Body Image
By Abigail Natenshon
Author of When Your Child Has An Eating Disorder

Body image is

  • How you see yourself when you look in the mirror, or when you picture yourself in your mind.
  • What you believe about your own appearance.
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape and weight.
  • How you feel in your body as you move.

A negative body image is….

  • A distorted perception of your shape. You perceive parts of your body unlike what they really are.
  • You feel that your body shape is a sign of your personal failure.
  • You feel awkward and uncomfortable in your body.

People with a negative body image are more likely candidates to develop depression, low esteem, anxiety, obsessions about losing weight, and eating disorders.

A positive body image is…

  • A clear perception of your shape – you see your body as it really is.
  • You know that a person’s physical shape says very little if anything about their character and value as a person.
  • You don’t worry about food, weight and calories.

How To Develop A Better Body Image

  • Eat healthfully. Exercise appropriately and consistently.
  • Appreciate what your body can do.
  • Recognize what you like best about yourself. Keep adding to this list.
  • Know that beauty is not simply skin-deep. When you feel good about yourself, you carry yourself with pride and dignity. That makes your attractive.
  • Use your body meaningfully. Volunteer your energies to serve food at soup kitchens, to plant and weed in an effort to preserve local nature conservancies, or to clean cages and walk animals in local shelters. Learn to contribute to society through the work of your body.
  • Use your mind meaningfully, also to make a contribution to society. Be a whole person, a complete and many-faceted person with priorities and good values. Write to your congressman, get a job, attend museums and plays, read books.
  • Be aware of attitudes on the part of friends or family members that give the impression that personal appearance is all that matters. Don’t take in such destructive messages, even when they are not directed towards you.
  • Pay attention to images, slogans or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself. Learn to pick up the subliminal cues so liberally offered by society and the media about how important it is to be thin. Did you know that only 5% of the world’s population is as skinny as 90% of the actresses and models we see on television and in magazines?
  • Don’t be taken in by the misleading messages all around us. Cancel your subscription to teen and fashion magazines. Turn off the television set and read instead. Become a critic of what you see on television and in magazines. Recognize how out of touch with reality those messages are.
  • Wear clothing that is comfortable for you and right for you, that you like and that make you feel good about yourself, despite what the fashion trends dictate.
  • Do nice things for your body. Take a walk or a bubble bath.

Liking how you look has less to do with your weight and shape and more to do with self-acceptance and holding yourself in high esteem.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Think about the person whom you most admire. When you think about what you like best about that person, what qualities come most prominently to your mind? Write your answer here.

What were the things that first came to mind? Was it their body shape or size? I doubt it. What makes a person really special is so much more than what he or she looks like.

Now think about yourself.
One's self-worth involves more than a number on the scale. What are some things that you could do to appreciate who you are and to feel better about yourself?
Be aware of some of the negative things that you think and say to yourself about you. What might you do to change these things?
Write in your answers below

Psychotherapist Abigail H. Natenshon has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders with individuals, families, and groups for the past 28 years. She is the author of When Your Child Has an Eating Disorder: A Step-by-Step Workbook for Parents and Other Caregivers, Jossey Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA. October 1999. Based on hundreds of successful outcomes, this book shepherds concerned parents step-by-step through the processes of eating disorder recognition, confronting the child, finding the most effective treatment for patient and family, and evaluating and insuring a timely recovery. A guide to eating disorder prevention, this book is useful to parents, health professionals and school personnel alike in countering the pervasive epidemic of unhealthy eating and body image concerns, and destructive media and peer influences. Her work can be reviewed further at her web site at To order visit

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