Most of us at some point in our lives have struggled with our body image. In this article, we look at how our image of ourselves evolves, the issue of body shaming and how to combat it, and tips for the self-acceptance that is so important to having a good relationship with our own bodies. 

Loving your body and your physical appearance can be difficult. We are often bombarded with subtle messages of what perfection should be. These messages multiply within our subconscious mind. If we do not match the ‘idea’ of perfection we may think we need to change. We may focus on the imperfections and totally disregard our positive features. The thought that we are not good enough can lead to issues including low self-esteem, mental health problems and eating disorders. Body image can affect our relationships with ourselves and others. It can impact how we interact in the world and live our life. 


How your body image evolves?


So how did our body image evolve? Basically, we have four elements which make up our body image view. These are emotional, physical, visual and the historical connection. 

The visual element is what you see when you look in the mirror or a selfie or photograph.  What you see will be very different to what other people see. You are likely to scrutinise every minor element, whilst other people will usually just do a general scan of you. 

The physical element is how your body carries out your tasks. Are you clumsy or graceful? Are you light or heavy footed? Do you naturally have a frown or a smile on your face? 

The emotional element is how you feel about your body image. How do you feel if someone is critical or positive about your body image? 

The historical element is the accumulative box where you store the messages you have been receiving since you were born. This could be teasing you received, bullying from peers at school or guidance from carers about what to eat. It could also include positive messages such as someone you really like telling you that you looked good. 

All of these elements combine to create your view on your body image. As such, everyone has a unique and individual view of their own body image. Some people will have a very positive approach to their body image while others will have a negative one. 


Receiving Body Image messages


Throughout our life we receive multiple messages about our physical appearance. These can relate to aesthetic (e.g. how thin we are) and our achievements (e.g. how fast we can run). Body shaming is discrimination or negative statements relating to appearance, features, weight or size. Body shaming is so ingrained within human culture it is impossible to avoid.

Magazines often have articles about how to lose weight, how to get fit, how to look gorgeous. These messages subliminally tell us that we are not good enough as we are. Social media highlights the perfections in other people lifestyles. Filters are used on photographs to remove any aspect that is not wanted. TV shows often have the overweight characters as the person to be made fun out of. The thin attractive characters are usually the hero / heroine and the one who will succeed in love, business etc. The message we receive is that we should want to be thin and gorgeous. If we don’t then we should be ashamed and look to do something about it. 

Body shaming takes form in three different ways. Criticising your own appearance, criticising others in front of them and criticising others behind their back. Body shaming can cause long term psychological harm. As therapists, we see people everyday who have laid down trauma patterns relating to criticism of their appearance in earlier years. 


Achieving our emotional needs


One of our emotional needs is connection to other human beings. We need to be able to fit in with others to thrive. We are naturally drawn to people who look like us and who have similar passions to us. This natural instinct allows us to find groups where we are more likely to fit in and be accepted. We often mimic others to improve our chances of acceptance. The pressure to conform and to be accepted can, ironically, cause isolation, loneliness, desperation and even suicide.

Body image and mental health coexist together. If we suffer a loss and are grieving, we have little interest in our physical appearance. The reverse is also true. If we are unhappy about our physical appearance this can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. Worrying about our body image can lead to shame. This shame can impact us in the form of anxiety, depression, self-harming or eating disorders.


How to challenge body shaming?


To reduce the body shaming culture, we need to challenge it. This will take the form of both challenging our own words (and thoughts!) and those of others. Think about who in your life makes you feel positive and who makes you feel negative. Do you have friends who gossip about others behind their back? If they do that to others then the chances are they do it about you too. Confront people if they say something about you or to you that you feel is derogatory. 

What is the message that you want to receive? Be aware that advertising exists for companies in order to help them sell something. If a company is trying to sell teeth whitening, then their message is going to show you comparisons. These comparisons will take the form of pictures of what is considered a good or bad look. Stop following accounts on social media that constantly send messages that make you feel bad. It is these messages that can trigger you, often unconsciously, to behave in an unhealthy way. 

If you consider history as a learning curve then remember that in Asia, they consider small feet beautiful. Historically they would bind children’s feet to make them stay small. Fashions change, but the ways we try to obtain them remain self-destructive.


Achieving self-acceptance


Self-acceptance is often a lightbulb moment that comes with age. We realise that what is inside is more important. Mental Health Foundation CEO Mark Rowland is quoted as saying: 

“The more comfortable you are with your body, the greater your overall wellbeing, and the less likely you are to engage in destructive behaviours.”

There are many parts of your physical appearance that you neither like or dislike. You probably have never thought about whether you like your eyelids or not. Try and focus on these parts for a few days and think how they have helped you achieve something. Whatever your size or how you feel about it, your body is a miraculous machine! For example; you may consider how your eyelids protected your eyes from harmful substances such as dust or pollen. This task may sound strange but there is science behind it. The more focused you become on the positivity’s of your physical body, the more you will learn to love it. Psychological research has evidenced that gratitude can literally rewire our brains to a more positive thinking stance.

Accept that you may have elements of your body or appearance that you do not like. Some people dislike their nose, but it still does its job every day. Be thankful for what you do have rather than worrying about what you don’t. Try it, it may be difficult to start with, but it gets easier. 


Becoming aware


Become more aware of what your body does for you every day. Think about all the practical and enjoyable things you can do. You could detail this in a journal or just spend a few minutes each day considering it. Focus on the positives, not the negatives. This may be difficult at first, but think simple. For example, without my feet I would not have been able to get out of bed this morning. 

Get in touch with yourself and be more sensual. When you spend the time thinking about your body, try touching various aspects, for example your knees or elbows. Think about how they feel and consider any emotions that come with this touch. 

Consider what you admire in others. Is it their looks or do you like their humour, their drive, their resilience etc. 


Comparing yourself to others


Comparing yourself to others is never fruitful. Unfortunately, as per the aforementioned emotional need to connect with others, we use comparisons to help us fit in. But we also have to remember that we are all different and individual and we should embrace this. You may see a photo of someone in a magazine, but you do not know if this is a true reflection of reality. The photo may have been edited to take out blemishes or make the person look thinner. Be aware that what people choose to show you is only one aspect of themselves. They are rarely as perfect as you think they are. And even if they were, you can bet that they don’t think they are!

Remember that you are an amazing human being, with an incredibly sophisticated body and brain, making millions of decisions all day long to enable you to live your life. Judging yourself by the shell that you are in, is like eating the skin from an apple and throwing away the rest of the fruit! 

I hope that you have found this article interesting, and if you know of someone who would benefit from reading it, then please share it with them. Why not head over to our website for more information, articles and resources on mental health. 

With warmest wishes, 


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