Whether you find yourself pursuing the beauty standard, body positivity or something in-between, it doesn’t take much convincing as to why we need to set healthy boundaries around our body image. This applies to both women AND men. A strong case could be made that the cultural current is rushing up against us. We are constantly presented with messages every day that negatively influence our body image and in turn, affects our own perception of self-worth. This is critical to understand if we want to improve our mental health and our overall sense of well-being. Think about boundaries like the bumpers on your lane at the bowling alley. They keep you from falling into the gutter. Philosophically speaking, drawing boundaries opens us up to meditate on our true sense of intrinsic worth and avoid comparing ourselves to others as a measure of that worth.  On a practical level, it may require limiting your exposure to certain mediums that tempt you to view yourself in an unhealthy light. It may require you evaluating the spaces you’re putting yourself in. It might be having hard conversations with those who've hurt you, or those who made you feel negatively about yourself due to the way they discussed your appearance. But this is no easy fight. That’s why we’ve created this battleplan. If the cultural current is up against us, we need strong tools to push back against that. Here are some practical ways in which you can walk confidently in who you are without falling victim to exploitative, manipulative forces out to prey on your deepest insecurities.


Social media can be a helpful tool in the right context, but the dangers have been clearly articulated. Look no further than the 2020 hit documentary The Social Dilemma. Following influencers can have a deeply psychological effect, one in which we measure against their perceived attractiveness and outward success.  Among the top 16 on the list of Instagram follower-ship are Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylie Jenner, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, Khloe Kardashian, Kendall Jenner and Jennifer Lopez. At one point or another, all have been esteemed for their beauty or sex appeal. Combined, they have a total of 2.8 billion followers. Obviously there is some overlap there, but given there’s 7.9 billion people in the entire world, that’s a lot of influence. Take Kylie Jenner for instance, a staple figure of the Kardashian clan and popular beauty influencer on instagram. Her posts often revolve around the promotion of her skincare and makeup brand, Kylie Cosmetics, which clearly have a certain beauty standard: big lips, high cheekbones, mascaraed eyes, glossy lips, a bodacious body…  Agenda setting is what we would call the repetition of seeing the same thing over and over again. Ben Parr, in his book Captivology, writes:

“Your perceptions of what’s important thus where to place your attention – are being framed. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the media covers a story, the more the public demands the information on the story.”

While it's not wrong for Kylie to have a skincare brand, one has to consider the influence this has on the 400 million people who follow her, many of whom are younger women already attempting to navigate their own insecurities. What message is this sending? That in order to be beautiful you have to manicure yourself with the most expensive products, and to try to mold your body image into that of the Kardashian clan? To be clear – this isn't to pick on Kylie personally. She’s not the problem. The system encourages us to leverage social media in this way to build our brands.  In particular, Instagram encourages us to build our identities around an idealized appearance. Choosing to follow these types of accounts is ultimately your choice, but consider what kind of influence they have on your personal narrative.  It's important to note that many loyal Kylie followers don't even see her as touting some kind of idealized appearance, but instead "being herself," or "raw," or "real." This, despite the fact that Kylie has opened up in the past about feeling the need to change in order to fill comparisons to her sex-symbol sisters -- the exact opposite of being yourself.  Her desire to completely change her body was rooted in hurt, insecurity, and self-doubt around a certain aspect of her appearance: her lips.  "I had an insecurity because this guy said something to me one time. I got an obsession with makeup because I would overline my lips and it would just make me feel confident," she said in a recent interview.  In July of 2023, she also admitted to – and now regrets – a boob-job. We live in a culture that is obsessed with being authentic, yet when you take a peek under the hood, "authenticity" is often influenced by other people in the end.  As Harvard Medical School psychologist Neha Chaudhary, MD put it in a recent Insider article: "People end up creating unrealistic ideals for themselves based on what they see and feel distressed when they aren't able to meet those ideas or self-expectations." These expectations are also rooted in a distortion of reality.  More often than not, people are curating the "best" photos of themselves, and filters, editing, and photoshop has made it easier than ever to fabricate one's outer appearance. This means you are literally comparing yourself to a fake appearance or attribute.  FaceTune, a "face-perfecting" app for editing selfies, has been downloaded over 150 million times, and a 2021 study by City University London found that 90% of women reported filtering or editing their photos before posting them.  If you acknowledge that social media can be toxic and breed comparison but don't know what to do about it, consider adding a screen time restriction.  Say you typically spend an hour on social media -- consider capping it at 15 minutes and giving your screen time password to a trusted friend. This isn't about adding more rules to your life, but rather intentionally choosing what you fill your brain with.  James Clear, author of the popular self-help book Atomic Habits, says that whenever possible, he leaves his phone in the other room.  The simple act of doing so makes him more productive, as he now has an added step to do if he really wants to check his phone. The same premise applies here. The less Instagram is an unlimited fountain of content, the more intentionally it can be used.  HOW TO DO IT: If you have an iPhone, go to Settings > Screen Time > App Limits and select the apps you want to restrict. As mentioned before, you can set a password and give it to a friend or family member. Just make sure they don't forget it.  Ultimately, a good litmus test for seeing how social media is affecting you is to ask yourself a series a questions after using it:  Do I feel worse about myself after? Am I looking up more clothing, products, or comparing myself to the status of others? If any part of you feels like your self-esteem is taking a huge blow every time you finally close out of the app, it may be time to rethink your boundaries around social media.


