Eating disorders and Body Image

What is Body Image?

Body image may be defined as an individual’s perception and attitude towards their own body. More specifically, this can include thoughts, feeling and beliefs about ones body and most often surrounds shape, size, weight and gender identity. Body image has been identified as a key concern among young Australians with up to one third (30%) of young people experiencing body dissatisfaction between 2009-2018. Furthermore, nearly 50% of Australian women and 33% of Australian men feel dissatisfied with their body . A negative body image or body dissatisfaction, perpetuated by continued negative thoughts and feelings about an individuals own body, can often involve distorted perception of ones own image and does not always accurately represent the way in which an individual may look. Typically, body image can be categorised in one of four ways; perceptual body image, affective body image, cognitive body image and behavioural body image.

Perceptual body image is defined by the way in which you SEE your own body image and can often be distorted, misrepresenting the way in which you actually look. This may present as a perception of being overweight when in fact the same individual may actually fall into the underweight category. This type of body image surrounds an individuals perception of themselves.

Affective body image surrounds the way in which you FEEL about your own body, particularly surrounding your own level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the way you look. This may involve having certain feelings around your own body, such as happiness or disgust.

Cognitive body image relates to the way in which you think about your body. Cognitive body image can at times lead to pre-occupation with body shape and weight. This type of body image specifically relates to the thoughts you have surrounding your own body.

Behavioural body image surrounds the behaviours in which you engage in as a result of your own body image. For example, if an individuals feels dissatisfied with their own body, they may engage in a range of unhealthy behaviours in order to adapt or modify their own appearance.

Who does Body Image/Body Dissatisfaction Impact?

Body image can impact individuals of all ages, genders and cultures and will often change or evolve over the course of a lifetime, relative to experiences the individual may face. Body dissatisfaction most often occurs at a young age and may become more intense during late childhood and adolescent years. A series of factors may increase the risk for poor body image or body dissatisfaction including; age, gender, mental health, personality traits, social and environmental impacts and elevated weight. Additionally, attitudes of those around us, our upbringing and the influence of social media can also play a role in the development and progression of body dissatisfaction.


It is know that body dissatisfaction and subsequently eating disorders can impact individuals of any age, although have been identified as most frequently occurring in adolescents with average age of onset between 12 and 25 years old. Further to this, 57% of contacts who reached out to the Butterfly Foundation during 2018/2019 were young people, aged 25 years or less. This shows that whilst body dissatisfaction and eating disorders can certainly impact individuals of all ages, these occur more frequently in those of a younger age.


Gender can typically impact upon the development of body dissatisfaction and furthermore eating disorders with the eating disorder population within Australia represented 63% by females and 37% by males. Research suggests that women or girls are more likely to experience eating disorders generally with the exception of binge eating disorder, by which equal prevalence is seen. Further to this, eating disorders are the third most commonly occurring chronic illness in young women with approximately 15% of women experiencing an eating disorder of some kind throughout their lifetime.

Gender Identity

Individuals living with gender dysphoria are at an increased risk of body dissatisfaction when compared to individuals without gender dysphoria. Research suggest that gender dysphoria may increase disordered eating behaviours in an attempt to alter bodily characteristics secondary to body dissatisfaction. Within Australia suggests, 23% of young transgender individuals also had a current or past diagnosis of an eating disorder.

Cultural background

Current research is indicative of the fact that cultural background may have some interplay with body image and body dissatisfaction. Notably within Australia, research conducted during 2020 highlighted that approximately 30% of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people showed extreme concern and dissatisfaction with their body. Misalignments between an individual’s cultural traditions and western ideals can increase the risk of body dissatisfaction among individual’s from various cultural backgrounds.

Personality traits

Typically individuals who may have certain personality traits may be more likely to experience feelings of body dissatisfaction. Moreover, individuals who have perfectionist type tendencies alongside a strong desire to achieve highly at any cost may be more likely to experience body dissatisfaction. Further to this, other notable personality traits and/or characteristics that can predispose an individual to body dissatisfaction may include; black and white thinking styles, comparison of self to other and internalisation of beauty standards.

Weight related Teasing/Bullying:

It is known that weight related teasing in children can lead to increased incidence of disordered eating, weight gain, binge eating and measures of extreme weight control throughout life. Individuals who are teased or bullied for their weight, regardless of size, have an increased risk of developing body dissatisfaction.

Social Media:

Use of social media has been linked to ongoing self objectification with 30 minutes of use per day found to influence self perception of ones own body. Research surrounding social media use among young women highlighted that those who used social media frequently had higher rates of body surveillance alongside an increased drive for thinness when compared to those who did not frequently use social media.

Elevated weight:

Individuals who currently have a higher weight are at an increased risk of body dissatisfaction due to ongoing societal pressures surrounding weight.

How does body dissatisfaction impact upon mental health?

Body image disturbances has been identified as a key component in the development and maintenance of a range of eating disorders. Body dissatisfaction may drive individuals to engage in unhealthy weight control behaviours and disordered eating. More specifically, individuals who experience body dissatisfaction may become fixated on trying to alter their body shape through unhealthy practice with food and exercise, which subsequently may contribute to the progression and development of an eating disorder. Improving body image can lead to increased self esteem, an improved level of self acceptance and appropriate healthy practices surrounding food and exercise.

What are the Common signs of body dissatisfaction?

Common signs that an individual may be experiencing body dissatisfaction can include; continued dieting behaviours (e.g. fasting, calorie counting or food avoidance), compulsive or excessive exercise patterns, body checking/self surveillance, body avoidance (e.g. wearing long clothing all the time or avoiding situations where ones body may be exposed), consistent negative self talk, continued thoughts surrounding ones physique, high value attributed to appearances as a component of self worth and ongoing social comparisons.

10 Tips to Improve Your Body Image:

  1. Create a focus surrounding positive qualities, skills and abilities you have.
  2. Use positive self talk and avoid saying negative things about yourself.
  3. Focus on appreciating the things your body can do.
  4. Appreciate the qualities about you that you do like, even if they’re hard to think of at first.
  5. Ask other people what they appreciate about you (not just about physical appearance).
  6. Create meaningful health oriented goals such as ‘increased energy levels’ rather than goals surrounding weight, clothing size or calorie intake.
  7. Limit time on social media and exposure to unhealthy or unhelpful content and remember that many images including those on social media are photoshopped or have filters on them.
  8. Avoid comparing your body type to other people’s body types where possible.
  9. Think about what values and other things are really important to you in your life and ask yourself how having the ‘perfect’ body fits into these values (if it does!).
  10. Remember that our bodies are not meant to be ‘perfect’ looking with a certain amount of body fat or muscle.

If you find yourself struggling with body image concerns or have food intake issues, there may be a bit more going on for you
such as disordered eating or an eating disorder, low self-esteem or depression. Speak to our friendly practitioners today about how we can help you reclaim your happiness within yourself and your body. We have a team of Clinical Psychologists, Psychologists, and an Accredited Practising Dietitian who are ready and able to help you.

Phone us today on 07 5574 3888, or email us at, or Book Online, or complete an online Appointment Request Form and we will get back to you.

Acute Care Team: 1300 642 255
LifeLine: 13 11 14
BeyondBlue: 1300 22 4636
Men’s Line: 1300 78 99 78

In an emergency, call ambulance on 000 or attend to your local hospital emergency department who have mental health teams to provide assessment and brief intervention in times of mental health crisis.