Negative Body Image and Why it Matters

Author:  Morgan Blair – MA, Intern  

verified by Psychology Today

Negative body image is an issue rampant in our society. In fact, did you know that upwards of 91% of people are unhappy with their bodies? 91% is a big number. That means when you walk into a room 9 out of every 10 people are struggling with some amount of poor body image. 97% of women report they have negative thoughts about their bodies every single day. There have been reports that upwards of 80% of girls have been on a diet by the age of 10. Out of those 9 people who are unhappy with their bodies, about one of them will go on to develop a full-blown eating disorder. Those with eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

This is all pretty disheartening, but these statistics do not come without hope. These statistics are necessary to express the magnitude of the effects of negative body image. For some, it can be the wake-up call needed to make a change. If you are part of the 91% of people unhappy with their bodies, working to find acceptance around your shape and fighting against societal messages of how you should look can have a ripple effect. It starts with one person making a change that impacts those around them.

What is negative body image?

Negative body image refers to an unrealistic view of how someone sees their body. In a nutshell, your mind is lying to you. You look in the mirror and are unsatisfied with what you see and yet when walking down the street people don’t second guess your appearance. News flash, humans think a whole lot more about themselves than they do about others. It’s not something to beat yourself up about, it is a common trait among humanity. People tend to be more critical of themselves than others. Think about it, would you place the same judgments you have about your size on a small child? I’m guessing you wouldn’t look at a 4-year-old and tell them their stomach was too soft or their thighs were too thick.

The unfortunate fact is that you are actually spreading these messages – maybe not overtly but inadvertently – through comments you make, things you eat, and the clothes you wear. Children are intuitive. They pick up on a lot more than we give them credit for. Therefore, when they see you make passing judgments on your body they learn to do the same about theirs. Then they grow up to be one of the statistics. They might be the 10-year-old on a diet or even the one that develops an eating disorder. I can’t imagine that is anyone’s intention and this is why the

Changing Patterns of Thinking 

Begin to notice your negative thoughts and, when possible, challenge them with a more neutral statement. For example “I look so ugly today” can be switched to “today I am not feeling the best about my body”. 

  1. Do one nice thing for yourself a day. This could be as simple as listening to a song you enjoy, ordering a special drink at a coffee, or even getting a massage. It is important to begin to develop a kinder relationship with ourselves
  2. Trade in the gym for activities that you actually enjoy. Go for a walk, take a yoga class, play with your dog, practice soccer with your children. Stop punishing your body through hours spent at the gym and instead begin celebrating what your body can do for you.
  3. Eat the cake. No really, the children are watching. Have the dessert, enjoy the moments, and stop beating yourself up about the “adding calories” or “lack of control”. Our bodies are far smarter than we give them credit for and they know how to process the nutrients in a piece of cake. Trust me it will be worth it in the end because of the example you set for those around you. Restricting yourself will not help you develop a healthier mindset about your body. 
  4. Lastly, do some homework. Read about body image, educate yourself, go to therapy, join a support group. Take action so that you may begin to experience some freedom in your life.