Body Image

What Is Body Image?

Body image is about much more than physical appearance and attractiveness! It is the mental picture a person has of his/her body. It also encompasses thoughts, feelings, judgments, sensations, and behavior related to one’s body. It is not static; body image can change in response to our environment and emotions.

  • How you see or picture yourself
  • How you feel others perceive you
  • What you believe about your physical appearance
  • How you feel about your body
  • How you feel in your body

Body image influences our behavior and our identity. When we feel bad about our body, our self-esteem and mood are negatively affected. We lose confidence in our abilities. It’s not uncommon for people who think poorly of their bodies to have problems in other areas of their lives, including sexuality, careers, and relationships (Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center).

Cultural Influences on Body Image

Cultural appearance standards are reflected in the glamorized ideals portrayed in the media. Beauty standards are mostly measured by westernized/white standards. For women, the ideal is extreme thinness, light skin, and straight hair. Men are pressured to achieve muscularity. These images are paired with images of romance, success, and happiness. In addition, we receive powerful anti-fat messages from media, the beauty industry, and outdated notions of health and fitness.

Body image problems are not just weight-oriented. Other variables include skin color, hair texture, and size/shape of specific body parts, such as the nose or eyes. Possessing characteristics that deviate from western beauty standards can put individuals from racial and ethnic minority groups at greater risk for negative body image. These individuals also face the added challenge of conforming to the beauty ideals of more than one culture.

For more information about ways to move toward body acceptance, see our brochures on eating and body image concerns.

Health at Every Size

According to Robison (2005), “Promoting weight loss through exercise, dietary restriction, and behavior modification rarely succeeds. It often results in cycles of weight loss and gain, with the potential for serious physical and psychological health risks, and contributes to body hatred, dangerous eating disorders, and exercise addiction.” A new, more holistic view of health is the “Health at Every Size” paradigm. This perspective emphasizes the:

  • Natural diversity in body shape and size
  • Ineffectiveness and dangers of dieting for weight loss
  • Importance of relaxed eating in response to internal body cues
  • Critical contribution of social, emotional, and spiritual as well as physical factors to health and happiness

Basic Tenets of Health at Every Size (Ikeda)

People come in a variety of sizes and shapes. We celebrate this diversity as a positive characteristic of the human race.

  • There is no ideal body size, shape, or weight that every individual should strive to achieve.
  • Every body is a good body, whatever its size or shape.
  • Self-esteem and body image are strongly linked. Helping people feel good about their bodies and about who they are, can help motivate them to maintain healthy behaviors.
  • Appearance stereotyping is inherently unfair to the individual because it is based on superficial factors over which the individual has little or no control.
  • We respect the bodies of others even though they might be quite different from our own.
  • Each person is responsible for taking care of his or her body.
  • Good health is not defined by body size; it is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being.
  • People of all sizes and shapes can reduce their risk of poor health by adopting a healthy lifestyle.