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body image and mental health

body image and mental health

The term body image refers to how you feel about your physical body. Negative body image may affect your mental health

Body image is shaped by various factors, including personal beliefs, societal standards and media representations. It influences how comfortable you feel in your skin and how others view your appearance. Struggling with your body image can lead to self-doubt or even mental health conditions.

Negative body image can come in many different forms:

  • Worried about your weight
  • Comparing how you look with your friends, family, or people on the internet
  • Feeling underrepresented in the media
  • Feeling unattractive
  • Struggling to find clothes you feel comfortable in because of how they look on your body
  • Feeling ashamed of your body

Common myths about body image

loving your body will give you happiness

While the idea of loving your body may seem good, it can be a difficult goal for many people who struggle with body image. What your body needs is respect, appreciation, care and good treatment

change of body can fix body image issues

These issues come from a psychological and emotional experience and are often caused by societal pressures, media, trauma and genetics. Addressing them may require therapy, education and social change.

only women are affected by body image issues

Body image problems impact people of all genders. Everyone can experience pressure to conform to societal beauty standards.

Causes of negative body image

Negative thoughts about your body image are typically influenced by your day to day life. In the age of social media and television, it can be hard to escape looking at other people’s appearance. The media you consume may also promote on type of body as the ‘desired’ look with little representation of other bodies. This may all lead to you comparing yourself, which results in negative body image.

People in your life may also comment on your appearance, or you are limited to wearing certain clothes due to your body. These comments and experiences may also lead to negative body image, which can impact your quality of life and mental health.

Impact of negative body image

Negative body image can affect anyone at any stage in their life. If you are struggling with how you look and how you think others perceive you, it may make day to day tasks, such as leaving the house and socialising, feel almost impossible. Having ongoing feelings of negative body image can lead to mental health problems:

  • Anxiety: negative body image can trigger anxiety, especially in social situations where one may feel scrutinized or judged for their appearance. Fear of judgment or rejection can lead to social isolation and avoidance.
  • Depression: persistent dissatisfaction with one’s body can contribute to feelings of hopelessness, sadness and may lead to developing depression.
  • Eating Disorders: you may develop various eating disorders, including body dysmorphic disorder if you feel the need to change your body due to experiencing negative body image.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive behaviours: some people with body image issues may develop obsessive-compulsive behaviours related to appearance, such as constantly checking their reflection, excessive grooming, or engaging in rituals to mask perceived flaws.
  • Negative coping mechanisms: some people may turn to harmful coping mechanisms such as substance abuse, self-harm, or disordered eating patterns to cope with distressing body image thoughts and feelings.

Steps to take

If you feel like you are struggling with your body image, there are many things you can do to help change your negative thought pattern. Being kind to yourself is one of the most important steps you can take in changing how you feel about your body and appearance. Here are some other steps you can take to reduce your negative body image:

Focus on all the positive aspects of your body: Your body keeps you alive and it is your home, it’s important to remember all the amazing things your body is capable of. Focus on one aspect of your body that you like and build from there.

Take a step back from social media: It can be hard to focus on the positive things about your body when comparing yourself to others. There can be so much pressure online to look a certain way, stepping away from social media can reduce this pressure.

Eat properly: It is important to know that you need to eat healthily. Getting the proper nutrients is important in maintaining both your physical and mental health.

Set boundaries: If people in your life comment on your body, or bodies in general, try to set boundaries by telling them you are not comfortable hearing or partaking in these types of conversations.

Reach out to a loved one: Talking to someone you trust about how you feel is invaluable. Confide in them about your experiences and feelings, and remember they love you and want to help you flourish.


Our Advice and Support Service is open Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4 pm, where advisers can signpost you to local support that most fits your needs, including our Change Mental Health services. We offer initial advice on money worries and help to deal with emergencies.

Contact 0808 8010 515, email us at or fill out the enquiry form on the Advice and Support Service page.

Other support

Beat is a leading charity for eating disorder support and our support page lists places you can contact if you need urgent help. 

SupportED or NEEDS  are Scottish charities that offer various forms of support, including peer support groups, befriending and support for carers of people diagnosed with eating disorders.

CarED hosts tutorials for people and offers an online database of services within Scotland. 

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