Body Image

Mental Health Awareness week - Body Image

Mental Health Awareness Week

As part of Mental Health Awareness week, we take a look at how mental health can have adverse effect on children and young people.

The teenage years are a time when young people are developing eating and lifestyle patterns for the future. 

Body image is strongly linked with eating habits and lifestyle. 

It is important for both boys and girls to develop a positive body image because feeling good about your body provides a strong foundation for good self-esteem and healthy development.

Body image

Body image develops over time and is influenced by many things, including family attitudes, peer groups, advertising, media, and social norms and expectations. Body image isn’t about how your body looks – it is about how you see yourself, how you feel about the way you look, and how you think others see you.

Even young children can feel unhappy about their bodies and this can affect their relationship with food. Body image becomes even more important in the teen years and is a strong factor in young people’s self-esteem.

In the past it was mostly girls who were unhappy with their bodies. Studies now show the rate of body dissatisfaction in boys is fast approaching that of girls. The biggest worry for boys is being lean, fit and muscular in an effort to be a ‘real’ man, i.e. fit a masculine stereotype.

Poor body image can put both boys and girls at risk for harmful weight management strategies, eating disorders and mental health problems.

The influence of social media

Media has more influence on young people’s body image and food choices than ever before due to the extensive reach of digital media and advertising. There is a big focus on looks being more important than anything else about you. The strong message is ‘You are what you look like’.

  • Images of ‘perfect bodies’ can create pressure for young people going through the turmoil of puberty. This is often a time when they feel self-conscious and insecure about themselves. In an effort to live up to media images girls can put their health at risk by extreme dieting and exercise. Boys may over-exercise or use risky body-enhancing substances to ‘bulk up’, i.e. build muscle.
  • Social media has many benefits for young people, including helping them create their identity, express themselves and communicate with peers and others. Many social media sites now use photos more than text for communicating, e.g. Snapchat and Instagram. There is a lot of pressure to look good, and to ‘be cool’ and popular.
  • For young people who are not confident or don’t feel popular with their peers, this can cause problems. Teenage girls in particular can feel inadequate and develop body image problems when they spend a lot of time comparing themselves to the images of friends and peers on social media.
  • Celebrity culture has become a modern-day phenomenon. Children and young people can be impressed by the glamorous looks and lifestyles of their favourite musicians and actors. Studies show that food and drink choices of children and teens are influenced by celebrity-endorsed products, most of which are unhealthy and linked with obesity and childhood diabetes.

Both boys and girls can be influenced by the false expectations created by media images, advertising and celebrity culture.

When eating and body image become a problem

A problem can emerge if there is a pattern of poor eating that continues for a long time, or has a negative effect on your life. You might also notice the following:

Emotional and social interaction:

  • not being as happy as usual
  • not wanting to mix with friends or family
  • being moody, less confident or unmotivated
  • doing poorly at school
  • sleeping a lot


  • restricting the amount or types of food eaten
  • being obsessed with counting calories
  • making up rules about how to eat, such as eating food in a certain order, or no food after 6pm
  • frequent dieting
  • binge eating
  • secrecy around eating, including eating in private or avoiding meals with others
  • always weighing themselves or looking in the mirror
  • comparing themselves to others or frequently asking if they look fat
  • exercising to extreme, even if injured or sick. Boys in particular may become obsessed with body building, weight lifting or muscle toning and get anxious about missing workouts
  • vomiting after meals or using laxatives a lot.

Both Young Minds and Parentline have resources to help and support you if you are going through a difficult time.


About Mental Health Awareness Week

Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 takes place from Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May 2019.

Since the first Mental Health Awareness Week in 2001, the Mental Health Foundation have raised awareness of topics like stress, relationships, loneliness, altruism, sleep, alcohol and friendship.
The theme for 2019 is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies.

The Mental Health Foundation are looking for schools, businesses, public sector organisations and communities to come together to start conversations around mental health that can change and even save lives.

This year, with your support, they want to reach more people than ever!

Body image issues can affect all of us at any age and directly impact our mental health. Sometimes people who experience issues with their body weight and shape can develop eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa which are serious mental health problems.

During the week they will be publishing new research, considering some of the reasons why our body image can impact the way that we feel, campaigning for change and publishing practical tools.

For information about Mental Health Awareness Week and how you can get involved, please visit Mental Health Awareness Week | Mental Health Foundation. The website also contains a number of publications to help people to look after their own mental health.

The organisation BEAT provide a range of online resources about eating disorders and can be accessed via:

If you have concerns about your own mental health or someone else’s speak to your GP.

If your feeling low, anxious or depressed Breathing Space offer a free support phone line on 0800 83 85 87.