There's a saying that goes: "show me your friends and I'll show you your future."  While that quote often gets taken out of context, there is some truth to it. The people you surround yourself with can have a profound effect on your perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and learned behavior. This is especially true when it comes to body image "Research suggests that children and adolescents learn from their families and friends that they should be thin and that being overweight is unappealing," says a 2014 peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. In her 2021 memoir My Body, Emily Ratajkowski adds, “I’d learned through the hierarchy of middle school that girls who were considered hot got the most attention.”  Consciously or unconsciously, peers put pressure on us to conform to beauty standards. Even as early as middle school. Model Bella Hadid has been outspoken about why she got a nose job at the age of 14, explaining “I was the uglier sister. That’s really what people said about me, and unfortunately when you get told something so many times, you believe it.”  To be clear, there's nothing wrong with having friends who are confident in what they look like. The takeaway is to be mindful of the amount of influence you let friends with unhealthy and toxic beauty standards have on your life. Or consider having an honest conversation about how you discuss your appearance with each other. Are you building one another up to be the most authentic versions of yourselves, or is there an air of judgment that makes comments like "I can't believe you're so tiny, bro," or "she looks a little big for those jeans."  This might sound like something straight out of Mean Girls, but it can happen even among the closest friends. More on this in our next section, in which we unpack the way we talk about ourselves and others can impact our self-worth and body image.


"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it all," still rings in our ears from first grade.  Yet something about that statement still rings true in adult life. There's a reason we remember it. We've been talking about being careful of negative influences from other people, but what about ourselves? We can often be our own worst enemies when it comes to how we view our bodies. Psychologically, there's often a disconnect between perception in reality. It's why those who are fit, healthy, and normal weight by standard metrics can look in a mirror and declare "I'm fat." Why is this?  In severe cases, some people have what's known as Body Dysmorphia, which according to John Hopkins Medical Center, is a condition in which "you may be so upset about the appearance of your body that it gets in the way of your ability to live normally."  But for those who don't necessarily have Body Dysmorphia, there may still be a general distaste and frustration with your body. As a result, it may cause you to start criticizing yourself unnecessarily. "I'm so ugly. I'm so gross. I hate my big hips." While it may seem like speaking words might not have a big impact, science proves otherwise. The reality is that our brains often write stories in our heads that are exaggerated or sometimes untrue. For instance, we're hard on ourselves after stuttering during a big presentation despite hardly anyone in the audience noticing or caring. In a recent NPR article, UPenn Cognitive Neuroscientist Dr. Branch Coslett explained how our brain overemphasizes these thoughts. "Their internal representation — their brain perspective on their body — is that the body is much, much bigger than, in fact, it is." So if our brains can convince us that our bodies are repulsive, can't they also on the flip side guide us to having a positive view of ourselves?  In the same NPR article, University of Pennsylvania psychologist David Sarver explained how changing the language from extreme to more constructive can root our brains in the reality of what we really look like. "Instead of saying, 'My abdomen is disgusting and grotesque', Sarwer explains, he'll prompt a patient to say, "My abdomen is round, my abdomen is big; it's bigger than I'd like it to be." This reality-based approach is balanced in that it's not enabling people to live an unhealthy, reckless lifestyle, but it's also showing people how to be kinder to themselves and take a more constructive approach.  Though this isn't a magic trick, try this on yourself when you look in the mirror. If you want bigger muscles, don't say: "I'm a twig," say, "I have a desire to get stronger." You can move forward towards the goal of what you want without destroying your self-esteem in the process. Nonetheless, this still doesn't answer the question of why we may feel so desperate to change our bodies. Perhaps it comes from the images we're comparing ourselves to in the media?


