Body Image Concerns
About This Course
Learn evidence-based scientific ways to fix body image issues.
In just six weeks, you’ll learn different ways to put an end to your body image woes.
Course created and written by
Dr Joseph Kekulawala is a Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. His last public appointment was at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He is passionate about improving access to quality mental health care globally.
About this course
Learn evidence-based scientific ways to fix body image issues.
In just six weeks, you’ll learn different ways to put an end to your body image woes. Build up your self-esteem, clarify your values, learn about shape avoidance, negative prophecies and other ways you keep our body insecurity alive. Each week we will teach you how to unwind old habits, change your mindset and develop skills to fix your body image issues.
By taking this self-help course, you’ll develop a foundation of skills to improve your eating and body image. This course is designed for someone looking for help with their body insecurity. Week 1 is an introduction before we dive into more advanced topics.
Why we created this course.
Tens of millions of people struggle with body insecurity. It is an under-recognised concern. We don’t speak enough about it. Millions suffer in silence, alone and struggle to get help. There is a lot of shame and guilt associated with body image issues.
This course has psychology and general medical input. We have pulled from different schools of evidence-based psychological practices in order to build this course. We want you to see this course tools alongside conventional therapy and broader supports.
How this course is different
Each week of this course is divided into five parts:
- Educational lessons at the start,
- Quizzes to get you thinking about your mental health
- Aided self-reflection component to increase awareness
- Tailored suggestions
- Action plans which include workseets
Depending on how you answer the questions in our quiz, you will get specific feedback and suggestions each week. The feedback and suggestions you take away from this course will be unique to you.
For example, if Rahul and Bobby, two fictional people, were to do this course. The chances that Rahul and Bobby would get the same feedback and suggestion would be 1 in over 7,000,000,000.
We use simple artificial intelligence (AI) tools to create specific feedback and suggestions.
Why do we do this?
People are unique. We want to give you answers, feedback, and solutions that best suit you.
Key aspects of this course
Discover drivers of body insecurity and what aspects of poor body image apply to you. Troubleshoot the common roadblocks to valuing your body. Learn about the downside of trying to fit in, shape checking, appearance preoccupation, automatic thoughts, why we apologise for how we look and so much more.
The course ends with early warning signs, treating your body right, finding ‘safe’ spaces, creating care plans and a review of core skills.
Is that this course will help you leave behind your body image issues. Form part of your get well plan and be a tool alongside professional and other supports you get. We want to get you thinking, understanding and questioning your concerns about appearance. Our hope is for you to experience lasting change when it comes to how you view and value your body.
Good News! We have opened access to Week 1 of the learning material
Topics Covered in this section
- Learn about body image issues and their importance
- Know what shapes your body image
- Explore your relationship with your body
- Acknowledge that beauty is on a spectrum
- Understand how others view you
- Learn how perfectionism gets in the way
- Learn the basics of self-compassion
Who is this course for?
This self-help program is for anyone with body image issues. Maybe you struggle with feeling comfortable in your body, or feel insecure or anxious about how you look. Have people told you that you spend too much time fussing over your appearance? Or are you simply looking for a healthier relationship with your body? Has body insecurity to affect your daily work, social life, and self-esteem? If yes, then this program is for you.
Anyone with basic reading skills in English from any sex, country, or any race, can benefit from this program. Those who are under 18 years old are advised to take this course under adult supervision. However, if you find self-help hard and notice your symptoms getting worse, it might be time to seek professional help.
What to expect from this course?
This course makes use of concepts from different therapy techniques, for example, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Mindfulness-Based Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). The most commonly-used techniques are based on CBT. CBT aims to identify and change unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to body insecurity.
Mindfulness skills and ACT can help you come to terms with your body, identify your core values and set goals to overcoming your body insecurity. The former helps you ground yourself to realistic ideals. The latter will help you build the life you want whilst accepting and loving yourself for all that you are. Throughout this course, we will guide you in building your own self-care plan.Remember that just reading the course content will give you ideas, but you need to practice and persist with the skills in this course for them to make a difference in your life.
This course should help you…
- Befriend your own body by learning about body image issues and self-compassion
- Fight your negative feelings towards your body image
- Control your self-doubt, improve your self-esteem, and stop comparing yourself to others
- Practice mindfulness and dive into acceptance
- Commit to your values and goals
- Recognize body checking & avoidance behaviours, their impact, and how to overcome them
- Treat your body right and move away from body insecurity.
This course is 6 weeks in total. Tackling problems with body insecurity can be a challenge, especially if you’re attempting this on your own, but it is not impossible! Throughout this course, we will guide you in setting realistic goals and encourage you to find strong sources of support to keep you on track. Finally, an open mind and optimistic mindset will go a long way in helping you on this journey. But of course, don’t expect huge changes to occur right after Week 1. Change happens slowly, especially when it comes to mental health. It might be hard to see if you’ve made progress at first but eventually, you’ll be able to look back and see how far you’ve come!
Of course, recovery doesn’t end after the end of this course. There is a risk that you will return to your old, unhealthy behaviors. To prevent this from happening, it is important to keep drawing on the knowledge and skills you will learn in this course, even after it ends. The road to recovery is not a straight path. It has many ups and downs, and you might even make some wrong turns. But pauses and challenges are all part of the process. You will likely make mistakes, but you will learn from them in time. With a little help, self-care, and hard work, you can and will overcome your body image issues. As a result, you will likely see improvements in your relationships and work performance. More importantly, you’ll notice a drastic change in how you view, feel about and relate to your body.
Introduction to Body Image
What is body image
- Thoughts and beliefs about your body
- Views about your size and the shape of your body
- Feelings towards your body
- Actions you take to check, tend to, alter, and/or hide your body or its parts
There may be times when you ask someone how you look and they respond with an answer you disagree with. That someone may not be lying or patronizing you– their answer might be how they actually view you. For example, you may hold the belief that you’re too short, not attractive or not skinny enough. When someone tells you “you’re pretty” or “you look good”, you dismiss this comment and conclude they’re ‘just being nice’.
The above scenario proves just how subjective body image issues can be. That is, how we see ourselves may not be how others see us. So why is that a problem? When there’s a huge gap between how others see us versus how we see ourselves, it can lead to conflict (both internal and external) and undue distress
What is body image distortion and dissatisfaction?
Body image distortion and dissatisfaction are quite common, especially in women and teens. Body image distortion occurs when a person has misperceptions about their body or parts of their body. For example, a person with a distorted body image might see themselves as fat, even though they are a healthy weight and normal size. Body image distortion can go beyond misrepresenting your appearance and magnifying your flaws. It can also involve an over-emphasis on the importance of appearance and how it relates to your worth. That is, you may think that looks matter more than anything else and that you don’t fit in because your looks aren’t ‘good enough’.
Body image dissatisfaction involves being critical or unhappy about how you look, your body overall, or a part of your body. This can come about when there is a gap between how you see yourself (actual body) and how you want to look (ideal body). A large gap here often leads people to put themselves down about their appearance, even when looks aren’t the problem. This can cause distress, anxiety, low mood and low self-esteem. Can you relate to any of this so far? Is there a gap between how you think you look currently and how you’d like to look if you had the power to change your appearance? Describing your current body versus your ideal body can help you identify any discrepancies.
If you are dissatisfied with your body, you might find yourself checking your reflection, weighing yourself, hiding your perceived flaws, or avoiding going out altogether. You fail to view your own body accurately, which can lead to conflict between you and your friends or partner. Even when someone compliments you, you are quick to reject it, as it doesn’t fit into your idea of yourself. Body dissatisfaction can also lead to frantic efforts to change or hide aspects of your appearance, such as extreme dieting, body checking and avoidance. These behaviors can be unhealthy and will come up later in this module.
Distorted body image is also a core part of serious disorders, like Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and eating disorders. These disorders can start out as small insecurities and, if left unaddressed, develop into conditions that affect your health, relationships, and work.
