I Hate My Body

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster, LPC
Updated February 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever stood in front of the mirror and thought, "I really hate my body" or "why do I feel ugly"? If so, then you might have a poor body image. While a poor body image may result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors, there are many ways to work toward achieving a positive body image.

We all feel self-conscious sometimes, but in today's digital age, there is a rise in the number of people with poor body image. The connection of body image and the media has been linked to low self-esteem, leading people to hate themselves and the way they look. While this condition is often associated with women, an increasing number of men also have poor body image. Highly edited pictures and videos curated on social media can give the impression of a perfect, carefree life. When people constantly compare themselves to unattainable standards, they will more likely feel deficient.

Are you sometimes your own worst critic? You may hear a nagging voice that whispers: "You're too fat, your hair does not look good, and your outfit doesn't fit you." Sometimes, these whispers are shouts, amplifying negative messages like, "You are ugly! Nobody will ever notice or be drawn to you!" Sometimes, the cries can turn into destructive behaviors. This manifestation is just one reason among many to learn about poor body image and how to overcome it. Ultimately, learning to love your body can be a huge step toward improved mental health.

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It’s time to start loving your body again

Where do negative thoughts about body image come from?

There are several ways in which society dictates how people are expected to look. Research has suggested that "children as young as three years old can have body image issues." Such perceptions can come from television, movies, and social media. The messages children learn can sometimes damage their self-esteem and feed a cycle of self-shaming.

Aside from social media, negative family experiences can also be the culprit to your "why don't I love my body" query. People who grow up in a household that values physical beauty may have a distorted body image. Children whose parents also have low self-esteem are prone to have poor body image, though environmental factors or interventions can have a strengthening effect. Familial experiences shape your perceptions in childhood and adolescence and tend to either quell or reinforce the inner voice, influencing you to feel a certain way about your body. The more a belief is supported, the more ingrained it may become. People experiencing a poor body image may have felt disappointment, rejection, or humiliation when they were younger. Instead of blaming others, they may direct the blame on themselves, which can morph into hate about the way they look.

You aren't alone if you feel like you have poor self-esteem or body image. Most people have at least one negative thought about their appearance each day. The critical thing to know is that self-esteem and body image are not fixed – they can be understood and improved so you no longer hate your body.

How does this inner voice work?

Knowing how your internal voice works is crucial, so you can use it in empowered ways to boost your self-esteem. This inner voice tends to be triggered by specific events, observing your surroundings when you experience negative feelings about your body image or self-esteem; it may be helpful to look around and consider what environmental or social factors may be prompting those feelings about your body.

The voice can appear when you make eye contact with someone. It can occur when you're feeling pressure from a supervisor at work. When you notice these harmful messages, determine what kinds of emotions they stir up. Do they remind you of a particular event or person? Examining these emotions helps identify potential causes of low self-esteem.

Poor self-image leads to other disorders

Poor body image can lead to more significant problems if not addressed. Some who have negative feelings about their body may also live with an eating disorder.

People who aren't happy with their looks can sometimes engage in harmful behaviors, such as restricting their food intake, purging, and binge eating to prevent weight gain. These behaviors of an eating disorder can have negative consequences on a person's overall health.

Another disorder associated with poor body image is body dysmorphic disorder. A preoccupation with your appearance creates ripe conditions for pinpointing "discrepancies" in your appearance. You might respond by engaging in repetitive behavior focused on altering your looks. In most cases, people who have this disorder seek surgery to address perceived problems with their bodies that don't exist.

Helpful strategies for managing a poor body image

After you've determined the source(s) of your negative thoughts, you can take small actions to counteract them so you can learn to love your body or at least practice body neutrality. Below are some suggestions:

