Almost everyone struggles with body image at least a little bit. That’s a problem, because body image influences so many things: our confidence, relationships, eating habits, movement patterns, self-talk, and more. Body image books can help!
If you scroll through social media, you’ll see plenty of influencers talking about loving their body and how you should, too. But is it realistic to just magically flip a switch on how we see ourselves? Probably not. Healing negative body image takes consistent work.
This post is written by Abby Caudle-Patton, MS, a dietetic intern and RD-to-be.
What is body image?
The American Psychological Association (APA) dictionary defines body image as. “the mental picture one forms of one’s body as a whole, including its physical characteristics (body percept) and one’s attitudes toward these characteristics (body concept).”
Body image is often rooted in the shame derived from our culture’s obsession with thinness as a measure of worth, happiness, success, and fulfillment. Body image work is a tough, continuous process — especially in our image-obsessed culture.
If you’re working on body image while also moving through recovery from eating disorders or chronic dieting, it can be even more of a challenge. A supportive professional can help you do this work, but body image isn’t just something that you work on in the safety of a therapy session or appointment with a dietitian. How you view and assign worth to your body follows you everywhere. It might even fluctuate from negative to neutral to positive over the course of a single day!
What’s the difference between body positivity and body neutrality?
Body positivity is all about loving your body. But while it sounds great, body positivity is a huge jump from having consistent, negative thoughts around your body.
Many people find body neutrality more attainable. Body neutrality detaches how you treat your body from how you view your body. It focuses on appreciation for what your body does for you and this appreciation doesn’t fluctuate in response to how you believe it to look. It means viewing your body as neither morally good or bad, but instead as something that just is. Ultimately, body neutrality allows you to move through life without hyperfocusing on your appearance as a measure of worth.
Before we go on, let’s take a pause and recognize that improving body image will not solve the weight stigma you may face or heal body image-related trauma(s). Systematic weight stigma causes real harm to those who are discriminated against based on body size. This oppression cannot be solved by reading helpful material or embracing body acceptance, neutrality, or positivity.
However, some find that as they improve their body image, they feel more empowered to not only appreciate their own body, but also to work towards a more inclusive culture, free from weight bias and anti-fatness.
How can body image books help?
Body image work is a continuous process. Reading books on the topic, written by authors with a diverse range of perspectives, can be really helpful. It gives you the opportunity to explore various ideas safely and independently. The right books will push back against diet culture’s messages and bolster your confidence and sense of self-worth. Books are also a great entry point into body acceptance, because you can put them down when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and pick them right back up again when you’re ready.
We get asked all the time to recommend body image books to nutrition counseling clients. The truth is that there’s no best book on body acceptance out there. Different books resonate with different people. And heck, a book that might have helped you years ago may not feel helpful for where you’re at right now.
So instead of just offering a few suggestions for everyone, we’re sharing 12 of our favorite body image books, what they’re about, who they’re written by, and who they might be great for.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of body image books as there are more on the shelves that we may have missed. We (Christine and Abby) are two multi-privileged white women. We’ve tried to include diverse voices, but of course the list still comes from our limited perspectives. We recognize that there may be identities who don’t feel represented, and we absolutely welcome suggestions in the comments!
About the book: In today’s beauty-centric culture, we are constantly told that our worth, success, and satisfaction are derived from our appearance. Often, this results in feelings of inadequacy, distraction, and disconnection with who we really are. This book draws on research by Dr. Lindsay Kite and Dr. Lexi Kite to equip readers with actionable skills that build body image resilience, help to reconnect with core values, and ultimately break free from both internal and external objectification.
Who might like it: This book is for those who desire body image resiliency and discernment when exposed to messages that suggest self worth is ultimately dependent on the body’s outward appearance.
About the authors: Lindsay Kite, PhD. and Lexi Kite, PhD. Twin sisters Dr. Lindsay Kite and Dr. Lexie Kite earned their doctoral degrees from the University of Utah. Their research focused on harmful media messaging and female body image, including representation of women in media, resiliency, and health education and literacy. Additionally, the Kite sisters co-founded Beauty Redefined, a nonprofit organization that works to promote positive body image both in person and online through public speaking engagements, research, and advocacy.
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About the book: Each individual body and the soul it carries is wholly unique, despite what we have been told to believe. This read isn’t a typical self-help book that skirts around deeper, more difficult topics. Readers will take a deep dive into the oppressive roles of racism, transphobia, and capitalism on body shame. This book directly challenges the harmful notion that we owe more to the world with our appearance – even apologies for not achieving, or having been born mirroring, what is an unrealistic “ideal” for many. Instead, author Sonya Renee Taylor offers permission to reject this systematic oppression through radical self-love and tap into collective, internal strength to create a kinder world for all.
Who might like it: This book is a good read for those who are interested in learning more about body image from a social justice lens and leverage that knowledge towards radical self-love and healing.
