Negative Body Image: An Introduction to the Conversation

A young girl looks disapprovingly at herself in the mirror.As a psychotherapist focusing on eating disorders, I have helped many people who have a negative body image. They may or may not have a struggle with food issues, but they don’t like their bodies, they don’t take pleasure in their bodies, they think their bodies are ugly. These are often very attractive people. Where does this problem originate? What does it really mean to have a poor body image? What is the negative impact of living with this? How serious is it? What seems to makes it worse? What makes it better? How can we begin to have a deeper understanding of this issue in order to make a difference in the lives of people who have a negative body image?

This is my first contribution to with my thoughts about this issue. I plan to tackle some of these questions from my understanding that has grown out of working with people who work on their self-image and relationship to their bodies, and also drawing on my personal experience as a dancer, an actor, and a mother. I aim to contribute something new and fresh on the topic, rather than re-visiting what is already known. Though I will start with a basic review of the issue, I hope that my contributions will offer some insight on how, individually and collectively, we can work to battle against the storm to change our views of ourselves, and help others who have a negative body image.

Although distorted views of the body do impact men, body image issues are a bigger, more prevalent problem for women.

In my experience body image issues most often impact young, otherwise healthy, well-educated, intelligent women in the western world. These women who would often be considered privileged deal with the issue in silence. Despite education, privilege, freedom, and opportunity, they experience a nagging dissatisfaction in their relationship to a fundamental part of themselves. Few are able to understand it in a way that makes it any better. It starts young. Girls in grade school begin to express negative feelings about their bodies, they worry about being fat and they want to change their appearance. It is almost fashionable to dislike our bodies.

There is a lot of information out there on the influence of media and culture on women’s negative perceptions of themselves. Most people now realize that western economy is driven by women who are taught that they are inadequate, and in need of the aid of specific products. Videos have been made and shared on the internet, shown in high school health classes, and higher education since the 1970s on the way advertising and media are “Killing Us Softly.” Yet this knowledge hasn’t minimized commercial spending on diets, cosmetics, and clothing nor minimized the impact the media has on they way women and girls feel about themselves; it has done nothing to lessen disordered eating and body image disturbance.

Learning about the objectification of women seems to immediately provoke strong reactions in people. Women are outraged and empowered when they realize how they have been convinced that they are faulty—needing to buy things to fix themselves. Sometimes they report that their self-esteem is boosted after learning what the media does to their self-image. But overall, we are still living with the objectification of women everywhere. We are exposed to a multitude of manipulated, perfected images of women and subsequent messages of what is attractive. Perhaps this kind of education isn’t enough. When it comes down to being an individual woman, knowing that you are being objectified and compared to an impossible standard doesn’t seem to stop the desire to compete within the currently accepted standards.

How then do we keep young people, especially women, from experiencing the inevitable distress and low self-regard that comes from competing with an impossible ideal? I look forward to sharing my ideas about why information about the negative influence of media isn’t impacting individuals enough. I will examine how we can have a positive impact on our own relationship with our bodies, as well as support other people who share these issues. For now, let’s begin to imagine what it would be like if young women began to enjoy their bodies, accept them, and talk openly about it? What would facilitate such a positive development in the way we relate to ourselves and each other? Stay tuned for the next article where I hope to begin to tackle these questions and more.

© Copyright 2011 by Shirley Katz. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • meg

    February 23rd, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    This article really hit home for me so your contribution to the site is greatly appreciated on my part. I have struggled with a negative self image and body image issues for a very long time. I think that I am probably right when I say that many women do but there are some of us who deal with this on a deeper level. There have been times when I have been paralyzed with the thought of going out and leaving the house just because of the negative thoughts that I was having baout myself. It can be so destructive to feel this way about yourself yet everywhere you go people are perpetuating that you have to look a certain way to be anybody. So not only do I have to change the way I think about myself but I also need to change the way that others think baout women. Pretty daunting.

  • Josh

    February 24th, 2011 at 4:11 AM

    This is not directly concerned with the topic being discussed here but I want to say something from a case that I know of-a woman cheated on her husband of many years and when the husband got a wind of this he was obviously very wild.theydecided to work on their marriage in order to save it.and the reason the woman gave when asked why she cheated in an otherwise very successful marriage was this-she had a negative image of herself including that of her body.her new found boyfriend thought otherwise.he told her how beautiful she was and just how perfect her body was.she felt better about her body and herself in general which was actually the trigger for the affair!

    In a long marriage things may become a bit too stagnant and hence herbusband actually stopped complimenting her.

    But I don’t know how to react to this seems like her reason is true.but really there is no justification for cheating.what you you guys think?

  • Sam

    February 24th, 2011 at 5:31 AM

    The media plays a huge role in how many of us perceive ourselves, and that goes for men as well as women. Sometimes it is nice to take a break from all of those visual images of what we assume that someone somewhere wants us to be and think hard about who we are and what we want to be. That is always way more important than what matters to the masses.