Eating disorders – People with these conditions fear judgment against how they look. Because of these fears, they resort to unhealthy behavior like eating too much or too little food. While their fears are valid, their behavior has bad effects on the body. Purging can strain your heart and energy. Malnutrition can lead to a lot of health problems because it lowers your immunity, making you more likely to get sick.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) – People with this condition obsess over their looks a lot. They are overly concerned with their flaws no matter how small or if others notice them or not. This can lead to unhealthy behaviors that get in the way of their daily functioning. People with BDD often:
- Belittle themselves and their looks a lot
- Fuss about their flaws for hours
- Avoid social situations so people don’t see them
- Have multiple plastic surgeries
- Look in the mirror often
- Wear too much make-up
- Always compare themselves to others
Why is having a healthy body image important
Having a negative self-image can get in the way of how you can live your life. The core part of disorders like Eating Disorder and BDD is having a negative self-image. It can also lead to low self-esteem which can lead to mental disorders like depression or anxiety. Mental disorders can also lead to physical ones. Anorexia can cause malnutrition. Binge eating can cause obesity which can cause many other diseases. Getting many surgeries to change how you look can also affect your health.
On the other hand, a positive self-image can lead to good physical health. It’s possible to love your body and still want to be healthier. People who are happy with their bodies like to exercise to improve and keep how they look, which can mean less physical and mental problems. They work out because they love their bodies even if they know it’s not perfect. Positive self-image can also improve your mental health. Believing your body is fine the way it is, will boost your self-confidence. As long as you love your body, you’re less likely to be influenced by outside criticism and impossible beauty standards. A happy body is a healthy body!
Why are so many people focused on body image?
We’ve been told, ever since we were kids, that we have to look and act a certain way to be accepted by others. As teens, especially for girls, we’re usually praised for how we look more than our own thoughts and actions. So we think that looks are the only way to get praised. This is also the age when looks seem to matter most because we go through a lot of physical changes. Our faces become more defined, sexual features develop, and identities are formed. As children, we see the media dictate what beauty should look like. Even when finding a romantic partner, looks still play a role in getting their attention. We start to think that having good looks means being easy to love.
In movies and shows, they usually cast slender, tall people while models need to have thin, smooth bodies with the “Golden Ratio.” This makes people think that this is the body they need to be loved. Even though these photos in the media are heavily edited, this builds a culture that we should all look like that. We end up thinking what deviates from that standard makes us flawed rather than special. Beauty becomes impossible to achieve, leaving us to try to reach an ideal that doesn’t exist.
Can I be underweight and have body insecurity?
We often hear about people being bullied and shamed for being too fat. But one of the reasons why some people are underweight is because they have a negative self-image. People with eating disorders who are too focused about their body image issues are usually underweight because of these conditions. But what about people who are too thin? Can they also have negative self-images as a result?
Underweight people can still be bullied and shamed. People call them skinny or tell them to eat more even though they might actually be trying to have healthier bodies but they seem to gain weight. Apart from that, even being too thin can be unattractive for some people. So they’re told that they have no shape, or that they need to eat more. Sometimes they’re asked if they’re sick. This makes them more conscious of how they look. These comments can make them wonder if something is wrong with them, leading to negative self-image.
Aside from weight, there are also other aspects of body image. Self-esteem, your past, grooming, and fashion can be part of your body image. When we say “your past”, we mean how you looked at yourself before vs. now. You could have been overweight before but underweight now. That change can affect your body image positively or negatively. So regardless of your weight, these other factors can also determine your self-image.
What causes body image issues?
Body Mass Index (BMI)
This is one of the most influential ones. Because it’s tied to a biological component, your body image can highly depend on this. People who count as overweight are sometimes hesitant to go out and be around others. Being labeled as “overweight” can make you feel like there’s something wrong or bad with your body.
However, not all people with negative self-image believe or accept their BMI score. For example, when someone sees themselves as fat even though their BMI is actually normal. It could be they see parts of their body are too fatty or they lack the curves they want. Either way, the labels that come with their BMI can worry people with body image issues.
A person’s family has a big effect on a person’s early experiences. Your parent’s values can affect how you see yourself in the future. So, if they were critical of you, you will also learn to be overly critical of yourself. Some people even avoid reunions because relatives often point out their looks, saying things like, “You got a bit chubbier” or “You need to eat more.” Comments like this can be a trigger for people with body insecurity. If your family valued looks, it’s likely that you do too, even as an adult.
