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Fact Sheet

Body image: love the skin you’re in


ReachOut fact sheets are written by young people for young people and edited by a mental health professional. Want to discuss the topic in more depth? Visit the ReachOut Forums.

What is body image?

Body image is your own attitude towards your body. It’s how you see yourself, how you think and feel about the way you look, and how you think others perceive you. Your body image can also be influenced by your own beliefs and attitudes, as well as those of society, social media, and your peers.

Types of body image

There are two types of body image, healthy and unhealthy:

  • Having a healthy body image means that you’re comfortable in your own skin and are happy with the way you look.
  • Having an unhealthy body image means that you have a skewed perception of your own body, such as seeing your body as bigger or smaller than it is in reality or not being perfect on the outside.

You may think that what you look like on the outside defines who you are or what your worth is, but in reality, you are more than just your body!

Why can people have an unhealthy body image?

In mass media and society, you come across images of people who are super-slim or buff male and female models in magazines, super-skinny celebrities on TV, and even slender mannequins in stores. People of all ages, sizes, and genders are being bombarded with images that might make you feel bad about yourself or skew what you think your body should look like.  You may feel obligated or pressured to look like these images portrayed in the media or popular culture.  As a result, a lot of men and women try to control—sometimes in unhealthy ways—their weight to look a certain way.

The history of the ideal body shape

In actuality, the ideal body shape has changed, and this ideal often has more to do with what your body shape says to other people than what it actually looks like.  For example, during the potato famine in Ireland, it was very stylish to be plump; as it showed that you and your family were wealthy and could afford food. Today, it is stylish to be slim and well-toned because it shows that you have the money for a gym membership or a personal trainer.  Same reason but entirely different shape!

Steps to self-acceptance

Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their body, but having an unhealthy body image can damage your self-esteem and confidence. Once you feel bad about the way you look, you may be inclined to think that you, as a person, are not as worthy. No matter what you look like, you are beautiful the way you are! Having a healthy body image will help you feel more comfortable in your own skin and more confident with your body. Here are some ways to gain self-acceptance and feel comfortable about your body:

  • Relationships: Surround yourself with people in your life who you find supportive, affirming, and accepting of who you are. If you’re not sure if a particular person fits this description, pay attention to how you feel about yourself after spending time with them. Take note of whether you leave feeling warm and supported or whether you leave feeling not good enough in some way.
  • Avoid “fat talk”: Try to avoid other conversation that emphasizes how you or other people look. Talk about all the amazing things you can do and things you’re interested in! Remember and remind your friends that people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.
  • Develop media literacy: Learn to detect and challenge the powerful messages in the media which promote a narrow ideal of beauty and value, which emphasize our bodies as objects.
  • Stand up for your rights! Activism is a great way to protest messages in the media and culture that contribute to body dissatisfaction. By taking action, you are helping the cause and telling yourself, “I matter, I’m worth it, and these messages aren’t okay!” You have the right to be happy with who you are, as you are. Don’t let anybody take that away from you.
  • Be compassionate to yourself and others: How we treat ourselves impacts our self-acceptance and our comfort in our own skin. Treating yourself kindly generates compassion and this compassion fuels more kind self-care. Some great ways to be kind to yourself and your body include: pledging not to diet (eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full), engaging in exercise that is fun and empowering, and listening to your body when it needs rest or comfort.
  • Describe yourself without referring to your physique: Think about the wonderful parts of your personality. People will come to see you as you see yourself and will describe you as you describe yourself. This goes for how you talk about your friends too!
  • Find your own style: Wear what you want to wear and don’t just follow what is in fashion.  Fashion comes and goes but a personal style will outlast the trends!

Getting help

If you are feeling inadequate about your body or yourself in general, it may be worth talking to someone about it. This may be a family member, friend, teacher or counselor. Check out the Get Help section for more information about how these people might be able to help. If you feel that you might be trying to control your weight in unhealthy ways, please check out our fact sheets on binge eating and bulimia nervosa.

Information in this fact sheet was also provided by:

SAMHSA Family Guide, Body Image
South Carolina Department of Mental Health, Teen Matters

Last edited by Kristie - March 2014.

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