  • Practice kindness to yourself and others: We all have flaws. The hate you show yourself may reflect your attitudes toward others. Showing kindness to others in your life has been proven to increase self-perceptions of energy levels and support general happiness by stimulating serotonin in the brain.
  • Aim for healthy lifestyle choices versus restrictive fad diets: A poor body image puts someone at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. People who constantly go on fad diets have a higher risk of developing eating disorders. A flexible nutrition plan may empower people by giving them a greater sense of agency in their eating. This agency may be vital in replacing difficult-to-control patterns of thinking and eating. Regular enjoyable exercise can help you feel good without turning into obsession over a body part, or negative self-talk. 
  • Consider different perspectives: Maybe you inherited your mom's prominent nose or your father's unruly brows. Genetics plays an essential role in our appearance. You can go down the path of changing the way you look just to fit other people's expectations – but that's considered an impossible journey because people's expectations change. Remember that your physical attributes are as brief as people's tastes and preferences may help you focus on the things and people in your life that matter most to you. What are the things people admire and love most about you besides your physical appearance? What hobbies or talents does your body enable you to fulfill? How has your body served you recently? Feeling physically attractive can be great – feeling strong, capable, and resilient might feel even more empowering!
  • Choose empowering role models: Many of us wish we could look more like a particular celebrity – you know, the one with the "perfect" skin, hair, and measurements. It would be normal for almost anyone to feel self-conscious in comparison. Remember that celebrities are bolstered by an army of stylists to ensure they look good. When you find yourself pining after the look of a particular star, it may be helpful to consider inspirational role models, making contributions, and achieving goals – qualities or achievements you may want to emulate. Following empowering and authentic personalities on social media might inspire you to pursue your dream that critical inner voices may have convinced you not to follow.
  • Set realistic goals: If you are out of shape and start working out to achieve your goals, make sure the goals are realistic. Many people with poor body image have set unrealistic goals leading to dire consequences. For example, people who want to lose five pounds in a week may have the idea to severely restrict their caloric intake, only to overcompensate in eating an excessive number of calories when their hunger influences them to fulfill their survival needs, ultimately leading to conditions like eating disorders. This is just one way in which negative behaviors associated with poor body image can have a counterproductive effect. Realistic goals might mean starting small, like going to the gym once or twice a week, then increasing frequency or intensity as your body can manage. 
iStock/Kiwis
It’s time to start loving your body again

How BetterHelp can support you

A poor body image may indicate more significant challenges in managing a hostile inner critic than specific concerns with how you appear. Professional help through an in-person or online therapist can be a helpful resource for discussing your challenges and identifying resolutions. BetterHelp offers affordable online talk therapy from the comfort of your home. You can be matched with a therapist in as little as 48 hours and meet with them on a flexible schedule that works for you.

In addition, research has shown that online therapy is just as effective as in-person therapy in addressing self-esteem and body image issues, among other mental health conditions. Its improved availability means that more people can now reach out for help than ever before.

If you believe your poor body image has led to symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders, or any other mental health condition, take comfort in knowing that there are treatment options, like online therapy, only a click away. A study showed that online medicine to treat body dysmorphic disorder is effective. Results highlighted that participants who communicated asynchronously with online therapists over 12 weeks improved significantly immediately after treatment and maintained improvement at a three-month follow-up visit. Participants also experienced reduced depression symptoms and were satisfied with their online therapy experience.

Counselor reviews

"Working with Carrie has been incredibly helpful since we began text-based sessions a few weeks ago. Carrie is helping me remember my strength and build new confidence, and I see its effects in every part of my life. She is helping me build a solid foundation for my life, starting with remembering/allowing myself to eat regularly. I need baby steps, and while I felt a bit silly and ashamed to ask for help when I started with BetterHelp, I am so grateful for the small steps she's helping me work through and the confidence I'm building as a result of each small step. Thank you, Carrie. To anyone who needs help with a complex set of issues that feel unconquerable, I highly recommend working with Dr. DuPont. She's helped me change my life, and she can help you change yours with active engagement."

"Jillian is a fantastic counselor. She's a keen listener who promotes self-acceptance, self-love, and compassion. Jillian helped me more than I ever could have imagined. I knew therapy could be powerful, but even I was surprised with the amazing strides and tangible results after working together!"

If you believe your poor body image has transformed into body dysmorphic disorder, take comfort in knowing that there are treatment options, like online therapy, only a click away. A study showed that online medicine to treat body dysmorphic disorder is effective. Results highlighted that participants who communicated asynchronously with online therapists over 12 weeks improved significantly immediately after treatment and maintained improvement at a three-month follow-up visit. Participants also experienced reduced depression symptoms and were satisfied with their online therapy experience.

Takeaway

Overcoming a negative body image can be challenging because there can be multiple contributing factors to address, including both inherited and learned thinking and behavior patterns influenced by our family upbringing, social circle, and media interactions. Remember that you are not alone in experiencing a poor body image. The first step of asking for help can help you get on track toward replacing a hostile inner critic with an empowered and capable inner voice. Consider if it’s time to take the first step by trying online therapy with BetterHelp, so you can stop hating your body and improve your mental health.
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