There are various aspects of our lives that are influenced by the society that affect our mental health, and body image is one of them.
Society is often responsible for setting a range of different standards that the members of that society are expected to adhere to. These often help to box people into various categories in society such as whether they are good or bad, successful or unsuccessful, attractive or unattractive. One of the major things that is often focused on by humans in general is appearance.
While criteria of traits that are attractive or not attractive changes over time there are also certain traits that are considered ideal that remain the same. The media, for many years, has played a huge role in influencing the ideal type of appearance of a person and it does so till date.
Body image refers to the one’s perception of their own body both mentally and visually. This perception is often influenced by the beauty standards that exist in society, which are taught from a very young age and it is also influenced by the media. This includes things like ideal height, ideal body shape, ideal skin tone, and ideal hair.
The way a person’s body or appearance is naturally and as it changes with age may not adhere to the societal beauty standard. What one believes one looks like ideally or should look like ideally and what one looks like in reality may vary which can often affect that person’s mental health.
Negative body image
body image and mental health
Constantly being focused on perfecting one’s appearance means one has a negative body image. This means that one is never really happy with one’s appearance and is constantly wanting to change it or wishing that it would change. This could be one not being satisfied with a certain part of one’s appearance or one’s appearance as a whole.
One of the outcomes of this is that it ends up consuming a big part of a person’s life affecting them on a regular basis. Such thoughts and habits that are created because of them are obviously very harmful. They often cause psychological distress and in general have an immense negative impact on one’s mental health and overall well-being. In many cases it leads to people experiencing a range of mental health disorders or conditions because of negative body image.
Self-worth and self-esteem
Body image plays an important role in defining an individuals self-worth and self-esteem. Negative body image unfortunately creates a vicious state of having low self-worth and self-esteem. What may often start as “ I wish I was skinnier” or “I wish my face did not have acne” can often lead to the feeling of never looking or feeling good enough often to the point where one feels like they are not worthy as a human being. This can also lead to people not liking themselves over time and developing into self-loathing where one ends up hating oneself and feeling shame or disgust towards one’s own appearance.
According to a survey done by Mental Health Foundation in the UK in 2019 among 4,505 adults, 20% felt shame and 19% felt disgust because of their body. Over time this can lead to social withdrawal, where people, because of the way they perceive their appearance, find it too overwhelming to show themselves in social settings.
One of the most common things that comes along with body image is changing one’s eating habits. Dieting and diet culture is quite common and more often than not it is not healthy. When most people hear the word “dieting”, people usually think of it as eating less rather than eating healthier or eating a sufficient amount.
In some cases where people want to gain more weight it can be paired with consumption of supplements that are often detrimental to one’s health like heavy use of steroids. With that in mind when one becomes very focused on one’s body shape and size it can often push people to dieting or form an unhealthy relationship with food. This often leads to a mental health condition known as eating disorder which has a severe effect on one’s physical and mental health.
Need for Positive Body Image
With negative body image having an adverse effect on mental health it is about high time to stop adhering to the unrealistic and toxic beauty standards that society has created or adheres to. Positive body image refers to caring for, accepting and appreciating one’s appearance as it is. A positive body image contributes to one’s happiness and increases one’s satisfaction in life.
In general, it contributes positively to one’s health both physically and mentally. It is a necessity especially in the current scenario where mental health is so heavily influenced by media consumption.
Body image is a normal aspect of any human life however, the existing societal beauty standards often influence it leading to many people suffering from having a negative body image. This often leads to a range of different mental health conditions which has a negative impact on one’s life.
It is however possible to get help for matters related to body image. Mental health counseling can help to address various issues that are related to body image. If you have been feeling down because of your body image, you can seek help from a professional to support you in a journey to bring a change in your life.
healthdirect. (n.d.). Eating disorders.
King University Online. (2020, May 15). Link Between Social Media & Body Image.
Linardon, J. (2022, January 23). The Ultimate List of Body Image Statistics in 2022. Break Binge Eating.
Mental Health Foundation. (2020, August 6). Body image report – Executive Summary.
Mindwise. (2020, July 15). How Does Body Image Affect Our Mental Health?
Quittkat, H. L., Hartmann, A. S., Düsing, R., Buhlmann, U., & Vocks, S. (2019). Body Dissatisfaction, Importance of Appearance, and Body Appreciation in Men and Women Over the Lifespan. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10.