A guide to body image for young people who look different

The “beautiful” people in the media often don’t look that “perfect” in real life. Discover what you can do to feel better about your body image.

Body image is how we think and feel about the way we look. Social media, TV and movies are full of “beautiful” people and seeing all these “perfect” bodies can affect our own body image. This can be particularly tough if you look different.

But did you know that these “beautiful” bodies are mostly fake?

In this guide, we explain how society and the media show a made-up, damaging picture of what the body is like, and what you can do to feel better about this.

What is body image?

Body image describes the thoughts and feelings we have about the way we look. Put simply, it is the image you have in your mind when you think about your body.

Lots of things can affect our body image. For example:

  • Feeling that we should look “perfect”.
  • Comparing how we look to other people.
  • Being teased or bullied about our appearance.

If you don’t feel good about your body or appearance, this can make you feel upset, low in confidence and like there is something wrong with you.

Society, the media and body image

In our society, we see “beautiful” people with “perfect” bodies everywhere we look. Instagram, Facebook, TV, Netflix, movies, magazines, adverts – they are all around us. The celebrities we look up to often have “beautiful” bodies.

We want to let you into a secret – none of this is real! In fact, it’s faked to create a false image of what people’s bodies are supposed to be like. Here’s why:

  1. People’s “flaws” are covered up with clever makeup. Many celebrities speak out about having problems with their skin or how they look very different without makeup.
  2. Expert filming or photography shows people from “good” angles and in flattering light.
  3. Films and photos are changed afterwards – “airbrushed” or “Photoshopped” – to make people look thinner, taller, less freckly or spotty, or a different shape or colour.

Think about your own or your friends’ social media. If you’ve ever added a photo of yourself to Instagram, did you turn your face at a particular angle to hide or lessen your visible difference? Or did you see a picture of your friend on holiday, at the beach or at a party and think, “That’s not how my friend really looks!” This is basically what goes on in the media on a bigger scale.

Looking different and body image

Hopefully, you’re beginning to see that celebrities and people in the media aren’t as “beautiful” as they might appear. Society has actually made up an idea of body image which isn’t real.

This can be damaging to lots of people because nobody has these “perfect” media bodies. But some people spend a lot of time trying to look this way – even changing their bodies in ways that can be harmful or not eating enough so that they lose weight. This can be bad for people’s physical health and also make them depressed, anxious or have other mental health problems.

If you look different because of a mark, scar or condition, it can be even harder. Maybe you feel like you’re even further away from these “perfect” or “beautiful” bodies than everyone else, and that because of this you will never fit in. But that’s not true – scroll down to read about ways you can take your focus off body image.

Goodies and baddies

In films and TV shows, the stories often show good people as “beautiful” and villains or bad people as “ugly”. Baddies may even have marks, scars, missing features or damaged skin. The goodies on the other hand look “perfect”!

Some people who look different helped us make this video called I Am Not Your Villain. Take a look:

Like film characters, you might think that being a “beautiful” celebrity means being good, nice, clever, happy, lucky… someone who has everything! And that people who look different in some way might be bad, sad, mad, stupid or unlucky.

That’s not what it’s like in the real world. Maybe you know someone who looks “good” but is not actually very nice at all.

Whether it’s the movies or celebrity culture, it is bad that society shows goodies and baddies looking a certain way. It can be very upsetting and can make us feel that we are not good enough as we are. This can happen to everyone but it is particularly difficult for people with a visible difference.

Although we can’t change this right away, we can change the way we think about body image in our own lives.

What can I do?

Think about what your body can do rather than what it looks like

It can be really helpful to think about what our body is capable of, not how it looks. Researchers have proven that this can make us feel better.

As someone with a visible difference, think about:

  1. How strong your body has been to help you overcome lots of difficult things.
  2. The things you can do with your body even though it is more difficult for you than for other people.

Focus on good social media

Making your social media work for you

Does looking at social media get you down? Do you scroll through endless pictures of people looking “great” and happy? You can change the way you use social media.

You could use social media less, stop following accounts that make you feel down, stop engaging with people who are horrible to you and report “trolls” who are just there to make you unhappy. Have a look at our guide to using social media to find out more.

Airbrushing versus everyday life

One thing people are doing on social media at the moment is putting two photos next to each other. One shows a “beautiful”, airbrushed person, and the other one shows people doing everyday things with no Photoshopping.

These images can be pretty funny! The serious point behind them is that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to “beautiful” people in “perfect” pictures because it’s a fake. Have a look for some of these next time you’re on social media – it’ll make you think.

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