We discussed earlier that the Jenner sisters and the Kardashians have a profound effect on how young women view themselves or try to measure up, but the issue of low self-esteem or negative body image isn't exclusive to women. Men also battle comparison and ideas of what society deems "masculine" -- especially in media depictions Many men, upon watching the latest Marvel flick or streaming series, feel insecure that their torso and arms don't look like Chris Hemsworth's when they take their shirt off. Because almost every Marvel male lead has massive biceps, a rock solid core, and a bulging chest, some men may question why their daily tips to the gym haven't yielded them the "ultimate male body."  All the while, these stars have access to the top trainers, an abundant food supply, plenty of time, and millions of dollars as a reward. After starring in Baywatch, Zac Efron commented on the look he developed in the film, “that Baywatch look.. it’s fake.” This brings up an important point: what kind of bodies are being glorified in the media we consume? While there's always outliers, such as Melissa McCarthy and Jonah Hill, who leveraged their "bigger" body types to their advantage, the prevailing theme seems to be that the ideal man is ripped out of his mind, and the ideal woman is toned, lean, and endowed in all the "right" areas. While choosing what kinds of movies or shows you partake in is up to your control, the reality is that we're often bombarded with images of what we should look like whether we like it or not.  And to say bombarded is almost putting it lightly. In a 2015 talk at Harvard University, activist Jean Kilbourne offered some astounding statistics about the influence and impact of advertising on body image, particularly with women: "The average American encounters 3,000 advertisements every day, and spends a total of two years watching TV commercials in their lifetime," Kilbourne said. "At the center of many of these ads is an image of idealized female beauty. Models are tall, slim, and light skinned, and digitally altered to ever-more unrealistic proportions. Women and girls compare themselves to these images every day. And failure to live up to them is inevitable because they are based on a flawlessness that doesn’t exist.” So yes, you may not be seeking out Kylie Cosmetics on Instagram, but you could be watching your favorite show when all of a sudden an ad featuring a "flawless" celebrity touting the next great skincare product comes on. Or say you take a stroll through Times Square next time you're in New York. You'd be hard pressed not to be inundated with some billboards that breed comparison. These types of images are almost endemic in American society, whether you seek them or not, so what do you do? Just stop watching TV altogether? Never leave the house? While the world doesn't have a "Screen Time" restriction, simply being aware of the media you’re consuming is a huge step forward, and recognizing the message a piece of content is trying to convey.  Being aware of the tactics can help you be a more informed viewer and approach the media with a lens of critical thinking, rather than mindlessness.  But all of these strategies we’ve discussed so far must be built upon a proper foundation. Whether it’s creating a social media strategy or checking our circle, each of these things becomes infinitely more effective when we’re operating from a secure base.  So how do we develop that secure base? Here are a few keys.

The Security of Objective Truth

Here’s a question: who gets to define our worth? We would argue that the only one who is qualified is our Creator. Like a manufacturer who creates a line of products with a price-tag, our maker places worth upon us. And this should be our starting point for the conversation on body image and beauty. In the early pages of Genesis, we learn that humans were created in the image of God, or the Creator. Quite literally, this means that we are all born with an “imprint” of God. This affirms that because we are all made in the image of God, we have inherent worth, that nothing we can do could make us more or less valuable than we are right now. When the Creator is removed from the equation, our self-worth becomes a battle of wills and willpower. Who determines what I’m worth? Either I do or the crowd does. The Instagram likes do. The fat shamers do. The opposite sex does. And when this becomes the case, can I muster up enough courage to believe they are wrong? After-all, what makes the crowd's opinion less true than the opinion I have of myself? If they say my boobs aren’t big enough, my waist not tight enough, that my nose is too big or my frame too lanky, how do I know that isn't true? Why shouldn’t I believe them? When the creator is taken out of the equation, the answer to this question becomes a bit murky. You're valuable because well.. you just are.  It becomes a matter of subjective truth, which is essentially a truth based on a person’s perspective, feelings or opinions. But what we really need is security found in objective truth, which is something that is true for everyone, whether everyone agrees with it or not. But what we really need is security found in objective truth, which is something that is true for everyone, whether everyone agrees with it or not. And that is that we are made in the image of God and our maker stamped with a seal of value. As Creator, he says we are beautiful, so we are. No one’s individual opinion could ever take away from that. As one Psalmist puts it: "oh yes, You shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made!"  Consider that if someone tells you the sky is green, you know it’s clearly blue. They could have that opinion, but objectively, you know it’s not true. In the same way, you can learn to look at your body this way. And once this becomes deeply ingrained in your mind, you might find that someone else’s comments are like water off your back.