Whether we like it or not, we have an idea of what a socially desirable body is. Your friends might have their own opinions about how other people look. Maybe some of your friends work out a lot. If the people we care about find us unattractive, would they still like us? We think that if we want people to accept us, we need to look a certain way. That’s why we see a lot of whitening products, concealers, and other products meant to hide our flaws. Then, these products are advertised with heavily edited photos. So we think this is the look we need to live up to. Much of the time, these ideals can be impossible for many of us to reach so we’re stuck with a large gap between how we look and what we want to look like.
Body image issues are tied to self-esteem and self-concept. Having a low self-esteem makes you likely to have a low view of your self-image. For example, you can work out and make your body healthier. But if you have low self-esteem, it can be hard for you to accept that you have made progress. You tell yourself that your efforts are not enough or you find new flaws to nitpick. It’s important for people with low self-esteem to know there are other aspects that matter. Some of their “flaws” can actually be what makes them special.
With the rise of social media, people are more conscious of their looks than ever. Often, social media celebrities are attractive, thin, fit people who have the “ideal” body. We believe that the reason why they’re so popular is because of how they look. Which may be true but social media doesn’t give us a good perspective of who people actually are. People rarely post anything negative about themselves so they can look as perfect as they want. Using social media can cause you to compare yourself unfairly to friends you find pretty and popular. On the other hand, following pages that make you feel good about your own body can also affect your self-image. It can help you feel empowered and move you away from body insecurity.
So, why do we have a poor self-image?
These factors stated before may not always cause body insecurity. It’s a mix of physical factors, beliefs, and actions. But what pushes you to have body image issues? One of the biggest causes for body insecurity are past events and situations that you’ve experienced. It could be that you were bullied before as a child for how you look. Or maybe your family placed too much importance on looks. This may cause you to blame yourself and think, “if it weren’t for how I looked, maybe I could have been accepted.” We tend to blame ourselves for things we can’t control. But we know it isn’t fair to have been judged by people we care about by our looks alone.
Even simply being told that you were ugly, too fat, too thin, or just not attractive can bring down your self-image. It’s even worse when these things are said by friends, family, or a partner. You’d start to think that how you look isn’t enough for other people. How can the people you care about accept you, if you’re not enough? Words can hurt and leave a lasting impression. Many people fail to see this, but that isn’t your fault.
How to learn more about your relationship with your body
All our lives, society gives us the idea that we need to have a particular body size and shape. Even as kids, you were likely told that some foods will make you fat or fit. From then, we already have this idea that we’d rather be fit than fat. If we’re not fit, it must mean that we’re doing something wrong. Then when we become teens, we experience new changes in our bodies at a fast rate. But this is when we become the most vulnerable because we start to develop an identity for ourselves. Finding this identity involves being able to fit in. But the pressure to fit in can be too much and we’re more likely to lose our self-confidence and self-esteem. Over time, we’re convinced that to be accepted, we need to have the ideal body.
No matter what gender you are, you still become subject to expectations that people impose on others. Girls need to keep up a slim figure and pretty face while guys need to look “macho” to qualify as a “real man”. No matter your culture, the desire to mold our bodies to be accepted has been there all our lives. This is something that has been there for a long time and out of our control. But what you can control, helping change the stigma people have towards looks. It starts with changing how you see yourself. Only then can you treat others with the same compassion and understanding.
6 Questions for you
Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if you have body insecurity or body image issues. After all, everyone has their own insecurities or something they want to change about their body. So how do you know if what you have is normal or a problem? Here are a few questions to help you out:
- Is there something you don’t like about your body?
- Is there something you want to change about your body?
- Do you avoid wearing certain clothes because it shows a part of your body you want covered?
- Does even the smallest amount of food make you feel fat?
- Do you feel lacking and often compare your looks to others?
- Do people tell you that you look in the mirror, groom yourself, wear too much makeup, or compare your looks to other people often?
If you answered “yes” to 3 or more of these questions, you may have a negative body image and need help changing it. Loving your body is a big step in overcoming body insecurity. Of course, there is no problem with wanting a healthier body. But you can aim to have a healthy body while still loving who you are. You have to treat your body well, not only to look beautiful, but because you love it and want to take care of it. To do that, you need to accept that no matter what shape or size you are, you are still beautiful.
