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What Are Common Causes of Body Image Dissatisfaction?

Dan Harkins
Updated Feb 20, 2024
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It is common and possibly instinctual for boys, girls and even adults to rank their bodies in comparison with others. This often intensifies in junior high, when showers are often required after gym class and hormones start to rage, but the barrage of self-image influences begin far earlier. This trait can lead to body image dissatisfaction when the body seen in the mirror does not fit into what is socially acceptable. The causes of this poor body image can vary from thin figures favored in the media or in toys to the negative comments of others — even comments that are not meant to be hurtful.

From early childhood, the average human is exposed to a range of influencing media, raised on advertising, television and movies in which models and actors as well as newscasters and even politicians are held to a high standard of physical uniformity. A common practice, even in 2011, is for short men to stand on a box when filmed or photographed next to taller women. The looks of those in the media — from ads to blockbuster movies — are regularly altered by lighting, makeup and "natural selection" to create a set of ideal characteristics to which people may feel they must adhere. Most who view these images will not live up to the standards, causing body image dissatisfaction.

A person's family and social network also are largely responsible for shaping or at least reinforcing a person's self-image, whether negative or positive. It could be as seemingly innocent as a parent telling a child, "You need to start working out," or "A little rouge would brighten up your cheeks." It also could be come from classmates, who might tease, "Where'd you get your haircut? The bowl factory?" They might also offer taunts that highlight a person's negative characteristics, such as calling an obese person a "fatty" or a person who looks different than others a "freak."

Stress is another possible precursor to body image dissatisfaction. A study in 2009 by Australian National University revealed that stress is a common cofactor in experiencing poor self-esteem. Worries about the future or just how tomorrow's tasks can possibly be completed could lead a person to view him or herself as less than adequate. The types of worries that create stress and, hence, a lessened self-worth, are varied and can differ depending on a variety of factors, such as gender, age, social class and income.

Self-esteem and body image go hand-in-hand. Poor self-esteem can develop from body image dissatisfaction, and vice-versa. Though self-worth comes from within, it is reinforced by parents,peers and even the media. Telling someone sincerely that he or she is "beautiful," especially when that person's self-satisfaction is at a low level, can help to improve self-esteem. Sometimes, a clinical condition such as depression can make a person more apt to form body image dissatisfaction. In these cases, therapy, various medications, and even spiritual practices like meditation or prayer could be useful in improving self-worth.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.
Discussion Comments
By anon310405 — On Dec 22, 2012

Self-esteem and self-worth are not equivalent terms. It's possible to have a healthy self-esteem, yet not place much value on oneself. It's just this conundrum that keeps many constantly striving for perfection, yet feeling continually defeated.

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
Learn more
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