Coping with body image issues in the modern world

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated January 9, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Body image issues in the modern world have generally become quite common. Opening a discussion about body image can be vital to working on the problem and helping millions of people feel more comfortable, confident, and happy in their own skin. If you’d like to improve your body image, consider talking to friends and family members about the challenges you’ve been experiencing. It can also be helpful to avoid images from popular media, focus on what you like about yourself, use positive self-talk, and seek the professional guidance of a licensed therapist.

What is body image?

Getty/Alexandr Kolesnikov
Improve your body image with online therapy

While a focus on outward appearance has likely existed for a long time, the rise of our exposure to media has generally brought an increase in awareness of our own physical appearances. The relationship between body image and the media can be controversial. The narrow representation of beauty in the media often excludes individuals who do not conform to the ideal body type, potentially impacting their body image. 

Younger individuals typically experience some of the most challenging body image concerns, but anyone may face difficulties with their physical appearance. 

A negative body image may not be uncommon, but it can still be challenging to cope with. However, it can be possible to overcome a negative body image. 

Body image can be defined as how you see your physical appearance and how you believe others perceive your physical appearance. It can relate to how you feel about your appearance, your beliefs about how you look, and how you think that your body compares to other people’s bodies. Your body image can also relate to how you feel in your body (such as whether you feel confident and comfortable using your body to do different activities, such as sports or daily chores).

Strategies to improve body image

Below, discover several strategies that may be helpful in improving your body image.

Avoid looking at popular media images

Many of the pictures of bodies that you see in popular media can be “fake,” meaning that they’ve been heavily edited, altered, or otherwise changed in some way. Even images that you see in movies or videos can be edited with today’s technology. Most of the alterations made to these images can create unrealistic expectations of how the human body should look. The media can be a huge source of fuel for the development and perpetuation of a person’s negative body image.

Instead of buying popular magazines or watching modern films where you might encounter unrealistic body images, you might try exploring art, underground media and news, and indie films for more realistic images. By exploring these types of genres and media, you may find more relatable images that can help you feel more comfortable in your skin and realize that you’re not alone in believing you don’t always measure up to the edited portrayal.

Think about what you like about yourself

People who have a negative body image sometimes find it difficult to identify positive things about their bodies (or about themselves in general). Instead of observing the things you don’t like about yourself, try to notice the things you do like! Start small and keep going from there. Maybe you really like your eyes or a particular birthmark, or you may feel like you look great in a certain outfit. Perhaps you like the sound of your laugh or your exceptional baking ability. The things you notice about yourself that you like don’t have to be physical. After all, physical appearance can only be one small part of what makes you, you!

Talk with someone you trust 

Being open about your body image concerns with a trusted friend, parent, sibling, or therapist can be an excellent way to start resolving any difficulties you may be experiencing related to your body image. 

By talking with the people who care about you, you might receive valuable input, not only regarding the good things about your appearance but also about who you are as a person. You might be surprised to find that your friends and family have gone through the same sentiments you’re experiencing. Having a real conversation about what you’re feeling can be an impactful step toward recovery.

Notice the nice things people say about you

When you’re talking to people or interacting with others, tune into the nice things people say about you and try to believe them. Paying attention to how other people see you can help you see yourself more clearly. Remember, though, that there may be times when people say negative things, too. That can be why it’s often crucial to learn to love yourself! Try to surround yourself as much as possible with positive, friendly people who boost your confidence and support you.

To help yourself remember the numerous things people say to you or about you, consider keeping a journal so you can remind yourself of these kind words on the days when you’re feeling discouraged.

To reverse this technique, notice nice things about other people and let them know about it (if it feels appropriate). For example, you might comment on your friend’s great haircut or your mom’s smile, or maybe tell your brother that you love his new shoes. When you turn your energy toward noticing the positive things in other people, you may also turn your energy toward seeing the positive things in yourself. You may never know what other people are going through, and the little kindnesses can be some of the most essential ones. When you put positive energy out into the world, you may be more likely to receive positive energy in return.

Use positive self-talk

One of the distinctive aspects of a negative body image is often a pattern of negative self-talk. Self-talk can be described as the conversations we have with ourselves and the things we say to ourselves in our minds. 

Negative self-talk about your body can be challenging to stop, but active attention to practicing positive self-talk will often, over time, counteract the negative. At first, you might not notice your negative self-talk. It can be helpful to keep a journal or talk to someone you trust about your internal thoughts and conversations so that you can see or hear your thoughts out loud (or on paper). This way, you can notice negative patterns more quickly, and you can start the process of replacing the negative comments with positive or balanced comments instead.

Improve your body image with online therapy

Help and resources for body image issues

Complimenting other people or saying nice things to yourself can reinforce a new pattern of positive self-talk. 

There are also support groups available to encourage more positive thought patterns and a healthy body image. Changing your thinking can be one of the most difficult things to do, but it can also be one of the most rewarding goals, and it can produce some of the most profound and joyful outcomes! Even if you feel discouraged at times, try to keep going, and ask for help and support when you need it. Your friends and family can help you in keeping yourself accountable and keep you in check when negative thoughts begin to arise. 

A negative body image can be toxic to your mental health, and many people experience difficulties resolving it. Getting help from a licensed mental health professional can make a huge difference! There’s no shame in reaching out for professional guidance. 

It can be essential to get help right away if you’re living with an eating disorder associated with a negative body image or suspect that your ideas about body image could lead to an eating disorder. When left untreated, eating disorders can cause serious health repercussions. It can be best to communicate right away with someone you trust or with a healthcare professional if you notice signs of an eating disorder. Click here to learn more about the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline, or contact them by dialing 1-800-931-2237. Help is available Monday through Thursday from 9 AM to 9 PM EST and Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM EST. 

Get support with online therapy

Discussing body image challenges with a therapist can be a vulnerable experience. For some, it may be helpful to attend therapy sessions online from the comfort of their homes or other locations where they feel at ease. It can be easier to open up from a familiar location, and online therapy can enable you to choose between video chat, phone call, or online chat, depending on your preferences.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Although more research may be needed regarding the efficacy of online therapy specifically for body image concerns, evidence supports the idea that online therapy can be an effective treatment for eating disorders. A 2021 study reported that there were “large effect sizes for the reduction of ED psychopathology and body dissatisfaction, and small to moderate effect sizes for physical and mental health, self-esteem, social functioning, and quality of life.”


It can be common to experience body image issues in the modern world. However, it can be possible to develop a healthier body image by avoiding looking at images from popular media, focusing on the things you like about yourself, and talking with family members and friends about the way you feel. It can also be helpful to notice the nice things people say about you, use positive self-talk, join a support group, or work with a therapist for additional guidance.

Learn how to honor your body
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started