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How Body Image Issues Can Impact Your Mental Health — and What You Can Do About It

Jennie Bedsworth, LCSWMona Bapat, PhD, HSPP
Published on July 21, 2022

Key takeaways:

  • Body image refers to how you feel about your body size, shape, and appearance. 

  • Poor body image has been connected to shame, depression, and eating disorders. 

  • You can improve your body image by changing the way you think about your size and appearance and by getting professional support if needed.

A parent conforming their young adult child.
Chaay_Tee/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Do you worry often about how your body looks or what people think of your appearance? Do you spend a lot of time comparing yourself to others on social media? If so, you could have a negative body image. 

Fortunately, you may be able to practice body acceptance and improve your self-image. Keep reading to learn more. 

What are the characteristics of a negative body image?

Your body image refers to how you think and feel about how you look to yourself and others. A negative body image is when you believe your body is flawed. It can lead to self-judgment and shame about your appearance. 

Negative body image can include critical judgements of any aspect of your body, such as your:

  • Weight

  • Shape

  • Size

  • Height

  • Skin

  • Facial features

It’s common for people to criticize their own body size and weight. However, there’s no certain way that you’re supposed to look. Each person’s body is different and is influenced by genetics, culture, environment, and more. 

What health risks are tied to negative body image?

Unfortunately, body shame can interfere with your well-being. For example, you may become preoccupied with your appearance. You might avoid dating or socializing, or you may start putting off trips or activities because of your body image concerns.

In some cases, poor body image is associated with more serious mental or physical health concerns. People who are unhappy with their body and appearance may experience

Studies show that there’s a stigma, even in healthcare, around body size. For example, people with bigger bodies are often stereotyped and may face discrimination and weight bias. This can contribute to people’s shame about their body and weight. It can also lead people to delay getting necessary healthcare.

How can you improve your body image?

Over time, you can learn to feel better about your body. It may help to challenge negative thoughts about yourself. Here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • Your body does not define your worthiness as a person. All people have worth and value. This does not change due to weight, shape, or other physical traits. No matter how you feel about yourself, you still have a right to feel comfortable in your own skin.

  • There’s no one way to be attractive. You may worry about your body image because you think you have to look a certain way to be attractive to others. In reality, what people find physically attractive varies from person to person. There’s no right, wrong, or perfect way to look.

  • Media images are often misleading. Some people try to match the trends of social media, such as the thin ideal. However, images online are often airbrushed or manipulated, making that impossible to do in real life. Keep that in mind before comparing yourself to images online or in the media.

  • Your body is about more than your looks. It may help to remember that your body does a lot of amazing things. Its purpose goes beyond appearance. For example, your body allows you to move, pumps blood to your brain, and gives you information about your surroundings. Sweat cools you off, and your skin protects you.

  • You can be healthy regardless of your shape or size. You are not required to look a certain way or be a particular size. Although healthcare providers may sometimes recommend weight loss, your weight itself does not define how healthy you are

When should you see a doctor about your feelings about your body image?

If your body image is affecting your quality of life, consider finding support. A mental health professional can help you work through your thoughts and feelings about your appearance. 

If you believe you may have an eating disorder, it’s especially important to find professional help. In some cases, eating disorders can become life threatening. Contact your provider, and visit the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to find resources in your area.

Sometimes, people struggle with their body image due to gender dysphoria. This occurs when someone’s gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. Other people have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which causes them to fixate on one perceived body flaw to the point that it interferes with their lives. A mental health professional can also diagnose and help you work through these issues.

The bottom line

Your body image is how you feel about your size, shape, facial features, and overall appearance. When you have a poor body image, you are uncomfortable with the way you see yourself and how others may see you. You can take steps to improve your body image by learning ways to accept yourself as you are. A therapist can also help you work through your thoughts and feelings about your body image. 


Alberga, A.S., et al. (2019). Weight bias and health care utilization: a scoping review. Primary Health Care Research & Development.

Aparicio-Martinez, P., et al. (2019). Social media, thin-ideal, body dissatisfaction and disordered eating attitudes: an exploratory analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 

View All References (8)

Association for Size Diversity and Health. (n.d.). About health at every size

Germane, L., et al. (2015). Individual aesthetic preferences for faces are shaped mostly by environments, not genes. Current Biology. 

Markham, A., et al. (2005). Determinants of body-image shame. Personality and Individual Differences

National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Body image and eating disorders

National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Every body is different

Phelan, S.M., et al. (2015). Impact of weight bias and stigma on quality of care outcomes for patients with obesity. Obesity Reviews

Stice, E., et al. (2002). Role of body dissatisfaction in the onset of maintenance of eating pathology: a synthesis of research findings. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 

U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health. (n.d.). Body image.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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