What is Body image and How It Affects Health and Well-Being?

In today's world, having a good body image has become increasingly important. That’s because we are constantly bombarded with unattainable beauty standards. Not all of us have a great sense of self-confidence and accept ourselves for who we are. Thus, many struggle to feel comfortable in their own skin. Body image is not only a reflection of our physical appearance but it also impacts our mental health and well-being. So, let's delve deeper into the topic and explore how psychologists define body image and its impact on our overall health!

Definition of body image as per Psychologists

Body Image refers to the multifaceted psychological impact regarding the body, encompassing your body-related self-perceptions and impression that is a combination of your thoughts, feelings, behaviours and beliefs. The American Psychological Association defines body image as the mental image that you have about your body and how it impacts your behaviour with physical, psychological and social wellbeing.

The concept of body image originated in 1935 by Paul Schilder, an Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst who mentioned the term in his book named The Image and Appearance of the Human Body. But it was the emergence of the pandemic that again brought the topic to the limelight when researchers observed a change in eating habits and social media use induced by lockdown either made a positive or negative impact on the body image of the individual.

Researchers attributed social isolation and less control over time spent with friends and family to stress that, in turn, manifested in the form of overeating, dieting, body dissatisfaction and pressure to lose weight. Loneliness and sadness increased overeating and dieting as a coping mechanism and, in turn, fueling a vicious cycle of restriction and overeating that was detrimental to the person's body image and overall health and wellbeing.

Understanding the Concept of Body Image

Body image is not a phenomenon or unifocal term but rather a state of mind that is impacted by internal factors like stress and personality, external factors like the environment you are subjected to, and social media activities. There are four aspects of body image.

  • Perceptual or the way you see your body

  • Affective or the way you feel about it

  • Cognitive or the way you think about it

  • Behavioral or the behaviors you engage in because of your body

These feelings can be positive or negative or a mixture of both and influence or be influenced by several parameters.

Relation of body positivity and body neutrality with body image

Positive body image is when a person can accept and appreciate their body and feels beautiful from inside and outside, which impacts their personal and social lives.

Positive body image is characterized by

  • A favourable opinion of the body

  • Accepting the body with its imperfections irrespective of your weight and shape

  • Respecting the body and adopting healthy behaviours because of it

  • Protecting the body from unrealistic body image projections or body shaming

A positive body image reduces stress levels and blood pressure and helps people live healthy and stress-free lives. Studies have reported Individuals with greater positive body image have less depression, higher self-esteem, fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours, less drive for a physically pleasing body and practice skin care.

Negative Body Image

A negative body image involves overly comparing your size, shape, or appearance to unrealistic ideals that give rise to Body Image Disturbances. Body Image Disturbance has been identified as the chief cause behind eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, resulting in their relapse and poor prognosis. Negative body image is characterized by

  • Being perpetually obsessed with your body weight and size

  • Undergoing a state of perceptual disturbance, i.e. underestimating or overestimating your size

  • Body dissatisfaction or a negative perception of one’s body

People being teased about their size and weight growing up are more likely to experience a negative body image in later stages of life. Poor body image can affect physical and psychological health and influence self-esteem, mood, competence, and social and occupational functioning.

Role of Social media and other factors on body image

In a study conducted to understand the impact of social media use on body image, lead author Gary Goldfield, PhD, and his colleagues conducted a pilot study with 38 undergraduate students.

Some participants were asked to limit their social media use and others were allowed unrestricted screen access. Compared with the participants who had unlimited access, those with restricted use showed improvements in how they regarded their overall appearance within three weeks of the study.

Further expansion of the study involving a larger size of 220 undergraduate students showed that irrespective of gender, a four-week intervention of screen time trackers with reducing social media use, showed significant improvements in appearance and weight esteem in distressed youth with heavy social media use.

Other than social media, factors like peers and family can also impact body image. Research has shown that adolescents with better parent-adolescent relationships are less likely to experience body dissatisfaction in terms of body image. Families play a significant role in body image development in young children, and boys and girls with positive and supportive parents have an overall positive body image. The role of parents decreases as children get older, and peer responses become more important than families. Body image from 14 to 27 is greatly affected by peer and sexual preferences.

Gender and sexual orientation are other factors influencing body image that, in turn, impact self-esteem with health issues and increased psychological distress.


In summary, body image is an important concept that psychologists have studied for decades. It refers to the mental representation we form of our physical selves and how it affects both our emotional wellbeing and overall health. The way we think and feel about our body can be shaped by a variety of influences, including societal standards and expectations. Therefore, it’s important to become aware of these influences so that we can develop a healthy relationship with ourselves and our bodies in order to maintain physical as well as psychological wellbeing.

Updated on: 24-Mar-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started