How Does Body Image Affect Mental Health?

‘Body image’ is a term that can be used to describe how we think and feel about our bodies. Our thoughts and feelings about our bodies can impact us throughout our lives, affecting, more generally, the way we feel about ourselves and our mental health and wellbeing.

How does body image affect mental health?

Having body image concerns is a relatively common experience and is not a mental health problem in and of itself; however, it can be a risk factor for mental health problems. Research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders.

Higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders.

Conversely, body satisfaction and appreciation has been linked to better overall wellbeing and fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours. Though feeling unsatisfied with our bodies and appearance is often more common among young women, body image concerns are relevant from childhood through to later life and affect both women and men.

Body satisfaction and appreciation has been linked to better overall wellbeing and fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours.

What causes body image concerns?

The way in which our experiences and environment affect our body image will be different for everyone. However, overall, the research suggests that body image can be influenced by:

  • our relationships with our family and friends
  • how our family and peers feel and speak about bodies and appearance
  • exposure to images of idealised or unrealistic bodies through media or social media
  • pressure to look a certain way or to match an ‘ideal’ body type

There are further issues relevant to body image and mental health that are specific to certain factors and experiences, such as:

  • long-term health conditions
  • cultural differences around body ideals
  • gender and sexuality