Body image is how you feel about and see your body. It includes how you feel in your body and the thoughts that you have about your body’s size and shape.
How you think about your body relates to how you think about yourself as a whole. You can be influenced by your own feelings as well as by the reactions of people around you and even the media.
A negative body image is often linked to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. People with a negative body image may go on to struggle with eating disorders which severely impact on family, social, emotional and physical health.
A healthy body image is essential to your health, happiness and overall well-being. People with a healthy body image are less likely to engage in self-destructive habits such as crash dieting, excessive drinking, cutting, bingeing and purging. They are more likely to feel good about themselves overall and see the way they look as one small part of who they are.
When you have a positive body image, you will be more likely to:
- Feel good, physically and emotionally
- Have fun
- Exude confidence
- Take care of the needs of your body
It is not unusual for teenagers to have struggles with their self-confidence, and body image, particularly as your body grows and develops. Some parts fill out more quickly than others and this is all down to hormones. Genes play a big role too, some people inherit a lean body type, while a more muscular build runs in other families.
There is no correct height or weight which is why everyone should focus on their overall well-being and not numbers on a scale. Unfortunately, our culture tends to glorify some body types and discount others rather than focusing on what’s healthy, realistic and most importantly, what’s right for you.
Culture and media have shaped the way people think about their bodies. For some, a negative body image is made worse by comparing themselves to models, actors, and social media celebrities. Many media images are created to sell products and are unrealistic. It is important to remember that body size and weight does not predict happiness, success or health – what is healthy for one person, may not be for another.
People deal with the anxiety brought with low self-esteem in different ways. Some may become obsessive towards make-up and clothing, while others may feel like excessively dieting and exercising can help control the negativity they feel towards themselves. Other types of coping mechanisms can include taking drugs, drinking or hurting themselves in other ways (e.g. cutting). These coping strategies only seem to help for a short period of time. It is important to remember they do not help you to develop a positive body image and are harmful – bringing more problems.
When dealing with an unhealthy body image, it can be extremely common to become obsessed with certain aspects of their body, constantly looking at media and talking negatively about themselves. By building up an image of what is believed to be ‘perfect’ can also result in talking negatively about others too.
Improving your body image takes time, and involves improving your self-esteem. Negative thoughts build over time, creating a wall. This wall should be broken down, brick by brick. The most useful technique to achieve this is by facing the negative thoughts face on and replacing them with positive thoughts. An example could be telling yourself you’re a kind person or that you have nice eyes when your negative thoughts are telling you different.
It’s also important to recognize that there are some things about yourself that you can’t change — and that doesn’t matter. The way you look is only a small part of who you are and it’s extremely important to remember that your health and wellbeing is so much
If you are in an emergency and there is risk to life (yours or someone else’s) call 999
If you are in crisis call Childline free on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org.uk/get-support
For concerns about body image, low self-esteem, eating and weight please contact your GP or school nurse
GP – you can make an appointment to visit your doctor or a nurse at the surgery to talk about any worries or concerns you have. Call your GP surgery to speak to the receptionist or go there in person. The receptionist will probably ask you who the appointment is for and why; this is to make sure that you see the right person at the right time. You don’t have to tell them why – you can just say it’s for something personal if you like.
If you think you’ll might have difficulty discussing your mental health with your GP, you can find advice about how to prepare How to Talk to Your GP About Mental Health
Schools employ a variety of people to look after your wellbeing. Some of the titles of these staff may vary in your school but you will be able to find out about them from a teacher.
School nurses – most schools have a school nurse who will either have a drop-in clinic or you can make an appointment to see them.
Off the Record – free individual and group services for 11-18 year olds. www.otrbristol.org.uk, 0808 808 9120.
South Gloucestershire Talking Therapies – free support for people aged 16 and over experiencing emotional difficulties 0117 378 4270 https://iapt-sglos.awp.nhs.uk/.
Network Counselling – for ages 11 and up. Call 01179507271 or visit www.network.org.uk (contribution required).
The Bridge Foundation – individual and family counselling, call 0117 9424510 or visit www.bridgefoundation.org.uk (charges apply).
Relate Avon – counselling services available for young people aged 10-18. Call 0117 9428444 or visit www.relate-avon.org.uk (charges apply).
Young people’s drug & alcohol service – support and advice. Call 01454 866000 or email email@example.com.
CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) – these are community teams that help children and young people with severe emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties. A doctor or nurse or a key person at school would normally refer someone to these services.
REACH – a free and fun programme for families with children and young people aged 4-16 years who are above a healthy weight. It includes fun and interactive activities to boost confidence and wellbeing – https://www.southglos.gov.uk/health-and-social-care/staying-healthy/getting-the-best-start-in-life/child-weight-management/
Eating Disorder Association: www.b-eat.co.uk Helpline – 0845 634 1414 Youth helpline – 0845 6347650
ChildLine – free helpline for children and young people to talk about any problem 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 0800 1111 www.childline.org.uk
The Mix – telephone and email support for under 25’s – freephone 0808 808 4994 (1pm-11pm) Crisis Messenger 85258 www.themix.org.uk.
Media Smart – The advertising literacy programme for 7 – 16 year old – looks at impact of advertising on body image – https://mediasmart.uk.com/
Samaritans – if something is troubling you call 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Get self-help – free cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) resources, www.getselfhelp.co.uk
Kooth – Free, safe and anonymous online counselling support for young people aged 11-18yrs olds.
Videos: In these videos Dove highlight how models looks can be changed through lightening, make up, hair and airbrushing, this doesn’t just happen with female models.
A list of recommended books to help young people deal with a range of issues (e.g. self-esteem, bullying, stress).
All books can be reserved free of charge.
Banish Your Self-Esteem Thief: A Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Workbook on Building Positive Self-esteem for Young People by Kate Collins-Donnelly
Teen Life Confidential: Self-Esteem and Being You by Anita Naik