Evidence shows that beauty standards can affect individual mental health. Social media, television, and film can all portray unrealistic beauty standards and create pressure for people to look a certain way.

Beauty standards in society tell people how they “should” look. However, with the inundation of media in today’s society, there is more pressure for people, especially young females, to look a certain way and have a specific body type.

This pressure can affect the mental health of individuals. It can lead to an increased risk of low self-esteem, negative body image, eating disorders, and depression.

This article explains how beauty standards can affect mental health. It also discusses how beauty standards can lead to mental health conditions and how people can cope with these effects.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Body image concerns are a growing issue globally. With an inundation of images via social media and television, the mental health of individuals, especially females and young people, is an issue that is on the rise.

Young females are more likely to experience body image issues because females in the United States often feel pressure to measure up to unrealistic beauty standards that are placed on them by society and culture.

A meta-analysis from 2008 showed that exposure to thin-ideal body types through the media is directly related to body image concerns among females.

These body image issues can also contribute to various mental health issues, including:

  • eating disorders
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • self-esteem issues
  • social isolation

What are beauty standards?

Beauty standards are the ideals and perceptions of beauty that society and culture place on people. They determine what is considered “beautiful” and can include height and weight, facial proportions, and body shape.

Research notes that these standards may contribute to the growing body image issues for various reasons. This includes that in the U.S. females are exposed to messages about how they should look from the moment they are born. Teens and young girls are also more likely to be given praise for how they look rather than for their actions or thoughts.

They are also constantly shown images through the media of unrealistic standards. Many of the images have been altered using technology, causing these young females to strive for body ideals and beauty that do not actually exist.

Read about social media and mental health.

Do you feel pressured by beauty standards?

You are not alone. According to a 2017 survey by the Dove Self-Esteem Project, 5 in 10 young females feel medium to high pressure to look “beautiful,” and 6 in 10 feel pressure to always look at least “acceptable.”

The survey also found that 70% of young females feel there is too much importance placed on beauty in defining happiness for females.

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The pressure of societal beauty standards can lead to the exacerbation or development of various mental health conditions.

Low self-esteem

According to the 2017 Dove Self-Esteem Project survey, 54% of females ages 10–17 globally have low to medium body esteem.

Research from 2019 found that 10–30% of males feel dissatisfied with their bodies, with 69% of male adolescents feeling dissatisfied with their bodies due to their weight.

Body dissatisfaction can lead to poorer quality of life and psychological distress. It can also increase the risk of unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders.

Negative body image, or body dissatisfaction, can also lead to low self-esteem. This can affect various aspects of daily life. For example, an individual may choose not to be around other people or constantly obsess about how much they exercise or eat.

Read more about self-esteem.

Eating disorders

Body image is a risk factor for various eating disorders. It is also part of the diagnostic criteria for both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

The Dove Self-Esteem Project survey of 2017 found that globally 5 in 10 young females have put their health at risk by not eating or not going to the doctor. Among those who already experience a low body image, 8 in 10 have put their health at risk in these ways.

Body dissatisfaction can also increase a person’s risk for disordered eating and other harmful behaviors to change their appearance. This may include:

  • restrictive eating
  • steroid use
  • using diet pills
  • exercising excessively

Help is available

Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.

Anyone who suspects they or a loved one may have an eating disorder can contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, which offers a daytime helpline staffed by licensed therapists and an online search tool for treatment options.

For general mental health support at any time, people can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 24 hours a day at 1-800-662-4357 (or 1-800-487-4889 for TTY).

Many other resources are also available, including:

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Learn more about eating disorders.


Research has shown a strong association between body image dissatisfaction and symptoms of depression. According to research from 2020, this is especially true among young females who have overweight or obesity.

Other research from 2017 found that adolescents with body image dissatisfaction were 3.7 times more likely to experience and report depressive symptoms.


Research from 2017 noted that body image dissatisfaction has strong links to symptoms of anxiety disorders in adolescents. The research showed that higher baseline levels of body image dissatisfaction were directly related to higher initial symptoms of anxiety disorders, such as:

Some people experience excessive concern about the way others perceive their bodies. These concerns about how others may judge them based on their weight, height, or body shape can cause embarrassment, worry, and shame. Some may refer to this as social physique anxiety.

Social isolation

The 2017 Dove Self-Esteem Project notes that 6 in 10 young females globally have chosen not to attend social engagement or be assertive in their opinions because of their self-esteem. Among those with low body esteem, these numbers were 8 in 10.

The survey also found that 4 in 10 young females have opted not to participate in sports or extra-curricular activities because they are not comfortable with the way their bodies look.

As females age, their body image dissatisfaction can also affect their ability to be intimate with their partner. Body dissatisfaction can, therefore, affect all aspects of a person’s life.

Individuals, especially females, in the U.S. are exposed to societal beauty standards from the moment they are infants, throughout childhood, and into adulthood. This exposure can occur in a number of different ways.

Social media

Over the last decade or so the use of social media has grown. This is especially true among teenagers and young adults.

This has led to an increased comparison to other people’s bodies, higher levels of body dissatisfaction, and a higher drive for thinness among these groups.

A survey among teenagers in the United Kingdom found that 40% of them reported that social media images resulted in them worrying about their own bodies.

Do you feel pressure from social media?

Many people, especially young people, feel pressure from social media. This is especially true among young females. Social media brings people closer together. However, it can also affect your body image and self-esteem. It can also expose you to other issues like cyberbullying.

The American Psychological Association (APA) found that teens and young adults who reduced their social media usage by 50% for even just a few weeks saw improvement in the way they feel about their overall appearance.

If you are feeling pressure about your body or appearance, limiting your time on social media may help.

Read more about how social media affects youths and mental health.

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Parents and caregivers

Parents and caregivers can have influence over children and their mental health in various ways.

According to the Office on Women’s Health, children who grow up with parents or caregivers who are constantly worried about their own weight or their child’s weight may be more likely to grow up to have a negative body image.

There are various ways a person can help themselves to cope with the mental health effects of beauty standards. These include:

  • avoiding or deleting social media apps that cause distress over one’s image
  • being mindful about the images one sees online or in the media and how they make one feel when they look at them
  • modeling positive self-talk by treating oneself kindly
  • being aware of the language one uses among peers and friends and the effects it can have
  • speaking to a healthcare or mental health professional if the mental health effects of beauty standards begin to affect day-to-day life

Societal beauty standards can put a lot of pressure on individuals to look a certain way or have a specific body shape. The influence of these standards can affect a person’s mental health in various ways.

Beauty standards can increase the risk of eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and social isolation. This is especially true among young females.

Limiting time on social media and speaking with a mental health professional can help individuals cope with the mental health effects of societal beauty standards.