Week 9: Improve your Body Image


What is Body Image ?

Body image is what an individual sees in his/her mind about his/her physical appearance. This includes form, size or other aspects of physical appearance. It is not the image seen in the mirror, i.e. it is a “mind image’ of one’s appearance. It develops gradually over time.

Factors Influencing Body Image

Several factors influence body image and they include past and present experiences, cultural and societal norms, comments of family members and peers.

Cultural and societal norms:
Societal norms are rules of behaviour. They are shared standards of acceptable behaviour by groups. For example the western culture links a good female body image to be a very slim and more athletic looking figure while the African culture is the opposite. Consequently, this negatively affects the body image of any female that deviates from this standard.

Family members and peers:
Families communicate what is “the norm” by looking at each other as examples. This term is referred to by psychologists as “modeling”. For instance, if a family member or friend constantly complains about an appearance, such an individual learns that their appearance is something to worry about.

Also, if a mother shows disgust for a part of her body it can affect the daughter’s perception of what is acceptable size or not. Furthermore, being repeatedly criticized and taunted about one’s appearance during childhood and teenage years can have a lasting effect on an individual’s body image.

Causes of body image related problems in the Western world

Shift of the ideal round figure of a woman to slim athletic figure. Women are likely to overestimate their body size. Underestimation has also been documented. The stigmatization of the obese. Perception that you can reshape your body through dieting, exercise and surgery, technological advances like use of cars for transportation which reduces the need for the body to be strong. Intense pressure to minimize the differences between sexes and also programs showing body transformation.

How To Improve Body Image

Formulate a reasonable weight goal:
However a reasonable goal weight takes into account one’s genetic make-up, weight management history, personal preference and lifestyle. Achieving a good body image takes into account one’s uniqueness as such making it easier to achieve a positive body image.

Accept your reasonable goal weight:
An individual must do away with dysfunctional and negative self talk which should be replaced with functional thinking and positive self-talk. Dysfunctional and negative self talk entails saying goodbye to long held desired appearance which is not reasonable; thus accepting ones uniqueness. Accepting and implementing a weight goal won’t be possible if a person doesn’t identify and change irrational thinking about the individual’s shape and size by functional thinking and positive self talk.

Dress to suit your shape:
Dressing plays an important role in body image. Dress to suit your body shape. Experiment with different styles to know what suits your shape and stick to it.

Strong self-concept:
Body image and self-concept are linked. A strong self concept will make it easier to achieve a positive self image. This helps you to realize that your body image is more than your appearance. You learn that you have many special qualities that contribute to your overall body image, therefore accept your uniqueness.

Manage environment:
The environment (family, peers, culture) can influence body image. Managing the environment involves an individual choosing to surround themselves with people who believe in them, encourage them and staying away from those who pull them down.

Professional help:
If you try the different approaches stated above to no avail, seek professional help regarding your body image concern.

Completion of a personalized weight goal exercise

Completion of body image checklist

Calculation of energy requirements for weight loss

Defining goals on how to improve body image

Determining the necessary actions to improve body image.


Body Image is a “mind image’ of one’s appearance. You can improve your body image. Formulate a reasonable goal weight. Accept your reasonable goal weight. Dress to suit your body shape. Have a strong self-concept. Manage your environment. Get professional help.