UT University Health Services

Body Image

What is Body Image?

Body image is the way in which a person sees themselves in their minds and/or when they look in the mirror. Body images encompasses both the thoughts and feelings a person has about their body.

Body image is developed over time and is influenced by messages received growing up, culture, media, and self-esteem/self-confidence.

How Body Image Affects Your Health

Having a negative body image means a person has negative thoughts and feelings about their bodies and may make false assumptions about their life (eg., I would be better/happier/more confident if I was more _____). A negative body image may even interfere with social activities (skipping out on a pool day or sporting event) and often drives people to eat either too much or too little.

Research shows that when people are focused on their appearance, they more frequently engage in unhealthy eating and exercise behaviors, do not maintain healthy lifestyle changes for the long term, and often tend to gain weight over the course of their lives. A negative body image is also a significant risk factor for developing an eating disorder.

Having a positive body image means that a person accepts their body the way that it is and is not preoccupied by thoughts or worries about their body. Developing a positive body image is an important step in creating a healthy lifestyle. People with a positive body image tend to be more in tune with body signals and care for their bodies through healthy eating, exercise, and rest. They are also more likely to be present in their social activities and not preoccupied with thoughts of their body.

Fostering a Healthy Body Image

  • Acknowledge and respect body diversity.
  • Express gratitude for what your body allows you to do and experience (walking to class, playing a sport, feeling your toes in the cold spring water).
  • Be aware that many of the images you see in the media are unrealistic, unattainable, and at times even unhealthy.
  • Go on a social media “cleanse” by unfollowing accounts that are primarily focused on thinness or muscularity.
  • Follow body positive accounts that reinforce the diverse range of bodies and beauty.
  • Compliment others on attributes not related to their appearance (“I’m so impressed with your hard work on that lab today!” or “You always know the right thing to say.”).
  • Challenging yourself and others to value people with strong character, integrity, and compassion.
  • Be kind to your body by offering it nourishment, movement, and rest.
  • Recognize that developing a positive body image takes time, patience, and self-compassion.

If you struggle with food, body, and/or exercise, help is available. Check out the Mindful Eating Program:

Mindful Eating Program

Nutrition Links

Additional Nutrition Topics
Registered Dietitian Consultations
Mindful Eating Program
Nutrition Handouts
Nutrition Peer Led Workshops
Hunger and food insecurity - UT Outpost



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