Body image

The three components of body image and how to improve yours

Understanding more about how body image works gives you multiple ways to improve yours, using strategies that feel most accessible for you.

The Flourish team
Woman turned around, looking at her back side in the mirror

The three components of body image

Body image is one of our favorite subjects to talk about in Flourish. After all, you probably wouldn’t give a hoot (or as much of a hoot) about food and nutrition if it weren’t for how it affected your body/body image, right?


And while we’re big proponents of transforming our members’ approach to nutrition to transform their body image, there are so many other tools in the toolbox that can be utilized here. In Beyond Beautiful by Anuschka Rees, she explains the three components of body image according to psychologist Joel Kevin Thompson. They are:

  1. Perception, or the mental picture you have of the way you look.
  2. Interpretation, or your emotions and thoughts about that picture.
  3. Behavior, or your actions in response to said interpretation. Basically, this is what you do to maintain or change your appearance.

And these three components don’t exist in isolation! In fact, they’re cyclical. Your perception will affect your interpretation, and your interpretation will affect your behavior, which will come full circle to affect your perception.

The bad news, then, is a deficit or challenge in any one of these areas will lead to feeling challenged in the others. For example, have you noticed how you start to feel negatively about your body when you’re not practicing your regular healthy habits for just a short time (think vacations), even if your body hasn’t really changed at all?

And on the flipside, there’s also great news baked in here! The cyclical nature of these three body image components means you can simply focus on improving in one area and feel better across the board. Let’s dive in.

Improving your body image perception:

A quick way to start improving your perception of your body image is to debunk the BS idea that there’s only one or two versions of beauty. When your beauty ideal is narrow, you (among many, many others) are left out. But regardless of societal norms, you get to decide what you consider beautiful. Give yourself the opportunity to broaden your own beauty scope by making sure you’re seeing a wide variety of bodies when you open up social media. And, while you’re at it, make a point to unfollow or mute any accounts that leave you feeling “less than.” These simple adjustments can take a huge weight off your shoulders when it comes to how you perceive your own body.

Improving your body image interpretation:

Here’s the thing: We all have bad body image days. Seriously, even Kim Kardashian.

So with that in mind, recognize that on your journey to body acceptance, body love, body positivity, or body respect, the end game isn’t a life without bad body image days. Ain’t gonna happen, sister.

The end game here is to recognize that bad body image days are actually a normal part of life and that they don’t have to affect how you choose to take care of yourself. Having a bad body image day is kind of like having a bad hair day. Just because you wake up with your hair looking all wild doesn’t mean you shave your head. And just because you’re feeling a bit “icky” in your body doesn’t mean you have to start a silly diet or unsustainable “lifestyle change.”

Another way to improve your interpretation of your body image perception is to work on neutralizing your self-talk. So instead of saying, “My arms are so disgusting,” try something a little less charged like, “I’m not comfortable with how my arms look,” or simply, “I have arms.”

You can also aim to be objective and undramatic in terms of how you talk about your body. Go from “I look like a blimp today.” to “My midsection is bloated.”

Think about this: If you wouldn’t talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself, then your self-talk is a great place to focus your work.

Improving your body image behavior:

Nearly every day in the Flourish membership we see the impact that simple, sustainable behavior change can have on body image. But achieving consistency in those healthy behaviors is difficult when they’re coming from diet mentality. When your healthy eating or exercise is fueled by black and white diet-y thoughts, there’s room for failure. Then, if (when) you fail, you feel like you’ve “fallen off the wagon” and you fall hard-- eating all the things, never exercising-- until you finally feel so gross that you decide it’s time for a reset. And the cycle continues…

So, yeah. We’re super into healthy eating and exercise, but we help our clients use the power of their thoughts to transform the motivation for these habits. When you think about your health behaviors as tools to care for yourself, this truly becomes your new baseline.

This all sounds great, huh? We know! But, unfortunately, reading through this blog post and then going back to doing the same ol’, same ol’ isn’t going to change jack, sister. If you want to make this stuff real, download this worksheet and get to freakin’ work on improving your body image right now.

Headshot of Claire Siegel
Claire Siegel
Co-founder, CEO
Claire Siegel is the founder and CEO of Flourish. Claire has made it her life’s mission to help women create a sustainable approach to their physical and mental well-being.
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