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Health Chatter: Body image and its effect on mental health

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

When we talk about body image, it’s not just what you look like, but also how you feel about your body and your attitude and behaviour towards it. Your attitude towards body image can have a significant impact on your mental health and wellbeing in both positive and negative ways throughout your life.

Healthy body image

Having a healthy body image means that you value and accept your body the way it is – it’s more than just ‘tolerating’ it. This acceptance paves the way for good self-esteem, and noticing the great qualities you have beyond your appearance. In turn, this can reinforce positive body image creating a positive cycle and a healthy head space.

Similarly, cycles of negative body image can contribute to low self esteem – and when you feel low, it’s harder to notice the good things about yourself.

Research suggests that negative body image is more common among young women, but it can affect any gender at any age.

A woman looking at herself in a mirror analysing her body.
“1 in 5 adults in the UK have felt shame because of their body image this year“

What can cause body image issues & concerns?

Everyone’s attitude towards their body is different, and you’re likely to be influenced by many factors such as your surroundings, experiences, environment, and society. People may be influenced by:

  • Relationships with friends and family.

  • Stereotypes of the ‘ideal’ body type.

  • Long term health conditions such as cancer (e.g. because of hair loss).

  • Social media images of idealised body shapes.

  • Cultural differences.

How are body image and mental health linked?

Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and low self-esteem have been found to have a negative effect on body image, and vice versa. These problems can impact your quality of life, lowering your confidence, and causing you to avoid social interactions, or to struggle to perform at work.

Positive body image is linked to having a healthy and active lifestyle including being more physically active, not smoking, lower alcohol consumption and healthier eating choices. Research suggests that a healthy body image can enhance self-esteem, resilience, overall mood and life satisfaction.

These elevated moods and confidence help to decrease negative symptoms of mental health problems. Individuals with positive body image often also become more resilient to negative messages that are displayed in society and media that might otherwise lead to negative feelings about their body.

“1 in 5 adults in the UK have felt shame because of their body image this year“ - Mental Health Foundation 2019

Fostering a healthy attitude to body image

  1. Respect your body by making good lifestyle choices such as regular exercise, a healthy diet and getting an adequate amount of rest and sleep. Practice framing this in your mind as a way of keeping your body healthy and strong as opposed to a way of making it look a certain way.

  2. Surround yourself with a positive and loving network of friends and family who appreciate you for who you are. Notice the way you speak to each other about appearances and work together on making those conversations more healthy.

  3. Write down positive thoughts/quotes that makes you feel good about yourself in a journal. Notice all your good qualities and strengths. You can call on these if you start noticing unkind or unhelpful thoughts surfacing.

  4. Take an honest look at your social media use. Consider unfollowing accounts that promote unrealistic body ideals and follow accounts with a healthier message instead. Limiting the time you spend on social media can also help you feel better.

  5. Practice acceptance and gratitude, and understand that perfection is impossible. There is no ‘ideal body’, and striving to get one will likely lead to exhaustion and self-criticism. Remember that your body is uniquely yours and it enables you to do all the things you love to do.

Our sources and for more information:




Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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