What is beauty diversity?
One of the best things about beauty is that it’s subjective. That means it can vary between persons and cultures. No matter where you’re from or who you are, beauty is diverse. As society changes and so do our views on what beauty really is. In a survey, it was found that African American women were 3 times more likely to rate themselves as “hot”. Even hair color has its own stereotypical ideas like, brunettes are intelligent while blondes are confident.
Different cultures also have different ideas of what they find beautiful. While some cultures look down on tattoos, the Māori women in New Zealand wear face tattoos. Where women are focused on waxing and shaping their eyebrows, women in Tajikistan prefer to have unibrows. We don’t mean to say you have to go somewhere else. Even two people in the same culture can have different ideas of what is beautiful to them. In other words, beauty is a diverse concept and it isn’t limited to one standard. Somewhere, someone out there will find you beautiful. But you shouldn’t rely on someone else for it. All you really need is for you to think you’re beautiful. So don’t wait to give yourself the love you deserve!
How to become more accepting of beauty diversity
Once you realize that beauty is a mixed concept, the easier it is to accept how you look. You need to see beyond the stereotypes that you grew up with. In a world where people judge others by their looks, you need to rise above it. You’re not unattractive. Your “flaws” aren’t all flaws. They’re features that make you different and special. Ask yourself about your background. Ask people of the same age, race, and background, and find out what makes them special. It can be a physical or emotional aspect. Celebrate where your looks come from and embrace it.
Find a role model who celebrates people’s differences. There are more famous people with different shapes, colors, and genders than ever. Times change and differences in body type are something to be celebrated. We even have days for embracing our differences. Celebrities challenge the media’s narrow view of beauty time and time again. Usually, it’s by celebrities who represent different races, body types, and genders. So don’t be afraid to come out and let people know you’re different. All the little things that make you you deserve to be seen and heard.
You are more than your body
“She has a nice personality, but…” is a phrase we too often hear in the media or from our friends when describing someone who doesn’t fit their standard of beauty. The phrase in itself downplays the importance of having a good personality. Of course, we don’t want to downplay that looks also matter to people. But what is it that makes you, you?
Like many of us, you’re a person with two eyes, a nose, a mouth. Maybe you have wrinkles, freckles, dimples on your face. Your head, eye, nose shape are also different from others. Maybe you get comments, positive or negative, about your face features. You probably have a nice smile, pretty eyes, a tall nose, high cheekbones. But all that can be overshadowed by one negative comment. Sometimes we just need to look at the mirror and see the whole picture. We’re more than what people tell us we are. There are so many things special about you, even if you see them as flaws.
There’s more to you than just your body. Your body is just one part of a beautiful whole. You’re the memories you make, the way you treat others, the love you give, and the happiness you shine in someone’s life. Whether you know it or not, you’re something to someone, regardless of how you look. People can forget the wrinkles on your face, the skin flaws you have, and all the little imperfections you see in the mirror. But they will remember how you made them feel.
Body Acceptance - Friends
For many of us, what our friends think matters a lot. They’re the most likely to tease us which can lead to a low self-image. It can even worsen your body image issues if your friends always talk about appearances, compare others, talk about weight loss strategies often, and emphasize the importance of looks to be socially accepted. These kinds of experiences can convince you that looks are what matter most to them. Since they’re your friends, you also start thinking that looks are what they care about. Maybe you’ve asked yourself, “Would they still be my friends if I were unattractive?”
But the recovery process is a team effort. It can be hard to get through on your own. So one strong source of support can be from friends. Peers who understand your body insecurity can be more sensitive to your feelings. The first step is to make them aware that appearance-focused talks might worsen your body image issues. This can be hard, but we encourage you to speak up. We all need to end the idea and belief that social acceptance depends on how you look.
So what can you and your friends do?
- Be honest. Openly talk to each other. Let them know you’re there for them and they can reassure you that they’re there for you. Creating an environment free of judgment can do wonders for your honesty.
- Focus on other things. Your friends can remind you that there are other parts of you that matter. Ask them what they like about you or what makes you special to them. Building a body-positive culture with your friends can go a long way, even after treatment.
