How Can Your Body Image Affect You?

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated April 16, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Body image generally refers to a person's perception of the aesthetics or attractiveness of their body or appearance. The messages that we may collectively internalize about the human body can potentially impact a person’s body image and how they feel about—possibly leading to a "positive" or "negative" body image within ourselves. 

This guide explores how your body image might affect your self-esteem, confidence, and other areas of your life related to body image. We’ve also highlighted tips for improving your body image, possibly elevating your quality of life in the process. 

What is body image?

Looking for body image support?

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), body image can encompass thoughts, attitudes and perceptions about one’s physical appearance. The two variations of body image that are currently recognized by NEDA include*: 

  • Positive: A "positive" body image is associated with satisfaction with your appearance, seeing your body as it is, and feeling comfortable about your body’s natural size and shape. It can also encompass a recognition that physical appearance does not need to impact a person’s character or value.

  • Negative: A "negative" body image might refer to dissatisfaction with your appearance and a distorted perception of your body. This can lead to negative feelings, embarrassment, anxiety disorders, shame, self-consciousness and self-loathing. While this can feel overwhelming to experience, supportive strategies (such as online therapy) can promote a higher quality of life for many. 

*Please note that references included here are limited at the time of this publication. What is recognized by NEDA may not validate all experiences. Body image experiences can range beyond what is presented here. 

According to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration*, there are four aspects of body image: 

  • Perceptual body image: The way you see your body

  • Affective body image: The way you feel about your body 

  • Cognitive body image: The way you think about your body 

  • Behavioural body image: The behaviors you engage in as a result of your body image

*If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder, reach out for help immediately. The National Eating Disorder Association Helpline is available at 1-800-931-2237 from Monday through Thursday between 9 AM and 9 PM EST and Friday between 9 AM and 5 PM EST.

Do I have a positive or negative self-image?

Your body image may affect how you view yourself, others, and the world around you. If you're not sure whether or not you're satisfied with your own appearance, here are some questions that might help gauge your overall body image: 

  • Do you take measures to avoid seeing images or reflections of your body?

  • Do your feelings or fears about your body interfere with work, relationships, or activities?

  • Do you compulsively weigh, measure, examine, or otherwise check your appearance multiple times a day?

  • Do you engage in “fat talk” or self-disparaging remarks made to other people about one's weight or body?

  • Do you use baggy clothing, hats, or other measures to hide your body?

  • Do you feel the need to apply excessive makeup before being seen in public?

  • Do you experience overwhelming negative emotions when you think about your body?

  • Do you engage in activities that could harm your physical health like excessive exercise or skipping meals?

Answering yes to one or more of these questions might signify that you could benefit from talking to a counselor or therapist about your body image. Even if you believe you have a fairly positive body image, speaking with a counselor can support you in maintaining this positive and healthful self-perception. 

Possible factors that can influence body image concerns

A person’s body image can be influenced by a wide range of factors they are exposed to, possibly starting from a young age. For example, according to the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, research shows that some children as young as three years old can experience thoughts about body image. 

"Contributing factors are likely to include images on TV, images in story books and animations, and the general chat by adults about their bodies, dieting, cosmetic surgery, etc.,” says PACEY Advisor and Child Development Expert Dr. Jacqueline Harding. “There is little doubt that low levels of self-esteem appear to contribute significantly to negative perceptions of body image.”

Interactions with others might also impact how a person views their body. For example: Someone who is bullied for their weight, height or physical attributes may develop body image distortion or body avoidance. However, supportive strategies can still make a difference for many—whether they are used to address negative body image or maintain one’s positive perception of one’s appearance. 

According to a meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies regarding the links between media exposure to women's* body dissatisfaction, exposure to external factors like media images depicting the thin ideal body is related to body image concerns for women. Those with higher exposure to negative messages may experience body dissatisfaction at a higher rate than those with lower exposure. 

*While there are sex differences regarding the diagnosis of mental health conditions surrounding body image and many studies focus on women, people of all genders, ages, and identities may experience body image concerns. 

How does poor body image impact people?


Feeling dissatisfied with one's body image can potentially impact anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation—possibly affecting women, men, trans, and nonbinary individuals. Understanding this implication can result in a higher degree of validation for those experiencing difficulties with their self-esteem, and a more empathetic societal experience as a whole. 

Self-esteem can have implications how a person respects, cares for and values themselves.  Many believe that a "positive" body image can lead to a range of possible benefits, such as: 

  • Increased self-esteem and self-respect

  • Feeling confident and capable

  • Improved mental health overall

Conversely, a "negative" body image may lead to:

  • Decreased self-esteem and self-respect

  • Feeling “lower” than other people

  • Focusing on shortcomings and feelings of inadequacy 

  • Decreased overall mental health 

Body image and self-esteem can potentially influence your thoughts, behaviors and feelings directly. Maintaining ongoing internal evaluations and seeking support through channels such as online therapy can help you to have a more healthful and rewarding experience with self-esteem. 

How to develop a positive body image: A guide

Those who have a poor mental representation of their own bodies can improve over time. However, this process can be challenging and might require lifestyle changes, commitment, and discipline. Understanding and acknowledging this can help many to have a more rewarding experience. 

Here are some of the steps that many can use to increase self-esteem, as recommended by NEDA:

  • You may consider limiting your consumption of social media, especially media from sources that reinforce negative beauty ideals and may prompt feelings of insecurity or low self-esteem.  

  • You can try to appreciate your body for the things it does every day, like laughing, dancing, dreaming and breathing. 

  • You might keep a list of things you like about yourself that aren’t related to your appearance—such as your personality, preferences and lived experiences. 

  • You can surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself, possibly creating a mutually supportive network of friends who are working to enhance the collective’s mental health together. 

  • You might try to think about and repeat positive affirmations when you notice yourself thinking negatively about your body. 

  • You can wear comfortable clothes that make you feel good about how you look. 

  • You can focus on self-care habits to let your body know you appreciate it. 

You may choose to use your time and energy to help others or make changes you'd like to see in your life that can positively impact your self-esteem and self-perception.  

Could you benefit from professional help?

Getty Images
Looking for body image support?

Individuals who are experiencing an overwhelming negative body image may benefit from seeking professional help. Working with a mental health professional might provide a foundation for self-acceptance through eating healthy, appreciating one’s body, and positive self-talk. 

While this can feel overwhelming, we do want to encourage you: regardless of how wise, strong or capable one is, everyone may need help sometimes. A licensed therapist can help you identify the source of your dissatisfaction with your body and find methods that can help you improve how you feel about your appearance. 

How can online therapy support those who experience negative body image?

When someone is experiencing a negative body image, the thought of going into new environments with new people can feel overwhelming. As a result, those living with related conditions may not feel empowered to seek the care they need—possibly delaying results and success in treatment. Online therapy can be a helpful way to address this risk, possibly offering a more flexible and affordable way for some. 

Online therapy has been scientifically suggested to be successful in treating body image disorders, possibly offering a convenient and effective alternative to in-person sessions. In a study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers found data that suggested a minimum of a 31% improvement that was maintained up to three months after treatment. Patients also self-reported feelings of satisfaction pertaining to the treatment method and its subsequent efficacy.  


Your body image can affect several aspects of your life. Understanding the range of effects body image can have can support you in attaining a higher quality of life and a higher degree of intrinsic self-compassion. Many find that a healthy relationship with your body may improve your self-esteem, self-confidence, and mental health. Online therapy can be a helpful tool to build and maintain self-image. BetterHelp can connect you with an online therapist in your area of need.
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