Downgrading the Importance of Beauty

The second thing that objective truth does for us is it frees us from the tendency to attach worth to beauty. No longer are we weighed down by the opinions of others, because that is not where we extract our sense of approval. That doesn’t mean someone’s words won’t potentially sting, but this truth will keep us from falling apart, and believing the lies of insecurity. Objective truth allows us to operate with a countercultural paradigm, one in which beauty is not put on a pedestal.  The reality is that beauty is a terrible barometer of self-worth. It creates a fragile existence, which is why someone like Megan Fox could still have body image issues. The short-term highs and dopamine rush you get from beauty is temporary. Here one moment, gone the next. Like with other vices, you need more and more of that attention to get the same high. Not to mention that aging cannot be reversed and beauty fades. When this happens and your identity is in your beauty, you will likely lose your entire sense of self with 30-50 years still ahead of you. Our society is quick to heap praise on something and then ditch it once it gets old. And that applies to looks too. But the love of God, and the affirmation of God never fade.

Going back to move forward

Objective truth and letting go of beauty as a barometer of self-worth set the stage for this next principle to become possible, which is going back to move forward. We discussed the power of words earlier as it relates to self-talk, but there is also the need to reconcile what others have said to us. As Bella Hadid mused earlier, “when you get told something so many times, you believe it.” For some of us, body image issues did not originate from social media, rather from the comments of other people in the past. Get told that you have a big nose enough times, and you’ll hate your nose. Get told you are fat or ugly, and over time you will believe that you are worth less than other people. Eating disorders develop, obsessive workout routines, and eventually, even the desire for plastic surgery.  Maturing into our teenage years, these words may even influence how we approach dating and the decision to freely give away our bodies, as we desperately search for love and approval. Even a few words are capable of sharing our entire worlds and fracturing our sense of self-worth.  Consider the story of Christie, an eight-year-old whose grandfather came home from vacation with a gift for her. In front of her family, he gave her a T-shirt that said, “I’m not fat, I’m fluffy.” This was the first time she realized that other people had opinions about her body. Now throughout her teens, and into adulthood, she cannot stop looking in the mirror grabbing her stomach, deeply distressed over her appearance. Many of us carry these types of wounds from our childhood, or even adulthood. And we’ve let these words go unchallenged, and thus have internalized them as truth. As we are covered by the backdrop of objective truth, these wounds need to be dealt with. This starts with identifying, processing and acknowledging what was said, maybe for the first time. And it continues perhaps by talking about it with others, whether that be through therapy or with a trusted group of advisors.

Body maintenance: how much is too much?

Lastly, we must also consider when we fuel our own body image issues. We might not even realize the ways we are doing this, but insecurities could creep in through things like makeup, workout routines, shopping, clothing, plastic surgery and/or anti-aging treatments. It’s important to note that clothing, makeup and hair are all basic parts of upkeep. Exercise is a natural way to stay in shape. None of these things are inherently bad, and in the right context, they can be good things. In fact, taking care of your body is extremely important, but sometimes we cross the line.  To maintain a healthy mindset, we must be self-aware of the underlying motivations of our behaviors. We must identify when it starts feeling like we are becoming overly obsessive about all of these things. This might even involve designating a person in our life to be an accountability partner, or for them to be a second set of eyes that are able to help see our blindspots. We all need people like this in our lives, and creating this type of support system will prove to be incredibly beneficial when we need it most.   Ultimately though, body image issues heal over time, not in an instant. Self-acceptance is a critical part of the process. The longer we refuse to accept ourselves, the longer it will take to heal. Settling our identity through objective truth is an important first step, as is practicing all the principles we’ve discussed in this blog. For more, click here to visit our Body Image Hub.


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