When you think about your body, how do you feel? Content? Proud? Frustrated? Anxious? Self-loathing? 

In 2012, a Parliamentary Body Image report stated that roughly two-thirds of people suffer from negative body image. This is a worrying concern as we know from studies that poor body image is linked frequently to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and poorer levels of mental health. 

Interestingly, your body image is subjective and is largely comprised of your own perception of your body, rather than being based on true fact. Your perceptions may feel very accurate as you will have formed these early in life through different experiences, feedback from others and inevitable comparisons with your peers and social media. 

Although these perceptions may feel true, this does not make them fact. By accepting that your body image can be a subjective business and then being open to different ways of thinking, this places you in a powerful position to change your body image for the better. 

Here is an example of how your current thoughts, feelings, behaviours and beliefs about your body might be keeping you in a destructive, poor body image cycle.

Critical thought: 

‘My tummy sticks out and looks huge’.

Negative feelings: 

Concern, upset, shame, disgust

Unhelpful behaviours: 

Body checking, daily weighing, restrictive eating, not socialising.

Set beliefs about your body: 

‘Others won’t like me because of the way I look.’

Thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours strongly influence each other .With 60,000 thoughts running through your mind daily, and many being repetitive, you can understand the potent power of your thinking and it’s potential to influence your mood and behaviours. 

5 unhelpful thinking patterns that could be affecting your body image


1.     The magnifying glass

When you look in the mirror what do you see? Commonly people focus their gaze on the body parts they perceive to be unattractive, rather than viewing the body as a whole. The attention you fix on the ‘flawed’ body part then causes an exaggerated response of dislike – e.g: fat thighs, flabby tummy, bingo-wing arms. This can trigger anxiety and low mood and the behaviour of excessive body checking. 

Remember to view your body as a whole when you look in the mirror. Pay attention to the body parts you can find to be more accepting, rather than obsessing over perceived defects. Don’t spend time body checking every day as it can fuel body dissatisfaction.


2.     ‘It’s my body’s fault’

This happens when you wrongly blame your body when things go wrong. When you didn’t get that job or someone rejected you, your body unfairly becomes the scapegoat for any life mishap. By and large, this will be nothing at all to do with your poor body. 

Ask yourself the question ‘Is this really my body’s fault? What alternative explanations might there be?’


3.     Mind-reading

When you are dissatisfied with your body, you might assume that others are thinking critical thoughts about your body too. This is called projection, as you imagine your own thoughts in the minds of others. 

Again, although this may feel true it doesn’t make it fact. Other people are likely to have a different opinion about your body (that is if they have one at all). They might well be thinking about something else entirely. 

Notice when you are mind-reading. What else might someone be thinking about?


4.     'When I've lost weight...'

You stop yourself doing things because you don’t feel attractive enough. You think ‘When I’ve lost weight, then I can finally find a partner.’ You don’t go swimming, even though you enjoy it, for fear of judgement. You avoid dancing or socialising because you worry about what people might think. 

Don’t put life on hold until that 'perfect body' moment. Although you might feel self-conscious, other people do not care and are more concerned about their own problems. Engaging and connecting with others will bring assurance and will help challenge irrational fears around body confidence.


5.     ‘I am attractive or I am ugly’

Beauty and attractiveness is a continuum rather than an absolute.

It is easy to fall into this thinking trap when you frequently compare yourself to images of people on social media, on television or in magazines. You might also become fixated on a particularly striking individual in your social circle as a source of comparison anxiety. 

To counter this, look around you at people on the street going about their daily lives, rather than fixating on perfected postings. People in real life look very different from the manipulated images you see on screen. It is easy to forget this when so much time these days is spent online. 

Remember that attractiveness is also much more than being a certain dress size or possessing symmetrical features. Smiling, a positive attitude, being engaging and interested and kind, choosing clothes that suit you and having confidence can all be yours to claim today.

It can be challenging to change a negative body image, as this is something you may have lived with for a long time. You might also have had experiences which have affected your relationship with your body profoundly. Counselling can provide a safe and supportive place to begin to understand how your body image concerns developed. You can begin to build a better body image, along with improved confidence and self-esteem, allowing you to engage in living again.