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Coping with negative body image

“You have been criticising yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” – Louise Hay

Suffering with negative body image can be such a painful and conflicting experience. We cannot escape our own skin, which means that tolerating our discomfort can take a huge toll on our wellbeing.

There are many reasons why we develop negative body image, but the fact is that we’re not born hating ourselves nor our bodies. Rather, we internalise messages we receive throughout life from external sources (such as social media or our families and friends) which go on to become the narrative through which we live and experience of our lives – and our bodies.

Whilst we may not notice how or when we internalise thoughts, we do have the power to change up them. All it takes is awareness, mindfulness and a willingness to challenge a narrative that we’ve become accustomed to but that is no longer serving us.

Here are our suggestions for coping with and recovering from negative body image…

Expand the dialogue

Often we can become hyper-focused on a particular body part or thought, and that can dominate our perception of ourselves or our bodies. If possible, expand the narrative by focusing on other aspects of yourself that you can accept and maybe even celebrate. For instance, “I celebrate how my body carried me through today”, or “I honour the journey I’ve been on with my body”. By expanding the dialogue, we prevent rumination and allow our inner worlds to be coloured by more than just our perception of our physical bodies.

Detox your feed

Pause and take stock of the messages you might be receiving from the people you follow on social media. It may be that certain people or brands reinforce unhelpful messages about body size or shape. Recognise that you don’t need to follow and absorb that content if you don’t want to – it’s your feed! Nurture the energy and mindset that you want.

Stay mindful and label your thoughts

Mindfulness is the ability to become aware of your thoughts and subsequent actions. When we’re mindful, we’re able to see our triggers and the corresponding thought process that takes place. Mindfulness is a gentle curiosity and, when we strengthen this skill, we can begin to ‘catch’ unhelpful thoughts, label them as “anxiety” or “fear”, and then compassionately challenge them with kindness, such as “I am safe”, “I am worthy”, “I let go of what no longer serves me.”

And finally, always respond with compassion…

Challenging our thoughts can be a tiring process. It might be hard to see progression day to day, and we may feel frustration at times. Always come back to compassion in these difficult moments by keeping your internal voice gentle and kind. If this is difficult, ask yourself, how might my best friend respond to me right now?

With hand on heart, recognise the journey you’re on and always remember to celebrate the small wins. Reinforcing your progress nurtures motivation for even more.

Curated by

Ellie Parkins
Psychotherapist
Ellie is an experienced mental health writer and communicator, and psychotherapist. Starting her career at a global communications marketing firm straight out of university, Ellie found herself drawn to the mental health sector early on, and specifically to the field of eating disorders where she holds a particular passion and interest. To Ellie, inspiring hope that recovery is possible is a huge motivator for her work. Having found so much expression and healing through the written word herself, knowing that they can make such an impact is what gets her out of bed in the morning. Outside of work and studies, Ellie enjoys the simple pleasures of hanging out with her partner and pug, and meandering about East London.