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Many women are dissatisfied with the way they look and often say they feel guilty just for eating.

Health problems, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and how people talk about your body can all make you feel negative about your body. It can be helpful to stop and think about how you view your own body and acknowledge it for all the wonderful things it is capable of instead of focusing on the negative parts.

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What is body image?

Body image is how you think, feel about and picture your body. From childhood through adolescence and on to adulthood, your body shape changes and so can your body image.

Poor body image can affect women of any age, for instance nearly half of all average weight women overestimate their size and shape. Having a poor body image can lower your self-esteem (whether you value and respect yourself) and also lower your commitment to nutrition and physical activity. It is hard to care for a body you don't like, hate, or avoid; so maintaining a positive body image is crucial to you looking after you.

Young woman exercise tired

What affects body image?

There are many different influences on body image including:

  • personality
  • health
  • illness and disease
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • self-esteem (whether you value and respect yourself)
  • childhood experiences
  • how important people in your life talk about and refer to your body (and their body too)
  • media
  • society and culture
  • self-talk – what are you saying or not saying to yourself about your body image (does it start with "I should"… "I ought"… "I must"… or "I wish"… ?)

Menopause & body image

Many women approaching midlife find that changes to their body, lifestyles and relationships can affect the way they feel about themselves.

Physical changes associated with menopause and ageing include changes in body shape. Shifting weight from the hips to the central tummy area, drier skin, decreased muscle tone and hot flushes change how you feel, how you think about and the actual shape of your body.

Some women talk about losing control of the body they always thought they could control and rely on. Other women find greater confidence in who they are because they are less driven by worrying about whether their body is 'perfect' as they enter this stage – "I can let go of the need to be perfect, to compete with the youngies and just be me".

How do you feel about your body?

When you think about your body, what are your thoughts?

Do you:

  • feel proud of some aspect of your body: your hair, your eyes, your shape, your breasts, your legs, your hands?
  • focus on the parts you don't like so much: the wrinkles, the hairs, the sagging, the stretching, the bumps, the scars?
  • feel conscious of what your body can do: cycle, walk, run, swim, embrace and carry?
  • think about what you weigh, what is round, what is flat, what is large, what is small?

These questions might allow you to see whether you are negative or positive about your body. They might also allow you to see a mixture of reactions to your own body. The reality is that everyone can answer these questions and end up with both positive and negative responses.

When to seek help?

If your image of your own body is at odds with how others see you or you have an extreme view about yourself, then it is likely your body image is affecting your mental and emotional wellbeing.

You can ask your doctor about counselling to help you talk through how to have a more balanced view of your body.

It is also important to focus on the physical health of your body and not compare it to others, so aim to be the healthiest you can possibly be. Treat it well.

This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at March 2014.

Last updated: 14 January 2020 | Last reviewed: 10 March 2014

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