- Unfollow or take a rest from social media. Social media has a heavy impact on your mental health. It affects your idea of what people should look like. Instead, you can look for pages and accounts that focus on loving yourself and positive self-image.
- Be proactive. Knowing the signs of someone who has body image issues can help know when they need to intervene. The signs of eating disorders are also important to catch.
- Practice sensitivity. Teasing friends can be normal and a sign that you’re close to each other. But you also need to know when it goes too far. You might not want your friends to see you as too sensitive. But letting them know when things are hard for you can make your friends feel like they’re part of this journey too.
Be an example for your friends. The way you treat them shows how you want them to treat you, too. You can look out for them at times of need and quell their own insecurities about themselves.
Body Acceptance - Romantic Partners
Romantic relationships are a big part of our self-image. After all, they are with you for a reason. So it makes sense that your negative self-image can leak into your romantic relationships. You may have even found yourself arguing with them over your own insecurities. As a result, your partner may feel that you’re unhappy with the relationship and the cycle will repeat itself.
Your sex life with your partner can be affected, in particular. Physical intimacy is a big part of a romantic relationship. Your body insecurity is tied to sexual satisfaction. To feel good with this kind of intimacy, you need to feel good about yourself and your body. This allows you to be less hesitant about being intimate with your partner. Your partner might misunderstand your hesitancy as you not wanting it at all. So it can be hard to love another person without loving yourself first.
No matter what gender you identify with, you can still experience self-objectification. Self-objectification is when we see ourselves as objects that we judge based only on how we look. So when in a situation where we are naked and vulnerable with another person, we become more conscious about how we look and think that’s what matters most. This can distract you from actually enjoying the experience of being intimate with your partner. You might even find excuses not to have sex or even be alone with your partner because you fear of looking ugly in front of them. At times like this, communication is key.
So, how can we deal with these issues with your partner?
- Reassurance. Be open about your body insecurity. Let your partner know that you need reassurance from time to time that your body is fine the way it is. Even hearing compliments from your partner can help you overcome how you think they view you. You can even ask them what they like about you. While you may not believe it at first, you will learn to be more accepting of how they see you over time.
- Sensitivity. People with body image issues already know the flaws they have. Pointing them out won’t help them. It might even hurt to hear your partner tell you to exercise, even if they had good intentions. You need to be honest with your partner about what hurts you.
- Emotional Support. Recovery from body image issues requires a team effort. You and your partner are a team. Be there for each other. Defend each other when people tease one of you. Showing that you care and telling your partner to stand up for you can help. You can even set healthy goals to overcome body insecurity together. Let them know you’re in this together.
- Body positivity. You can set an example for your partner and point out the things you like about them. Even the little things they do every day. You can also ask them to do the same. Create an environment together where you can look how you want and be comfortable with each other.
Patience. Never let one another feel rushed. Sex should be fully consensual and you can’t rush this stage. Help your partner understand that it may take time for you to be comfortable.
Self-compassion & Body Insecurity
There are three parts of self-compassion in relation to body insecurity:
- Kindness to yourself
- Knowing you are not alone in your experiences
- Awareness of your faults
Having self-compassion means you accept who you are. That includes all your flaws and faults. Instead of criticism, you treat yourself with kindness and understanding. So that even when you don’t feel like others accept you, at least you can accept yourself. This isn’t to say that you should settle for the flaws you have. Being self-compassionate also means improving yourself. People with high self-compassion accept things they can’t control, then they try to change things they can control. Because of this attitude, when negative experiences happen, they’re less likely to feel its impact. They soften the blow of negative events because they tell themselves that it’s not all their fault.
So what does this have to do with body image issues? Self-compassion is actually linked to your self-worth. In other words, people who are kind to themselves don’t tie ideas of themselves to their image. It’s unfair to treat yourself that way because there’s more to you than just your looks. The more you see yourself as a whole, the less other people’s criticisms get to you. So treat yourself the way you deserve. You can’t control the way people treat you, but you can control how you treat yourself. Don’t wait for them to accept you before you can accept yourself. Be kind, and remember that you are your own best supporter.