  • Edward T

    February 24th, 2011 at 7:34 PM

    Everybody speaks about inner beauty and how physical aspects are insignificant but how often do we follow the same? From choosing friends to a prospective partner, everybody wants a stunning-looker. I’m not saying I’m special but I try and treat people with respect and no differentiation based in their appearance or attractiveness factor.

  • k.I.lasrado

    February 25th, 2011 at 3:58 AM

    I just don’t know why people give so much importance to one’s own body although it is perfectly normal.

    I’ve lost the use of my right leg and I know the value of having a normal body. And those who are utter withthat should not give importance to minor issues like this. You are normal and should be thankful for the same!

  • Derek

    February 25th, 2011 at 5:43 AM

    I try not to be a shallow guy but you have to know that the first thing that someone is going to judge you on is your outward appearance. Now if that is the only thing that ever registers then that is pretty lame. But we all make snap judgements about someone with the firts time that we see them so maybe it is not such a bad thing to try to put your best foot forward all of the time because you never know who you could run into.

  • Eric V

    February 25th, 2011 at 7:43 PM

    I can understand this problem for someone who has a real problem but for perfectly fine people this spells more of not being thankful for what you have.All that you see on TV and on the Internet is just superficial. Your life is more than just having a perfect body…try making it a better life and you will see it’s beauty.


    February 26th, 2011 at 6:16 AM

    The pressure on women is so much greater than it is on men. There is pressure to be beautiful no matter where you turn and when you do not feel like you live up to those societal standards then that can make you feel horrible if you let it get you down.

  • Diane

    February 26th, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    “When it comes down to being an individual woman, knowing that you are being objectified and compared to an impossible standard doesn’t seem to stop the desire to compete within the standards that are currently accepted or at least expected. ” Now see, that puzzles me very much. I’m interested in why women can’t seem to get past that when they know logically what’s going on. Thanks Shirley! I’ll look forward to reading more from you.

  • fiona

    February 26th, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    I know a girl who is suffering from severe bulimia and has many image issues. She thinks she’s ugly and that’s far from the truth. Even though she’s no goddess she is certainly not ugly. What she wants is to be appreciated by her dad, and she has a complex that derives from that. That’s what she says anyway.

  • Jesse

    February 26th, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    I think the connections between body image disorders and the media are over-exaggerated. If it had any level of truth we would all be having major issues with our looks instead of a small proportion of the population. After all, we all watch TV and pass billboard ads every day.

    Most of them with eating disorders have issues rooted far beyond some Photoshopped broad in a magazine imho.

  • marie

    February 28th, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    Over all of my years with my own struggles with my weight I have had to learn the hard way that if I am happy with my body and who I am that it really does not matter what anyone else thinks. I have spent too many years worrying about what I looked like for other people but now I only care about pleasing myself. It has been a painful road but quite frankly I am happy with who I am and that is really all that matters.

  • Jill

    March 1st, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    @ Marie way to go!! I am hoping to get to that place too but have not found it yet. The struggles are still there but I am working on it.

  • Susan Blackburn

    March 1st, 2011 at 9:00 AM

    Thank you for your article – I love it. You’ve posed many questions we need to understand better as a society so that we can do something about body image issues. You mentioned a world where young girls love and take pleasure in their bodies. What a wonderful place! I do see this happening. We often focus on children and this is important, but as women they really do take their cues from us. They will do what we do. Education and the realization that we are worthy of love on all levels needs to be modeled from the top down. Body issues stem from a felt sense of shame and rejection of self, which is unfortunately so persavive in our culture. I am so pleased you’re sharing your expertise on a public forum and look forward to your future articles. Thank you for the work you do in this area, your insight and strong voice.

  • Constantine

    March 1st, 2011 at 9:15 AM

    The media carries far too much influence. Why do women get worked up over them? If I see an ad in the paper, I skip over it. If an ad comes on the TV, I get up and get a soda. My grandpa mutes the TV when the ads come on and spends his time voicing his infinite supply of opinions on shoddy actors or scandalous dress. Nobody I know even cares about ads and only a few seem to see them as the scourge of the airwaves that they are.

  • Tom

    March 3rd, 2011 at 11:01 AM

    The reason attacking the media isn’t working is simple: the media isn’t causing it.Anyone who entirely blames TV, games, movies, or any other form of entertainment for this is doing nothing but pass the buck. There are countless causes of eating disorders, the majority of which arise from experiences in the victim’s personal lives. The media may exacerbate it, but they don’t cause it.

  • Shirley

    April 20th, 2011 at 10:14 AM

    What great and thoughtful responses. Regarding the media, indeed, research HAS shown a connection between images portrayed and the way women feel about themselves. That is a fact. However, that alone is not enough to cause an eating disorder or shame based low self-esteem, of course. Eating disorders and low self-esteem – indeed “vulnerability” to these media and social influences are created in a person’s life experience. We learn from watching others and from what is reinforced in our own behaviour and choices. That has also been proven. Problematic body image in all cases is a complex interaction of the variables discussed by all of you, and by the original article. Thank you for sharing your views!!

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