Members Area


Body Image and Physical Activity


What is Body Image?

  • Body image refers to the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions you have about your body appearance and shape.

How Does Body Image Influence Physical Activity?

  • How you feel about your body can influence your physical activity participation.
    • Individuals who feel better about their bodies (i.e., have positive body image) are more likely to engage in physical activity than those who have negative body image.
    • This is one reason it is important to focus on feeling good about being active (regardless of your shape or size) and feel proud that you are doing something good for yourself.
  • Body image can also impact the type of physical activity you feel comfortable participating in and your level of enjoyment.
    • Individuals who are self-conscious and anxious about their appearance tend to prefer to exercise alone and have lower levels of enjoyment.
    • Physical activity involvement is improved when people experience social support and find enjoyment in the activity.
    • Thus, seeking out supportive and welcoming physical activity environments in which you feel comfortable is important.

How Can You Improve Your Body Image?

  • Engage in positive body talk.
    • People frequently engage in negative body talk or “fat talk” – saying things like “I’m so fat,” “I really need to lose some weight,” and “I’m not wearing shorts until I tone up.”
    • Replace those negative statements with positive ones like “I am strong” and “I care for and nurture my body.”
    • Write out positive body statements and strategically place them in your home – for example on your bathroom mirror or on your phone. That way, the notes will remind you to engage in positive body talk.
  • Focus on what your body can do.
    • Be proactive… learn a new physical activity, go to the park with your family, train for a 5k, or get a pedometer and work your way up to walking 10,000 steps a day (the current recommendation for adults).
    • Appreciate what you are able to do with your body and enjoy being active.
  • Accept the idea that healthy and happy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
    • The dominant belief in our society is that the ‘ideal’ body (lean and toned) is the only type of body that can be happy and healthy.
    • Being thin will not automatically make your happy, solve all of your problems, or make life more exciting and interesting. Happiness comes from within.
    • Being thin does not necessarily equate to being healthy. Engaging in consistent physical activity helps improve health.

By Christy Greenleaf
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Christy Greenleaf’s primary research focus is on psychosocial aspects of weight, physical activity, body image and disordered eating. She is particularly interested in weight bias, or negative attitudes and stereotypes toward individuals who appear to be overweight, and how weight bias manifests itself within physical activity settings.

Share this article:

Return to AASP Blog