate another person. Find information on bullying here.
- Your society’s or culture’s image of the “ideal” body. You may experience different triggers and pressures depending on the society or culture you grew up in. Some people may feel pressure to be thin while others may feel pressure to have muscles. You may feel pressure to have a different hair type, skin colour or facial features. These pressures can affect our body image and make it difficult to love or appreciate our body as it is, especially if it doesn’t fit society’s ideal.
What can contribute to positive body image?
It’s important to be comfortable in your body. It helps you feel more confident, take better care of yourself and support your overall wellbeing. No matter where you are on the above spectrum, you can move towards or maintain a more positive body image. Some helpful factors include if you:
- Recognize and take care of your whole self. Think about all the wonderful qualities that make you who you are – your personality, experiences and abilities. Your appearance and weight do not decide your self-worth. Pay attention to what your body is telling you and what it needs. Eat foods that you enjoy, move your body in ways that feel good, take deep breaths, and get enough rest.
- Choose to be with people who love and support you as you are. Spend time with people who don’t make you question your own worth or body confidence. You deserve to be accepted and celebrated as you are.
- Practice being kind to yourself. We all have an inner voice that can be both kind and critical. Try to develop habits that help you improve the way you think and feel about your body. Take time to explore and express yourself in ways that feel true to you. Be yourself and notice what you are grateful for about yourself. It can help you feel better in your own skin.
- Challenge the media messages you receive. Look carefully at and be critical of the media as it often shows images that are highly edited and not realistic. Check out the social media section below for more information.
- Remind yourself of what your body can do. Our bodies continue to grow and change during our lifetime. It can help to think about what your body can do rather than how it looks. How does it support you to take part in activities that make you happy? How does it adapt?
How can social media influence body image?
Media, especially social media, is a part of most people’s daily lives. It can be a great way to connect with others, be entertained, learn new things and be creative. But, social media can also negatively influence how we feel about ourselves.
Studies show that an increase in social media use is linked with a decrease in body satisfaction. Have you noticed the increase in Instagram and TikTok filters? These tools let you change your pictures and videos. Most media images are highly edited. They show unrealistic beauty standards with thin, rich, young, able-bodied people that usually have white skin and do not represent the range of bodies and shapes in our world. The more of these images you see, the more you are likely to feel pressure to have an “ideal” body, even if it isn’t real or realistic.
How can I prevent social media from negatively influencing my body image?
A good first step is to be aware of how social media can influence your body image. Think about how much time you spend on apps like Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. How do they make you feel about yourself? A few other tips include:
- Examine and think about what you’re seeing on social media instead of just accepting it as it is (for example: Who created this item? What is the purpose behind it?)
- Unfollow social media accounts that make you feel poorly about yourself
- Start following social media that show all kinds of body types. Choose apps that promote positive body images for all ages, genders, races, abilities, etc. When we expose ourselves to more body diversity, we can begin to see all bodies as good bodies. There is no one way to look or be – every body is special and worthy of love.
What you can do if you are experiencing body image concerns
It is possible to deal with body image concerns when they are recognized early on. Remember that you are not alone in these struggles. You can take action on your own or get support from friends, family or health professionals. Here are some options to consider:
- Talk to someone you trust and let them know how you are feeling. Check out Tips for Talking with Someone for help getting started.
- Are you ready to get in touch with a health professional? Reach out to a counsellor, doctor or psychiatrist for help getting started on what kind of support you need.
- Check out other options on our Get Support page.
- Explore the “What Next” options below for more information and resources.
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