Body Image & Eating Disorders

Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception.

Positive body image occurs when a person is able to accept, appreciate and respect their body. Positive body image is important because it is one of the protective factors which can make a person more resilient to eating disorders. A positive body image will improve:

  • SELF ESTEEM, which dictates how a person feels about themselves and can infiltrate every aspect of life, and can contribute to happiness and wellbeing.

  • SELF ACCEPTANCE, making a person more likely to feel comfortable and happy with the way they look and less likely to feel impacted by unrealistic images in the media and social pressures to look a certain way.

  • HEALTHY OUTLOOK AND BEHAVIOURS, as it is easier to lead a balanced lifestyle with healthier attitudes and practices relating to food and exercise when you are in tune with, and respond to the needs of your body.


When a person has negative thoughts and feelings about his or her own body, body dissatisfaction can develop. Body dissatisfaction is an internal process but can be influenced by several external factors. For example, family, friends, acquaintances, teachers and the media all have an impact on how a person sees and feels about themselves and their appearance. Individuals in appearance oriented environments or those who receive negative feedback about their appearance are at an increased risk of body dissatisfaction.

One of the most common external contributors to body dissatisfaction is the media. People of all ages are bombarded with images through TV, magazines, internet and advertising. These images often promote unrealistic, unobtainable and highly stylised appearance ideals which have been fabricated by stylists, art teams and digital manipulation and cannot be achieved in real life. Those who feel they don’t measure up in comparison to these images, can experience intense body dissatisfaction which is damaging to their psychological and physical wellbeing.


Body dissatisfaction is the top ranked issue of concern for young people (Mission Australia, 2011). Body image issues have increased worldwide over the last 30 years and do not only concern young people but affect people of all ages. This pervasive problem is concerning because overvaluing body image in defining ones self-worth is one of the risk factors which makes some people less resilient to eating disorders than others. People experiencing body dissatisfaction can become fixated on trying to change their body shape, which can lead to unhealthy practices with food and exercise. These practices don’t usually achieve the desired outcome (physically or emotionally) and can result in intense feelings of disappointment, shame and guilt and, ultimately, increase the risk of developing an eating disorder.


While some aspects of your appearance can be changed, others, like your height, muscle composition and bone structure are genetically fixed. It is important to understand that there is no right or wrong when it comes to weight, shape, size and appearance. Challenging beauty ideals and learning to accept your body shape is a crucial step towards positive body image.

While changing your actual appearance can be counterproductive, improving your body image is a constructive goal. We have the power to change the way we see, feel and think about our bodies. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Focusing on your positive qualities, skills and talents can help you accept and appreciate your whole self

  • Say positive things to yourself every day

  • Avoid negative or berating self-talk

  • Focusing on appreciating and respecting what your body can do will help you to feel more positively about it

  • Setting positive, health focused goals rather than weight loss elated ones is more beneficial for your overall wellbeing

  • Admiring others’ beauty can improve your own body confidence but it is important to appreciate your own beauty, avoid comparing yourself to others, accept yourself as a whole and remember that everyone is unique and differences are what makes us special

  • Remember, many media images are unrealistic and represent a minority of the population


If you feel dissatisfied with your body or are developing unhealthy eating or exercise habits seek professional help. Some counsellors and psychologists have specialised knowledge in body image.

To find help in your local area go to

Acknowledgements: The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) is an initiative of the Australian Government Department of Health.

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