Disturbed Body Image: Are You at Risk?

Written by: Shruthi Chacko – M. Sc (Psychology)
Last updated date : January 09, 2023

Do you feel happy when you look in the mirror? If not, then you have a poor body image. The way you see yourself and what you feel about your body decides what you think of your “self”. You have a disturbed body image if you are confused about your physical self. There are many related risk factors for disturbed body image.

Some of the main features of disturbed body image are –

  • Having a false impression of the way you look.
  • When you see yourself, you feel highly unhappy with how you look.
  • How you see yourself and how you are in reality do not match.
  • You want to change yourself to fit an “ideal image”. This image that you have in your head about how you should be has been deeply rooted in you for a very long time.
  • You feel that there is a flaw in the way you look.
  • Feeling too upset about any small change in your looks.
  • You feel people will mock you for the way you look. Hence, you try to avoid people or take efforts to look the way you think people want to see you.

“Learnt a lot from this course” Sally

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Chapter 1:

How Disturbed Body Image Develops?

The early roots of the image that we have of ourselves can be found in our childhood. When you were young, what you went through, what you heard and saw takes a firm root in your mind. If your parents highly valued “being slim” when you were growing up, then you too start believing that “I will look good or I will be loved only if I am slim”.

The feedback we get about how we look, what is “good”, what we need to do to be “good”, and what we are doing wrong can greatly influence a young mind. Even as we grow up, we carry these heavy expectations with us. Also, as adults, you might become more firm about how you should look. You start obsessing about the way you look. You start looking at yourself through the lens of these weird thoughts. Hence, you are at a greater risk of having a disturbed body image.

Obesity or Weight Loss As adults, gaining weight is probably the most common reason for developing this condition. On the other hand, losing weight can also lead to this problem. You might think you have a good body and hence any change in your weight can make you unhappy. Thus, if you gain or lose weight, then you are at high risk for disturbed body image

Risk Factors

Risk factors are things that increase your chances of having a health problem.

  1. Eating disorder – Most common factor that affects this condition is having an eating disorder. Because you are very obsessed with your weight, you tend to be very upset with the way you look. Hence, it is one of the most important features of such disorders.
  2. Surgery or amputation When you go through a surgery or amputation, there might be severe bodily changes you have to undergo. However, you might not be able to accept these changes and feel negative about them.
  3. Illness Any long-term illness can have a huge effect on us and our bodies. You might look different after being ill. For example, you might have severe hair loss or lose muscle tone post an illness. This change in appearance might cause disturbed body image.
  4. Trauma – There might be changes in your body after a trauma. Even if there are no physical changes, there might be psychological changes. For example – post a trauma, you might feel loved only when someone says nice things about you. You have poor self-esteem because you now fear things more. Things that remind you of what you have gone through. This makes you feel weak and you tend to do things, even stupid things, to feel better such as trying to look perfect to get noticed by others.
  5. Changes in Personality – Going through a life-changing event, surgery, or trauma can change your personality. You might become more concerned about your looks than before.
  6. Pregnancy Weight gain during pregnancy can upset the way you see yourself.
  7. Lifestyle changes Starting a job that values “being slim” or “beauty” might change your attitude towards the way you look. Also, going through a break-up or moving to a new city can cause these changes.

Chapter 2:

Signs and Symptoms of Disturbed Body Image

These can be divided into 2 groups –

1. Subjective Symptoms – What you feel or think

  • you are obsessed with how bad you look
  • you fear being neglected or rejected by others
  • the body part that has changed keeps on ruling our mind
  • feel unwanted because of the way you look
  • do not like the physical change
  • feel ashamed about yourself
  • refuse to accept that you look nice

2. Objective Signs – What others can see

  • you talk a lot about the way you look or the changed body part
  • you have changed your habits regarding food. Have you might have started an extreme diet? Or are you eating less?
  • do not touch or look at the changed part
  • keep looking in the mirror too much
  • try to change the way you look
  • want to hide a body part
  • change your habits to compensate for feeling ugly or unwanted
  • do not meet friends or family members
  • stay alone and indoors where no one can see you
  • do not go for therapy or counseling
Are You at Risk for Disturbed Body Image?

Find out if you are at risk for disturbed body image by going through the questions below. If you answer a “yes” to most of these questions, then you might be in danger.

  • To begin with, do you show these signs and symptoms?
  • Is this a persistent feeling?
  • Also, do you have any of the above-mentioned risk factors?
  • Additionally, do you have a family history of such a condition?

If you have got any of these conditions, then you have got a greater risk of getting disturbed body image.

  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder
  • Depression and mood issues
  • Anxiety of others judging you

Chapter 3:

How to Overcome This Condition?

  • Acceptance – The very first thing to do to try to beat this condition is to simply accept that you have a problem. Instead of hiding or ignoring it, you need to try to make peace with it.
  • Find a safe place – Concentrate on finding a “safe place” meaning someone you can trust completely.
  • Seek help – Get help from experts who know how to work with disturbed body image issues. You will be able to get help from a doctor, a psychologist, and also a life coach.
  • Find useful resources – Blogs, online courses, support groups, etc. can make your journey easier.
  • Make a treatment plan – With the assistance of experts, make a treatment plan. Know what you got to try to do, set realistic goals, and note how you may reach these goals. Write out the plan on paper.
  • Identify and modify restrictive thoughts – Some therapies CBT focus on identifying and modifying thoughts that disturb you. You tend to form big assumptions based on incorrect thinking. For example – “I will look good only if I fit in a “small-sized” dress’. This belief has no actual truth behind it. But you tend to follow it blinding. With therapy, you can alter these beliefs.
  • Learn coping skills – Learn new coping skills like breathing techniques when you get a disturbing thought or working out to relax your mind. Positive self-talk is effective. So, repeating statements like “my looks do not define me” can help you with your lost self-esteem.
  • Learn to adjust to changes in the body – OT can teach you new skills which will enable you to function properly and overcome any physical problems that you may face post body changes.
Tips to Remember During Recovery

If you are at risk of having a disturbed body image problem or if you are fighting to get better, do not forget to reward your small successes. No matter how small the achievement is. Celebrate it with enthusiasm because it will build further motivation to achieve your goals. Also, remember to involve your family and friends in your recovery. You will need their support and help.

Finally, do not quit if you face failure. Getting over this condition is tough. Don’t be upset with the ups and downs you will face. Keep pushing yourself and surely you will be able to overcome your hurdles.

"Learnt a lot from this course" Sally

51 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount