How to Build a Positive Body Image

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on February 29, 2024
3 min read

How do you feel about your body -- really? If you don’t have a positive body image now, you can change that at any size.

Many people feel pressure to measure up to certain social and cultural ideals of beauty, which can lead to feeling bad about the way their own body looks.

Social media, TV, movies, and magazines constantly show images of bodies that are, at best, hard to achieve and maintain -- and at worst, unhealthy and unattainable.

Even the people in your life can affect how you feel about your body image. Family and friends can affect your feelings with comments, both positive and negative. Social media posts can take on a toxic tone around body image. And sometimes, a doctor's health advice can be misinterpreted, affecting your sense of body image.

Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Developing and nurturing a positive body image is crucial to your happiness and well-being.

People with a positive body image see themselves as they really are. They have a true perception of their size and shape and feel comfortable and proud about their body.

Someone with a negative body image doesn't appreciate their body. They may not see themselves the way they really are, compare their body to others, and feel shame, awkwardness, and anxiety about their body. That can lead to emotional distress, low self-esteem, constant dieting, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

Changing your body image doesn't have to mean changing yourself physically. It’s an inside job.

Practicing body positivity means having acceptance and compassion for your body -- and for other people’s bodies.

Choose gratitude over judgment. Try not to judge your body. Instead, be grateful for what it can do. Appreciate all your body does every day: your lungs breathing, your heart beating, your brain guiding you through the day's challenges, and your hands making a meal or holding someone else's hand.

Stick with it. Being body positive takes work. Notice when you have negative thoughts about your body or someone else’s.

And pay attention when you feel an extreme positive reaction to your body too. Check whether it’s based on an unhealthy or rigid standard. Try to let go of those judgments and focus on acceptance. Simply accepting your body in its current state is often called body neutrality.

Set an example. You can encourage the people around you to be body positive. Think twice before praising a friend’s weight loss or talking about your diet plan at a family dinner.

Diversify your media. Show that you appreciate a diverse range of bodies: in different sizes, shapes, colors, and ability levels. Try to find media -- TV shows, magazines, and Instagram accounts -- that celebrate bodies of all kinds.

Being active, eating healthy food, and getting plenty of rest can change how you feel about your body.

Eating healthy can promote healthy skin and hair along with strong bones. Exercise has been shown to boost self-esteem, self-image, and energy. Getting enough rest is key to stress management. All of these can make you feel good about your body.

If you have kids, they will pick up on your attitude about your body. Read how to positively influence your child's body image.