Understanding Body Surveillance

If you find yourself constantly worrying about your appearance and preoccupied with how it doesn’t measure up, you may be suffering from body surveillance. Our selfie-happy, social-media-perfect culture makes it an easy trap to fall into-and a difficult one to escape. This phenomenon goes beyond simple self-awareness to a more troubling and continuous monitoring against often unattainable cultural standards.

What is Body Surveillance?

Body surveillance is the persistent observation and evaluation of one's body against societal standards. It's when we constantly check our reflections, not just to make sure we're presentable, but to critically assess how closely we align with what's considered "ideal" or "acceptable" in society. It becomes a problem when this constant vigilance consumes a large part of your mental energy and daily life, influencing your actions, choices, confidence, and self-perception.

Why It Happens

From our earliest years, society bombards us with images and messages that glorify certain body types while marginalizing others. Social media has only made the problem worse. From the "perfect" figures flaunted on Instagram to tutorials for “flawless” makeup on TikTok, we're taught to measure our worth against these visual standards. This relentless exposure can embed the idea that our value is intrinsically linked to our appearance, propelling us into ongoing self-surveillance. 

Selfie culture has further exacerbated this issue. Posting selfies is common practice on social media, particularly among adolescent girls. A recent study found that adolescent girls who reported comparing themselves to their peers were more likely to engage in body surveillance, and this in turn led them to post more selfies on social media. There seems to be a cycle of comparison, surveillance, and posting - and all the while, their body image suffers.

The Impact of Body Surveillance on Mental Health

The implications of body surveillance on mental health are profound. One study found that girls who engaged in body surveillance were at an increased risk for depression. It makes sense; consistently evaluating yourself through a critical lens and deciding that you don’t measure up can lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and a significant drop in self-esteem. The obsession with trying to meet or maintain these standards can overshadow your joy, relationships, and sense of self-worth. 

Recognizing Body Surveillance in Yourself

How do you know if you're engaging in body surveillance? You might be suffering from this phenomenon if:

If you find yourself engaging in the above behaviors, it’s time to stop and think about your relationship with your body. Be honest with yourself: how much of your mood or self-esteem depends on how others perceive your appearance? What is your motivation for taking and posting selfies? How would your life be different if you didn’t compare your body to others’? These are important questions that can help you realize the impact that body surveillance may be having on your well-being.

What to Do If You're Engaging in Body Surveillance

Recognizing these behaviors is the first step towards change. Breaking free from body surveillance will result in decreased anxiety, higher self-esteem, and more mental space for other aspects of life. This will most likely be easier with the help of a trained mental health professional, who can be your guide in cultivating a kinder, more accepting relationship with your body.

In addition to working with a licensed therapist, you can also:

How Medens Health Can Help

At Medens Health, our caring team understands the challenges that body surveillance can pose to your mental health, happiness, and overall well-being. We’re here to support you through counseling and therapy, providing you with tools and strategies to develop a healthier relationship with your body. We offer a compassionate space where you can explore these issues and work towards embracing your true self. Reach out today and take the first step towards liberating yourself from body surveillance and rediscovering the joy of living comfortably in your own skin.

Medens Health can pair you with a therapist to explore and improve your relationship with your body. Call or text (833) 624-5400, fill out our contact form, or get started here.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.