Body Image and Fostering a Body Positive Environment

Body image encompasses the way a person sees and feels about their body and physical appearance. We do not develop body image solely on our own; we often get both positive and negative messages about our bodies from family, friends, and the people around us. Our perceptions are also often clouded by unrealistic expectations for shape and weight perpetuated by the media.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a more severe classification of body image disturbance, characterized by a persistent fixation on a particular body part or attribute. Connecting with a wellness professional is important if someone is exhibiting BDD.

Developing and Maintaining Positive Body Image

Positive body image is characterized by an individual seeing their body as it truly is, appreciating and accepting their body type. They feel comfortable and confident understanding that their physical appearance isn’t tied to their self-worth or value as an individual.

Tips for fostering a positive body image:

  1. Appreciate all that your body can do: breathing, laughing, dreaming, running, dancing, and more.
  2. Keep a list of things you like about yourself; things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like.  Read your list often.
  3. Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep.  When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness.
  4. Look at yourself as a whole person.  When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts.
  5. Surround yourself with positive people.  It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
  6. Lovingly care for your body. Do something nice for yourself, something that lets your body know you appreciate it.  Or, use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others.
  7. Talk with a wellness professional if you find that critical body talk is becoming overwhelming or something that you cannot control.

Adapted from the National Eating Disorder Association

Fostering a Body Positive USD Community

We have become accustomed to using negative language when it comes to talking about our bodies. It’s become a norm to criticize oneself. Below are several strategies for fostering a more positive relationship with our bodies and for creating a more body positive culture at USD.

  • Openly practice self-love and acceptance. Avoid saying things like “I feel so fat” and avoid talking about dieting, excessive exercise, or restrictive eating.
  • Give compliments that are not body-based.
  • When selecting images for presentations or event flyers, reflect the diverse body types present in our community.
  • Speak up when you hear body-shaming talk.
  • Call out and have critical conversations about media that pushes only certain body types.
  • Foster friendships and relationships that revolve around things other than narrow definitions of beauty and health.
  • Join a Peer Body Project workshop series and talk with other students about creating a healthier body image culture! More information coming soon.

Body Neutrality

While it would be wonderful if we could all just instantly love our bodies, we recognize it is not always easy to love your body. For many, it is a daily challenge. Self-love doesn’t happen overnight and it can be a lifelong work in progress – and that’s okay. You and your body are more than just appearance. If loving your physical appearance feels overwhelming, consider the idea of body neutrality. If having a positive body image doesn’t seem feasible right now (or ever), try shifting your mindset from your body’s appearance to the amazing things your body is capable of. 

As a society, it is so ingrained in our culture to think about the appearance of our bodies, making it difficult to shift our focus. Here are some ideas to help consider body affirmations without a focus on appearance:

  • My body works hard to keep me productive.
  • My body helps me see new places and new things.
  • My body digests my food, giving me energy to do the things I love.
  • I don’t need to change my body.
  • My body deserves respect for all that it is capable of.

What is one thing your body does for you that you are grateful for? Write it down on a post-it and leave it on a mirror or another space you frequent.

If thoughts related to negative body image are becoming overwhelming or out of your control, connect with Student Wellness.

The Counseling Center is a confidential resource open Monday – Friday 8:30am-5pm, with extended hours until 6pm on Wednesday during fall and spring semesters. The easiest way to secure an initial consultation is by making a same- or next-day appointment via the Wellness Portal. Students can also call or come by the Counseling Center to arrange for an appointment.

Additional campus resources include:

Student Health Center
Maher Hall 140
(619) 260-4595
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30am – 4:30pm

Center for Health and Wellness Promotion
University Center 161
(619) 260-4618
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30am- 5:00pm

Concerned about a friend? This resource can help you help a friend who may be struggling with disordered eating.

Other Resources:

The Center for Mindful Eating

National Eating Disorder Association

Binge Eating Disorder Association

Academy for Eating Disorders

Explore treatment providers near you.

Page content provided in partnership with Dr. Megan Holt-Hellner, DrPH, MPH, RD