The Media And Body Image - How It Impacts Your Self-Esteem

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated May 12, 2020

Reviewer Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

Whether we want to believe it or not, the media plays a big role in our body image and how we feel about ourselves. We 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-the problem is pervasive in modern culture.

Media Has A Big Impact On How We View Our Bodies
Talk About Your Self-Esteem In Online Therapy Today


However, with understanding and help 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, as well as 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 always look polished and together. They have perfect hair and perfect makeup with stunning features. They have a thin waistline and curves "in all the right places." Their legs are long, and they never look frumpy. Men, likewise, are shown as 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 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 struggle with depression, drug use, and drinking. But you can learn to have control over your body image-you can develop a positive body image and feel good about yourself just as you are.


The Lie the Media Tells

The media shows us images we can't possibly live up to. Models, actors, and actresses not only have access to professional makeup artists, hair stylists, fashion designers, and personal trainers, but their appearances are heavily altered with Photoshop and other digital manipulation tools. Their skin is airbrushed to remove blemishes, their bodies thinned, their chests enlarged.

Many people don't realize they're trying to look like something that might not even exist. The media is lying to us about the way the average person looks. And it makes us feel like we should look far different from what we do.

The Impact of Social Media

The use of social media has grown dramatically over the last decade, making body image an even bigger problem. 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 multiple babies. But we don't perceive the posts as selective edits. We see the pictures of our "friends and family" when they're at their best and think it's their normal life. Then we begin to compare our everyday life to the highlights of theirs. This lowers our self-esteem.

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 suffering from low self-esteem are indulging in an activity that causes lower self-esteem. It's a vicious cycle.

Media Has A Big Impact On How We View Our Bodies
Talk About Your Self-Esteem In Online Therapy Today


How to Avoid Low Self-Esteem from Issues with Body Image and the Media

There's good news and bad news. The bad news is we aren't going to fix the problems with body image in the media overnight. However, the good news is that there are changes we can make today to improve our body image and self-esteem.

Limit Exposure to the Media

At this point, after all the studies, there's no doubt that body image and the media can negatively impact your self-esteem. Therefore, you should limit your exposure. Take breaks from social media. Give yourself time away, so you aren't constantly exposed to the message the media is conveying regarding body image.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others, Especially in the Media

If you're always comparing yourself to others, you'll always be disappointed. It's time to stop so you can improve your self-esteem. The majority of the people in the media have been touched up-don't compare yourself to something that isn't real. And social media is full of people's best images. Their real lives are just as flawed as yours.


Physical activity and exercise are 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 your exercise, you'll lose weight, build muscle tone, and increase your strength. All of these things will help you feel better about yourself without comparing yourself to others.


Let It Go and Forgive

Sometimes the reason the media and body image 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 do hurt. But they don't have to hurt forever. They'll continue to hurt as long as you continue to let them. But if you decide to forgive and let it go, you can move past the hurt.

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. Fortunately, some groups are acting to try to change the way the media unrealistically portrays people, but the problem remains as strong as ever. If you're struggling with low self-esteem and body issues, get the help you need. The media is providing us with lies, and it's time we stop letting it negatively impact our lives.

Get Help from a Professional

If you are struggling with low-esteem due to body image issues, seek professional help. Psychologists can help you pinpoint the underlying issues, see the impact the media has on your body image, and help you in your recovery. If you struggle with getting to therapy appointments, online therapy can help. It could be that you're just too busy to squeeze in a commute across the city to see a therapist, or it could be that you're embarrassed and uncomfortable going to a therapist's office. Whatever your reason is for not wanting to get help in-person, BetterHelp has online counselors that can assist you with building your body image and overcoming body image issues from the comfort of your own home. You can find an online professional to get the help you need. Read below for some reviews on our counselors, from people experiencing similar issues.

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's 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. Therapists are waiting to help you discover the self-love and fulfilling relationships you deserve- take the first step today.

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