Contrary to popular belief, body image is not about how our body actually looks. Body image isn’t based on the physical reality of our body but on how we think and feel about our body. Our body image is created out of our perceptions, beliefs, feelings, sensations, and imagination. It’s the mental representation of our body that we use to judge the image we see when we look in the mirror.

Body image is strongly influenced by childhood experiences, the culture you live in, the media bombarding you every day with pictures of the “ideal body”, peers, friends, family, and other people’s feedback. Whether that body image is positive or negative depends on the type of messages you’ve received, your personality, and how often those positive or negative messages were reinforced over time.


Having a healthy, positive body image means feeling comfortable in your body and appreciating its uniqueness, fluidity, strength, and the multitude of functions it performs. It is having a good sense of your body’s physical boundaries and of its solidity that contribute to a feeling of security and value. A positive body image also involves having an accurate perception of the actual size and shape of your body and being satisfied with it overall even if your body doesn’t match the “ideal” body type favored by family, friends, or society.


Having a negative body image means experiencing dissatisfaction with your body, feeling like it isn’t good enough or doesn’t fit narrow standards of beauty set by yourself or others. A negative body image can lead to a distorted view of your body that is no longer accurate or realistic. Body parts may be viewed as larger or smaller than they really are. Instead of feeling love and respect for your body, a negative body image promotes feelings of self-loathing and self-destructive actions. It can also lead to feelings of detachment from your body that cause you to de-value it and begin a systematic campaign against. The development of an eating disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, depression, and anxiety are more likely if a negative body image goes unchallenged.


It is normal for your body image to fluctuate depending on circumstances and your emotional state at the time. Body image is influenced by certain times in life (e.g. Pregnancy) and the natural changes your body goes through as it ages (puberty, menopause). It can also be negatively affected by illness or injury. It is influenced by internal and external messages that are constantly hounding you.

How you are feeling at a given moment can also have a direct impact on your body image. If your workload becomes stressful or you are experiencing relationship problems, the way in which you perceive your body may take a negative downturn. But, if you just received a great job offer or your significant other just popped the question, your body image is quite likely to get a nice boost.

The way you view your body falls on a continuum that ranges from a having a perfectly positive self-image to an extremely negative and distorted self-image. No one, not even super models, land on the far end of the positive side. It’s part of human nature to find fault in ourselves. Where you’re at on the continuum varies depending on the factors that are in play at that particular moment. Your overarching body image falls somewhere on the continuum, but that image fluctuates one way or the other depending on the circumstances. It’s influenced by who you’re with, what you’re wearing, what the activity is, your thoughts and your feelings at the time.

For example, if you’re getting ready to go to a party with supportive friends and slip into a gorgeous, flowing dress in your favorite shade of emerald green that makes you feel svelt and beautiful, your body image is going to move closer to the “perfectly” positive side of the continuum. But, if you’re getting ready to go to the beach with appearance focused friends and you’re feeling self-conscious as you struggle into a swimsuit after you’ve just eaten lunch. Your body image is probably going to move closer to the extremely negative side.

Let’s take these examples a little further to illustrate the point.

First, imagine yourself in your absolute FAVORITE outfit. The one that makes you feel like you could take on the world. Notice the color, the texture, the way it fits all your angles and curves. How do you feel? What are you thinking? How do you “see” yourself? (If you don’t have such an outfit…go out and get one…RIGHT NOW!)

Now, imagine yourself wiggling and wriggling to pull on a swimsuit that the store employee convinced you was the latest style and a “must have” for the season. You hate the color, you hate the style, you hate how it digs into the very same angles and curves you were admiring only a few moments ago. How do you feel? What are you thinking? How do you “see” yourself? (It is NOT your body that’s the problem, it’s the suit! Don’t worry about being trendy. Don’t listen to the sales person…it’s their job to sell you merchandise, not self esteem. Find a suit that loves YOUR body, your angles, your curves!)

Knowing that body image fluctuations are normal and happen to everyone can be exceptionally helpful in maintaining a healthy body image. You can prepare yourself to challenge negative body image messages and embrace positive ones when they crop up, both internally and externally.

“You’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” Louise Haye

Challenging negative perceptions, living a healthy lifestyle, and focusing on positive attributes and strengths are great ways to tip the scale in favor of developing or maintaining a healthy body image. Living a life that incorporates these positive actions increases self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s also an act of self-love.

Practice self-love by learning to appreciate the amazing body you have and the many talents, strengths, and positive qualities you possess. Take care of all aspects of your life – mental, physical, and emotional. If you seek balance and health, happiness will be a wonderful bonus.

*This article was originally published on Disordered Eating Guardian.

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Author's Bio: 

Stephanie Eissinger is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Certified Professional Coach, and Self Help book author who's spent her professional career empowering individuals to overcome life's challenges to live happier, healthier lives. She has both personal and professional experience dealing with recovery from disordered eating, body image issues, and anorexia athletica. Her self help books include "How To 'Rock' Your Body Image: Improve Body Image & Self Confidence" and "The Fitness Goal Triad: How to Successfully Reach Your Fitness Goals." She also has an upcoming book that focuses on Anorexia Athletica.