Self-Esteem & Body Image

What is Self-Esteem?

Self-Esteem refers to how you feel about yourself, how you judge yourself and your worth, whether that is positively or negatively. 

  • How you see yourself: what do you picture when you picture yourself in your mind?
  • What you believe about yourself and your own appearance: how would you describe yourself? 
  • How you feel about you? Is it good or bad; do you view yourself as a person of worth?

People with healthy self-esteem are able to feel good about themselves, appreciate their own worth, and take pride in their abilities, skills, and accomplishments. People with low self-esteem may feel as if no one will like them or accept them or that they can't do well in anything. Low self-esteem has been seen as a key factor involved in the development of an eating disorder with many individuals suffering from these illnesses feeling intense feelings of self-hatred, worthlessness and seeing themselves very negatively. While self-esteem is not about only the physical self most of us attribute much of our worth to our bodies and appearence. It is therefore no surprise that eating disorders are closely linked to low self-esteem and poor body image.

Negative body image is . . .

  • A distorted perception of your shape--you perceive parts of your body unlike they really are.
  • You are convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
  • You feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body.
  • You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.

Positive body image is . . .

  • A clear, true perception of your shape--you see the various parts of your body as they really are.
  • You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person.
  • You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories.
  • You feel comfortable and confident in your body.

While the media does not cause eating disorders it does not help as it can certainly be linked to poor body-image and low self-esteem with the motto of modern life being“eat less, exercise more, be thinner and you’ll be happier”. We are constantly bombarded with message about how we need to fix out weight/shape/size/face/hair/abs/under-eye bag/muscles/ etc, giving the message that we just aren't good enough. Such messages make us feel bad about yourselves and result in us judging ourselves harsely, and getting our self-worth from whether we are the right size or have a six pack. If you are already feeling bad about yourself these messages can only make it worse. For someone with an eating disorder such messages are giving a voice to the bad thoughts they may already be having about themselves: 'if I was thinner I would be happier...'—

A student in America, who had struggled with an eating disorder, decided to build a real life Barbie. Using Barbies vital statistics she made a to scale Barbie and compared her dimensions to that of an average woman. Shockingly these were her findings:

  • Barbies waist is the same diameter as her head.
  • Her neck is twice as long as an average human’s.
  • —Her legs are 50% longer than her arms (meant to be 20%)
  • —If Barbie were human, she would be so thin that she would not be able to menstruate (a medical sign of anorexia)

While body image was once thought to only affect girls we can see that boys are just as vulnerable in developing poor body image and low self-esteem with growing impossible body standards impacting on them.

With such pressures on us all it is important for us to take a step back and see the reality and understand how pressures around us can impact on our self-esteem and how we feel about ourselves as this has a significant affect on our well being. At EDANI we work with schools, youth clubs and community groups to raise awareness of the impact of low self-esteem and tackle the issues that may results in individuals engaging in disordered eating. If you are worried about self-esteem, or any of the associated issues we provide these workshops free of charge; just contact 02890235959 or email for more information.

How can I improve my self-esteem?

  • Do things that you enjoy whether that is work, volunteering or hobbies.
  • Spend time with positive and supportive people.
  • Be aware of the negative influece of the media and others around you.
  • Try not to compare yourself to other people.
  • Look after yourself and your health.
  • Learn, identify and challenge your negative beliefs.
  • Focus on the positive and things you are good at.
  • Get into the habit of thinking and saying positive things about yourself





Eating Disorder Association NI
28 Bedford Street,
Belfast, BT2 7FE
Phone: 028 9023 5959