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. 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
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.
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:
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. Find out more and how you can get support below.
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 and 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.
- Check if your social media is affecting the way you feel about your body. There can be lots of pressure online to have the ‘perfect’ body. This can cause you to worry about how you look and compare yourself with others online. Following influencers who talk about positive body image like our ambassador Jada Sezer, (see her Instagram @jadasezer), @bodyposipanda or @kennyethanjones can help you feel better about your body and have a more positive time online. We have lots of tips from young people like you on how to keep your social media positive.
- 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.
- 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.
Our Activists and other young people share their experience of coping with body image issues:
Samantha’s story: My journey to loving my body
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.
However, one day, I looked into the mirror and rather than focusing on everything I disliked, I realised how lucky I was, standing there, alive and well. And this is where everything changed. From being someone extremely insecure about my appearance, I discovered myself and turned into someone who started loving the patterns on my skin. I started to embrace my flaws because these are the things worth loving about ourselves, as they are the treasures found within us all that make us unique.
To continue reading Samantha’s story, visit 'My journey to loving my body.'
For more advice on dealing with body image issues, have a look at our blogs:
If you're struggling with your body image, our Activists and other young people share their tips on what has helped them feel better about the way they look:
- "I recommend writing a list of the things that you like about yourself. Even just one thing a day can help improve how you think about your body." Laura
- "Body confidence doesn’t come from trying to achieve the ‘perfect’ body that the media tell you to have. Body confidence comes from embracing the body you’ve already got." Honor
- “Having a healthy relationship with exercise and how we treat ourselves. Some positive affirmations also help to feel more confident about our body image.”
- “I think that we need to tell people that in life no one has a perfect body and no one should expect you to have one. Your body is as individual as you and you should not change that.”
- "Looking in the mirror and saying something that I liked about myself really helped. It may be difficult to start, but this will slowly rebuild your mental health in terms of being happy in your own skin." Laura
- “Looking at quotes/positive things helps me realise that there is so much more to life than worrying about my body.”
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:
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.
Where to get help
See below for a list of organisations and helpline services that have information to support you.
YoungMinds Crisis Messenger
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.
Text: YM to 85258
Opening times: 24/7
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
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.
Phone: 0808 801 0811 (studentline)
Opening times: 365 days a year - weekdays (9am - 8pm); weekends (4pm - 8pm)