Safe Haven Counselling
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Body Image and Mental Health: Challenging Societal Norms, Fostering Self Love

The issue of body image shows up in my counselling room daily. It’s not the pain point that usually brings clients in, but it is one we more often than not uncover over the course of treatment. It lurks in the background insidiously, often appearing in the form of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and disordered eating.

According to, a whopping 91% of women are not happy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body shape. Shockingly, body dissatisfaction and dieting awareness also begin at a young age: the National Eating Disorders Association found that about 80% of 10-year-old girls have dieted at least once.

Though the stats have historically focused on women (due to a plethora of reasons related to patriarchy), body image issues apply to all genders. Estimates suggest that around 25% of individuals with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are male and there is growing recognition that young men increasingly face societal pressures to conform to certain physical ideals. Gender fluid individuals may also experience body image concerns due to the fluctuation of their gender identity and expression. This can be influenced by societal expectations, stereotypes, and pressure to conform to specific gender norms, which can lead to body dissatisfaction.

Media and Body Image

As I scroll through my social media feed I am excited and empowered to see folks like thebirdspapaya, Shira Rose and Mik Zazon pushing back against fat phobia and the obsession with our bodies. They inspire us to view our bodies with love and respect and empower us to see ourselves in a positive light no matter what our shape, size skin tone, gender, or physical ability.

But social media also perpetuates unrealistic beauty standards. Many of the images we see, particularly in Influencer culture, have been filtered and edited, further distorting our perceptions of beauty.

Of course mainstream media, like TV shows, movies, and magazines, has historically had a major influence on how we view ourselves. Movies and TV shows continue to depict mostly thin and muscular people, neglecting the diversity of body shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. This lack of representation can make individuals who do not fit these narrow standards feel marginalized and inadequate.

The Impact of Negative Body Image on Mental Health

One of the most well-known consequences of poor body image is an increased risk of developing eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. Constant dissatisfaction with our bodies can lead to extreme measures to achieve an idealized appearance, which can manifest in disordered eating patterns. These eating disorders not only have severe physical health implications but also take a toll on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being.

Poor body image can also fuel the development of depressive symptoms and anxiety disorders. The relentless pursuit of an unattainable physical ideal, perpetuated by societal pressures and media influences, can leave individuals feeling inadequate, unworthy, and constantly judged. When self wroth hits rock bottom we begin to see behaviours like social withdrawal and isolation.

Our Bodies, Our Worth

It can be easier said than done to shift our focus from internal and external judgment to self-care and self-acceptance. In an ideal world we would all respond to societal pressure and oppression with push back, rather than internalization, but it’s hard not to absorb the negative messages. Self-love and acceptance can feel impossible under the weight of judging eyes that tell us we aren’t good enough or don’t fit in.

However, we need to remember that true self-worth and happiness come from within, not from external validation. Dismantling societal narratives can feel impossible as one person. And yet, in the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.

If we base our worth on the size of our bodies or the way society perceives us, we set ourselves up for failure. We don’t need to be told that the way we look is acceptable; we need to accept ourselves and then show up as we are.

Beauty and worthiness are not defined by societal expectations or the opinions of others. Each person is unique and has inherent value beyond their physical appearance. Embracing self-love and acceptance involves learning to appreciate and celebrate our individuality, including our bodies, strengths, and imperfections.

Consume Wisely

Building self-confidence and challenging societal judgments requires conscious effort. Surrounding ourselves with positive influences such as supportive friends, body-positive communities, and media outlets that promote diversity, all help to counteract the negative messages we encounter. We think according to what we absorb.

Remember, it’s a journey, and it’s okay to have days when self-doubt creeps in. Embrace your uniqueness, focus on your inner qualities, and be kind to yourself. Over time, by prioritizing self-love and acceptance, we can create a more positive and empowering relationship with our bodies and ultimately find the confidence to rise above the judgmental eyes of others.

Are you struggling to accept your body and true identity? Explore how you can develop a greater sense of self-worth through talking to a professional.