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5 Tips for Improving Body Image and Mental Health

We all feel it at some point – that poke of insecurity or dissatisfaction about our bodies. Whether it’s one or two body parts only, or the whole package, how we view our bodies is irrevocably linked with how we view ourselves.



Body image describes the perception we each have of our physical selves and the thoughts and feelings (positive, negative, or both) that perception causes. This perception, and related thoughts and feelings, are shaped by a huge number of influences. Some of the most critical influences in body image, however, are family and friends, media (including social media), and cultural messages.


Some people have a strong, positive body image; others have a negative or unhealthy body image. And in recent years, social media movements that advocate for a neutral body image have gained traction.


Like mental health, it’s common for body image to vary between positive, neutral, and negative views across your lifetime.


What a positive body image means

A positive body image is a state of appreciation for your body, characterised by a true acceptance of your physical self, irrespective of societal or media-driven ideals.


When we feel good about our bodies, we recognize their diverse qualities and abilities. We’re also able to feel grateful for and take an affirmative view of their unique shape, size, and traits. 


This self-perception is marked not only by a lack of shame or discomfort about your appearance but also by a broader understanding that personal worth is not determined by physical appearance alone.


People with a positive body image are more likely to feel comfortable and confident in their skin, treat their bodies with care, and avoid focusing on minor imperfections, leading to a healthier, more fulfilling life.


What a negative body image means

A negative body image involves a generally dissatisfied or distorted perception of your physical appearance. When we think and feel about our bodies negatively, we are more likely to view ourselves critically as a whole.


Negative body image might cause us to focus on perceived flaws, or on how our bodies differ from cultural or social ideals of beauty. This can lead to feelings of shame, anxiety, sadness, inadequacy, or even worthlessness. 


Our constant internal critique and comparison to others can become overwhelming and debilitating. A negative self-perception can affect daily life, keeping us from participating in social activities or physical pursuits we might otherwise enjoy, like swimming, dancing, or even having sex.


How negative body image develops

We aren’t born feeling bad about our bodies. Instead, a negative body image develops over years – often during our most formative years in childhood and adolescence – from numerous factors, including:


Cultural and media influences: Media that portrays only one type of body as desirable and healthy can lead us to compare ourselves to this type and feel dissatisfied with our own bodies.


Similarly, media that frequently portrays certain physical characteristics (for example: skin colour, hair length, amount of body fat, breast size, size of muscles, presence of facial hair, etc) as undesirable, can lead us to judge our own bodies negatively.


These portrayals are prevalent across TV shows, movies, and social media, where they create unrealistic standards that can make us feel inadequate or even worthless for appearing different.


Family and peer pressure: Comments or attitudes from our family members and peers, like “yeh to khaate peete ghar ki ladki lag rahi hai” or “lakdi ki tarah dikh rahi ho tum toh,” can profoundly influence the way we think about ourselves. These remarks often start in childhood, continue into adulthood, and somewhere along the way become internalised as truths by many of us.


Sometimes negative body image results from critical remarks about our appearance. Other times, more subtle messaging from loved ones contributes to negative body image.


And in other cases, negative body image could develop simply by watching and internalising a caretaker’s negative perception of their own body.


Personal perceptions and experiences: Our own experiences, such as performance in sports or receiving negative comments from a crush or role model, can also shape how we view our bodies. 


Additionally, psychological factors, such as a tendency towards perfectionism or comparison to others, can exacerbate body dissatisfaction.


Body image and self-esteem

The link between body image and self-esteem is deeply intertwined, with dissatisfaction with one’s appearance often leading to lower self-esteem.


This diminished self-regard can create a vicious cycle of negative thoughts, emotions, and self-talk that erodes our self-perception and well-being more and more.


Body image and mental health

When negative body image causes low self-esteem, it becomes more likely to trigger mental health issues such as anxiety, social anxiety, and depressionWe also become more likely to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms like disordered eating.


Extremely negative body image that is accompanied by unhealthy and obsessive eating patterns may be a sign of an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or others. Contrary to popular belief, these are not examples of extreme dieting, but rather they are mental health conditions that require mental healthcare.


Poor body image can cause us to withdraw from activities or interactions and disrupt relationships – which can lead to increasing social isolation and loneliness that intensifies mental health problems.


5 tips to gradually improve body image and mental health

Improving your body image is a slow process. It won’t just change overnight. But there are steps that anyone can take to limit how much a negative self-perception influences mental and emotional well-being.


Here are some evidence-based strategies to help foster, if not a positive body image, then at least a less negative view:


Challenge negative thoughts: Learn to recognize and actively challenge harmful perceptions about your body. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques can be particularly effective in altering negative thought patterns.


For example, if you catch yourself thinking you’re unattractive or unfit, counter these thoughts by asking yourself: What evidence do I have to support this thought? Am I confusing a thought for a fact? What other alternative possibilities exist?


Engage in body-neutral activities: Participate in activities that help you focus on what your body can do, rather than how it looks. This might include yoga, dancing, hiking, or other forms of exercise that emphasize body functionality over appearance.


Celebrate the sensations, mobility, and health of your body, rather than its conformity to societal standards.


Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself and recognize that everyone struggles to feel good about themselves; it is part of being human. Everyone’s body is unique, and there is no perfect shape or size.


When you are feeling negatively about your body, or having critical thoughts about it, think of what you would tell a friend feeling and saying the same; then tell yourself the same thing. Self-compassion has been shown to be a protective factor against body dissatisfaction.


Be selective in what media you consume: Unfollow or avoid content that triggers negative feelings about your body and seek out media that celebrates a diverse range of body types and encourages body positivity or neutrality.


Move your body in meaningful ways. Using your body in personally meaningful ways can help you appreciate it more. For example, if you value nature, consider taking regular nature walks or hikes. If you value art and creativity, try a new medium like pottery or painting, focusing on how your body helps you perform the activity.


If you value your friends and family above everything, maybe set a goal of hugging at least one of them each day, focusing on how your body helps you show them appreciation and love. When your body is helping you live your life authentically, according to your values, you may be less likely to view it negatively. 


Seek professional help: If body image issues interfere with your everyday functioning, comfort, or happiness, therapy – whether in a digital program or traditional sessions — can provide the necessary guidance and support to achieve a healthier, more at-peace mindset toward your body.


Developing a positive body image is an integral part of fostering self-esteem and maintaining mental health. By understanding the factors that influence body image and actively working to promote a healthier relationship with your body, you can gradually improve your quality of life and achieve a greater sense of self-acceptance.


But body image is deeply personal, and it’s always a work in progress, for everyone. Setbacks are inevitable, but with time and small steps, significant change is possible.




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Bijal Shah (M.Sc., M.Phil.), a clinical psychologist with Mitsu, vetted this article for accuracy.