Poor Body Image


Treatment and support for poor body image via telehealth with Epsychiatry

The way we see ourselves undoubtedly influences the way we interact with the world. In simple terms, body image refers to how we think and feel about our body. Body image lies on a spectrum, ranging from healthy to unhealthy. Having a healthy body image is important for mental wellbeing, whereas having an unhealthy body image can be a risk factor for mental health problems.

Body image concerns can be relatively mild (e.g. minor discontent about a certain body part or aspect of appearance) or severe and debilitating (e.g. when tied in with eating disorders, low mood, obsessive behaviours and avoidance of certain activities). Body image concerns may fluctuate over time, depending on things like stress, weight, and interpersonal factors.

At Epsychiatry, our caring team of psychologists and psychiatrists can provide support via telehealth for body image and related issues. Give us a call today to make an enquiry or book your initial appointment.

What influences body image?

Body image is complex and dependent on a range of factors, which interact to influence the way we see ourselves. Things like gender, personality/temperament (e.g. perfectionism, sensitivity to criticism), life experiences (e.g. bullying, trauma), significant others (e.g. friends, family, and other role models), media exposure (e.g. health messages, advertising), and culture (e.g. fashion, fitness and beauty ideals) can all play a role in our body image and whether it is healthy or unhealthy.

Unhealthy body image rarely boils down to one cause or trigger.

Factors that can contribute to poor body image include things like:

  • A perfectionistic personality, pre-existing low self-esteem or feelings of inadequacy
  • Experiences of trauma, particularly incidents in which the body was violated
  • Having a family member who is body conscious or has a history of an eating disorder/disordered eating
  • Being part of a family or peer group, who emphasise the importance of appearance, focus on their own body dissatisfaction, or engage regularly in weight control behaviours
  • Being teased, noticed or criticised about your body weight, shape or appearance, particularly as a child or adolescent
  • Peer pressure to fit in, look a certain way, be thin, ‘bulk up’, go on diets, or exercise to lose weight or gain muscle
  • Exposure to strong beauty and appearance ideals that may be unhealthy or unrealistic to achieve (e.g. thin and muscularity ideals promoted via social media, advertising, and cultural expectations)
  • Living in a culture that judges and assigns value to people based on how they look
  • Media and public health campaigns that promote dieting and weight loss, but fail to emphasise the need for health and wellbeing to be at the centre of this
  • A lack of education and misunderstanding about body diversity, which may be passed down through families

Healthy body image leads to better mental health and wellbeing and is therefore important to promote.

Factors that can foster healthy body image include things like:

  • Strong problem solving, coping and social skills
  • Emotional wellbeing and pre-existing positive self-esteem
  • Achievement in other areas of life, including school and work
  • The tendency to critically appraise media images and content (called ‘media literacy’)
  • Appropriately filtering the amount and type of media content you are exposed to on a daily basis (e.g. limiting time on social media, women’s magazines etc.)
  • Having a sound knowledge and understanding of health, nutrition and body diversity
  • Eating regular meals together as a family
  • Being part of a family or peer group, who accept you regardless of your appearance or looks
  • Involvement in peer or social support groups (e.g. chess group, voluntary roles) where the emphasis is not on appearance, attractiveness or weight

When does poor body image become a problem?

Body image exists on a spectrum, ranging from unhealthy or poor, at one end, to healthy at the other end. Our body image can fluctuate over time. For example, a person with a relatively healthy body image overall may still experience periods of concern or dissatisfaction with their appearance. Unfortunately, body dissatisfaction is all too common, with some estimates as high as 85% amongst the general population. So when does this seemingly normative experience become a problem?

The following signs and symptoms might indicate that poor body image is causing problems in your life:

  • You overvalue the importance of appearance, often to the detriment of other personal qualities like character traits, interests, values, educational success and so on. You may be of the view that changes to your appearance will make you more likeable and worthy as a person, and therefore prioritise these over other goals in life
  • You have a more negative view of your body and appearance than others do (e.g. you feel fat and ugly, despite others seeing you as attractive). This may adversely impact your self-esteem. As a result, you may find yourself avoiding social events, trying to modify your appearance or cover up your ‘flaws’.
  • You’re preoccupied with your appearance and constantly worry about the way you look. This may lead to behaviours like regularly checking yourself/your body in the mirror, frequently weighing yourself, avoiding looking at yourself, or constantly comparing your body to others, which makes you feel worse.
  • You engage in frequent and extreme efforts to change or hide your perceived ‘defects’. This may involve spending excessive amounts of time at the gym, dieting, and spending large amounts of money on cosmetics, cosmetic procedures and/or clothing. Conversely, it may involve withdrawing socially and self-isolating to avoid being seen.
  • If you experience any of the above, your body image may be a significant problem in your life. If the way you see yourself and your body is causing you distress and impacting your life to a significant degree, you will likely benefit from professional support. Having a healthy body image leads to greater health and quality of life, so it is definitely worth investing in change!

What are the consequences of poor body image?

Research shows body image is a significant concern for many people worldwide. If left untreated, poor body image can continue to worsen and result in serious problems, some of which are life-threatening.

For example, poor body image can lead to:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Lost productivity and finances due to time/money spent on attempting to change your appearance
  • Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety
  • Disordered eating and eating disorders, which have the highest mortality rates amongst all mental disorders
  • Other risky weight modification practices. Such as fad diets, excessive exercise and misuse of supplements to lose weight or gain muscle
  • Health risks of cosmetic procedures or extreme weight modification strategies, including bone, skin, heart and other organ damage
  • Social isolation and deterioration in relationships with friends, family members and intimate partners, due to conflict or withdrawal from socialising
  • Fewer opportunities for growth, fun and achievement as a result of isolating or undervaluing yourself

This list is not exhaustive, but based on these factors alone, poor body image is worth addressing. If you suffer from body image concerns, we encourage you to speak with your GP. Don’t forget to give our friendly team a call to discuss referral and appointment options.

How can treatment at Epsychiatry help?

There is growing research evidence showing certain psychological treatments. It’s to be effective in reducing the consequences and distress caused by poor body image. The majority of these treatments are based on a style of therapy called Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Among other things, the treatment for body image concerns is designed to help you accept your own body. Whilst equipping you with skills to challenge self-critical and distorted thinking and gain a more realistic view of yourself. Medication can sometimes be of benefit to treat related mental health conditions or concerns, such as depression or anxiety.

Contact us Today

Treatment for poor body image is available with our team of psychologists and psychiatrists at Epsychiatry. Your clinician will work with you to address your body image concerns and any other difficulties. We encourage you to seek a referral to our service through your GP. After that, contact us online or via phone with your enquiries.