What is body image?

‘Body image’ is a term which sums up the way we think, perceive and feel about our body.

For some people, the way they look has almost nothing to do with how they feel about their body. For example, someone might perceive (or think of) their body as being thinner or larger than it actually is. These thoughts may impact negatively upon how they feel about their body. This is known as unhealthy body image, or body dissatisfaction.

Some people have a very straight-forward relationship with their body, and are mostly positive and realistic about themselves. This is known as healthy body image. With a little practice and knowledge we are all capable of achieving positive body image.

So, what influences our body image?

The world around us can have a big impact on how we feel about our bodies. Things like friends, family, and cultural background can all affect our body image and make us think that we have to look a certain way. These factors are all important in how we relate to our bodies, but there is something else that has a really big impact on how a lot of people feel about their bodies — the media.

Think about the advertising, TV shows, movies, and social media you see every day and how women look and behave in them. The representation of women in media is hyper-focused on their bodies and looks, not on their accomplishments or intelligence. The media often spotlights women with so-called ‘ideal’ bodies (e.g. skinny cisgender white women), over and over again, rather than all the different kinds of bodies we see in our everyday lives. It promotes a very narrow Eurocentric idea of ‘beauty’. This may make us think that our bodies are not normal, but in reality bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. This is why the representation of diverse bodies in the media is so important. Seeing people of varying ethnicities, genders, sexualities, abilities, sizes and more on our screens affirms our own existence as diverse individuals. 

For young LGBTQIA+ folk, stigma and discrimination, gender dysphoria, and the inaccurate concept of the gender binary (where gender is only understood as ‘male’ or ‘female’) can create additional barriers towards positive body image. In fact, a 2022 survey of teens across the continent found that young women, gender diverse folk and those in the LGBTQIA+ community have the highest levels of body dissatisfaction. 

Advertising plays a huge role in spreading harmful societal myths around how we should look. We are bombarded with messages everyday from companies trying to sell us their products, telling us that there’s something wrong with our body — our hair, skin, eyes, teeth… and the list goes on. They promote the idea that our bodies need ‘fixing’ and the only way to do it is to buy this product or to go on that diet. The thing is they are just trying to make money – no one’s body is perfect and often the image they are selling is not a realistic one. By being aware of this, we can start to reject toxic beauty norms.

An advertisement of a skinny blonde woman in a yellow bikini, along with the text 'Are you beach body ready?'

The use of editing tools such as photoshop and filters also influences how we think about our bodies. Some images in advertising and social media have been so heavily manipulated that the people in them don’t even look like that in real life. This means we’re comparing ourselves to people that don’t technically exist. You can learn more about how digitally altered images negatively impact our body image and self-esteem here

How can I improve my body image?

If you’re having negative thoughts or feelings about your body there are ways you can improve your body image:

Think positive

Next time you start having negative thoughts about your body, stop and think of all the great things your body can do (run, jump, laugh, sing, think). Our bodies are pretty amazing!

Stop the negative self-talk

How many times have you said to yourself “I’m too this” or “I wish I was more something”? Try replacing those thoughts with positive ones like “I am really strong” or “I love my hair”. By doing this you can actually change how you relate to your body, and grow your confidence too.

Think about the media you consume

Try to think critically about the media you consume. Has it been photo-shopped? Does the lighting and makeup make things look a particular way? Is it trying to sell you something by making you feel bad about your body? If you realise that you’re often comparing yourself to people online, it can be a good idea to take periodic breaks from the screen. 

Another tip is to change the media you consume by looking for media that promotes different body types and following body positive public figures/influencers — Jessica Smith, Megan Jayne Crabbe and Milo Hartill are some international and local icons we love! 

Focus on well-being not weight

Forget the scales (seriously throw them out) and diets, focus on what makes you feel good. Exercise for health and fitness, eat food that tastes good and gives you the energy to do everything you need to everyday.

Stop body shaming

Stop criticising others for how they look or what they wear and start complimenting people for their achievements. In the end it’s not how you look that matters but what you do. 

Where to get help

If negative body image is affecting your life, talk to someone you trust about it, like a parent, teacher or school counsellor. Talking about it will probably make you feel a whole lot better. If you think that you or someone you know might be suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to seek help straight away.

Need someone to talk to? Free, confidential support is available.

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We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which Rosie has been created, the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people of the Kulin Nation, and pay our respects to elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

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