The Media And Body Image: How To Safeguard Your Self-Esteem

Updated February 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The media may play a significant role in our body image and how we feel about ourselves. We can consciously and unconsciously compare ourselves to the "perfect" images of people we see in magazines, commercials, films, and social media. If you struggle with your body image, you aren't alone – negative and self-conscious feelings toward our bodies are pervasive in our society.

Self-Love Is Important

You can learn to improve your self-esteem and body image, and start feeling good about who you are, the way you are. This article will cover the connection between body image and the media and provide tools to promote a healthy, positive body image.

Body Image And The Media Are Closely Related

Our attention is often focused on the connection between the media and body image for women, but the relationship exists for men as well. Women in the media typically look polished and together. They may have perfect hair and perfect makeup with stunning features. They might have a thin waistline and curves "in all the right places". Men, likewise, are generally tall, muscular, and masculine. They have toned physiques you rarely see elsewhere. The overall message is that women should look like Barbies and men like superheroes.

The way men and women look in the media creates an unrealistic image of what we think we should look like. Only around 5 percent of society resembles the images portrayed in the media. That leaves 95 percent of people subject to feeling like they don't measure up.

Many studies have been conducted that show the more time we spend viewing media, the higher the chance we'll experience low self-esteem. One study found that boys who felt pressure about their weight were more likely to have depression and engage in drug use and binge drinking.

Society’s portrayal of the “ideal” body is continually shifting. For example, in Ancient Greece the ideal body type for women was “full-bodied;” during the Italian renaissance, the “ideal” woman had a rounded stomach and plenty of curves; the American 1990s often featured women who were very thin and lacked substantial curves, with more androgynous features. 

The Lie That Media Tells

The media shows us images that may be difficult to live up to. Models, actors, and actresses not only have professional makeup artists, hair stylists, fashion designers, and personal trainers, but their appearances are sometimes altered with Photoshop and other digital manipulation tools. Their skin may be airbrushed to remove blemishes, their bodies thinned, their chests enlarged, muscles augmented.

Many people may not realize they're trying to look like an ideal that might not even exist. The media is lying to us about the way the average person looks, and it can make us feel like we should look far different from what we do. This only serves to create an unrealistic and negative perception of real body types.

The Impact Of Social Media

The use of social media has grown dramatically over the last decade, making it easier than ever to compare ourselves to others. Social media tends to be a highlight reel of an individual's life. People rarely post pictures of themselves after they wake up in the morning, or what their body looks like after having children, for example. But we don't often perceive the posts as selective edits. Instead, when we see pictures of our social media friends at their best, we may mistake it as their normal life. Then, we might begin to compare our everyday life to their highlights. This could lower our self-esteem if we’re not careful.

Studies show that people with low self-esteem spend the most time on social media. It was also found that social media causes people to have lower self-esteem. That means that people already living with low self-esteem are indulging in an activity that causes even lower self-esteem. It can become a vicious cycle.

Self-Love Is Important

How To Avoid Low Self-Esteem From Issues With Body Image + Media

We aren't likely going to fix the problems with body image in the media overnight. However, there are changes we can make today to improve our body image and self-esteem. We’ll cover these below.

Limit Exposure To The Media

After all the studies that have been conducted, there's no doubt that body image and the media can negatively impact your self-esteem. Therefore, you may want to limit your exposure. Consider taking breaks from social media. Give yourself time away, so you aren't constantly exposed to the message the media is conveying regarding body image. If you have to, uninstall social media apps for a while so that it’s not as easy for you to check them. You can also set app limits on your phone, so that after 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or whatever time limit you choose, the app will automatically close.

Stop Comparing Yourself To Others, Especially In The Media

If you're always comparing yourself to others, you'll generally be disappointed because your self-esteem may become dependent on the lives of others, rather than yourself. It could be time to stop so you can improve your self-esteem. Most people in the media have been touched up, so you may want to avoid comparing yourself to something that isn't real. And social media is often full of people's best images, often their happiest ones, and it’s rather uncommon to find an image that hasn’t somehow been filtered.


Physical activity and exercise can be  good for your physical and mental health. When you exercise, endorphins are released in your brain that make you feel happier. When you're happier, your self-esteem will be better. And as you exercise, you may improve your cardiovascular health, increase your overall energy level, build muscle tone, and increase your strength. All of these things will likely help you feel better about yourself without comparing yourself to others. 

Let It Go And Forgive

Sometimes the reason that media and body image can hurt our self-esteem so much is because someone in our past made a negative comment about our looks. Despite the old "sticks and stones" rhyme, words can hurt. But they don't have to hurt forever. If you decide to forgive and let it go, you can move past the hurt and learn how to accept and love yourself.

Take Self-Esteem Issues Seriously

Negative body image and low self-esteem can lead to other mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. The matter should not be taken lightly. Some groups are acting to try to change the way the media unrealistically portrays people, and more and more people are embracing their natural selves and posting this on social media. If you're struggling with low self-esteem and body issues, consider reaching out for support. 

Get Help From A Professional

If you feel that you have detrimental self-esteem and body image issues, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Mental health experts can help you pinpoint any underlying issues, identify the impact the media may be having on your body image, and help you in your recovery. 

Sometimes, self-esteem and body image issues can become so severe that you may not even want to leave the house. This can make attending in-person therapy sessions challenging. If you struggle with getting to therapy appointments, online therapy can help. With internet-based counseling, you can get professional mental health services anywhere you have an internet connection. Plus, it’s more convenient than traditional therapy since appointments are available day and night. 

Online therapy has been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy. Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and many others has been proven particularly effective. In fact, over 300 studies have found that ICBT is more effective in the long-term than in-person therapy, with more clients continuing to experience notable symptom and mental health improvement even three months post-treatment.

Read below for some reviews of our counselors from people experiencing issues with body image and self-esteem:

Counselor Reviews

"This past year was one of the hardest times of my life and Douglas has been a major part of helping me recover and grow from those difficulties. He has helped me improve my self-image, guide me through issues dealing with work, increase my self-confidence, learn to trust myself more, stand up for myself, and so many other things."

"Shawna is an insightful and caring counsellor, an attentive listener with a focus on practical strategies and techniques. In just a few sessions I feel confident I have the toolkit to manage stress and the negative thoughts that took up so much of my day before. Wish I'd done this sooner!"


It can be an amazing feeling when you learn to accept yourself exactly as you are. You're a person of great worth and value. Don't let a poor body image hold you back. Qualified therapists like those from BetterHelp are waiting to help you discover the self-love and fulfilling relationships you deserve—take the first step today.

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