About the author: Sonya Renee Taylor is a renowned and award winning poet, author, and activist working towards positive social change. Taylor is the founder of The Body is Not an Apology, a worldwide movement and digital media organization. The organization cultivates body empowerment and radical self-love through community, information, and social change. As the Radical Executive Officer, Taylor promotes and incites body image healing for all humans of all genders, ages, races, sizes, abilities, ethnicities, and sizes.
Taylor has been featured on multiple, large-scale media outlets including HBO, Oxygen Network, New York Magazine, BET, and The New York Times.
About the book: In Mothers, Daughters, and Body Image, Dr. Hillary McBride shares about her own eating disorder recovery and how this has impacted her journey into womanhood. Dr. McBride discusses how body image is highly influenced by our environment and outlines steps towards self-love, freedom, and acceptance. Pulling insight from her extensive research, Dr. McBride includes true stories of women, their mothers, and the impact of this often challenging dynamic to self-image
Who might like it: This book may be a good read for those who desire motherhood, those who are already mothers, and those who may have received negative body-related messaging from a maternal figure during childhood or adolescence. Note that some readers report the messaging in this book is primarily centered around white, cisgendered women and therefore this book may not be pertinent or helpful to those living in marginalized bodies.
Author: Hillary L. McBride, PhD received her PhD from the University of British Columbia in Counseling Psychology. Hillary specializes in therapy for individuals struggling with trauma, anxiety, body image and self-esteem, mother-daughter dynamics, eating disorders, and life transitions. Hillary has written three books, including The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection through Embodied Living and Embodiment and Eating Disorders: Theory, Research, Prevention, and Treatment.
About the book: Essie Dennis’s pulls from lived experience as a plus-sized, queer individual to discuss the challenges those in the LGBTQIA+ community face as they relate to self-image. “Queer Body Power” includes many aspects of body image including the role of food, fatphobia, sexuality, gender, politics, and mental health as they relate to the queer community. Readers will find advice, recounts, and humor while being challenged to step away from unrealistic beauty standards that are meant to confine who you are truly meant to be.
Who might like it: This is a good read for queer-identifying folks, or for anyone who feels like their identity gets left out of discussions surrounding body image, weight, eating disorders, gender, and mental health.
Author: Essie Dennis is a UK-based artist, author, model, and fat-positive social media influencer. Essie is the owner of Queer in Colour, a platform to showcase body positive artwork. Essie owns an Etsy shop of the same name where folks can purchase body positive art prints. They speak often of embracing themself as they are across multiple platforms including their own social media, guest appearances on podcasts, and featured work in magazines like Cosmopolitan.
About the book: Body of Truth challenges what our culture accepts as truth – that “fat” is the worst thing an individual can be and that it is worth sacrificing your physical and mental well being in pursuit of thinness. Drawing from her background as a science journalist, Brown takes readers on a deep-dive of diet culture’s history to provide context on how we became so obsessed with weight and the thin ideal.
Topics include fatphobia and related size stigma and the flawed science that backs up our current weight-centric medical model, as well as strategies to move forward without diet culture’s oppression. Check out the reading guide here for thought-provoking questions to consider as you work through this book.
Who might like it: History or sociology nerds will love the depth of this book. If you want to better understand how we got to where we are, this presents plenty of history and data on body image shifts.
About the author: Harriet Brown is a professor of Magazine, News and Digital Journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse University. With 30 years of experience in journalism and magazine editing, Harriet has written on this topid for The New York Times, Vogue, NPR, and Psychology Today.
About the book: This daily workbook offers 365 actionable steps towards self-acceptance as you move through your body image journey. Each day includes a short passage and either a journal prompts for reflection or tasks to engage with to foster a more positive self image. For example, one task involves externalizing our inner critic by naming it, calling it by its name, and speaking back to it with firmness that it is not a welcomed presence. Some prompts may feel helpful while others do not, so it is important to remember to take what resonates with you and leave what doesn’t.
Who might like it: If you’re on board with body acceptance but struggling to implement body neutrality or self acceptance in your daily life, this could give you the structure and action steps that you need. This book may be a good companion to one of the others on this list.
About the author: Rosie Molinary, MFA, is an instructor at UNC-Charlotte and is the Dove Self-Esteem Project Educator. Rosie is a cofounder of two nonprofits, HAMMERS, which works to provide home repair services for low-income households, and Circle de Luz, which works to empower and mentor young Latina women. Rosie’s work primarily focuses on topics such as body image, intentional living, self-acceptance, and the “Latina experience.” Molinary also authored “Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina,” which discusses interviews with over 500 Latina women from diverse ethnic backgrounds on their experiences with sexuality, identity, body image, and beauty ideals.
About the book: In this memoir, author Kelsey Miller discusses her experience in ditching diet culture and disordered eating. After a life-long war with her body, Miller shares the wisdom she has gained while working with an intuitive eating coach. Miller uses humor to tackle these challenging topics and encourage readers to embark on their own journey away from self-hatred to body acceptance.
Who might like it: Miller used to be a writer for Refinery29, a feminist website that caters to millenials and Gen Z. If you love their content, you’ll also love this book. It’s a good introduction to what body image healing can look like in real life, particularly for women in larger bodies.
About the author: Kelsey Miller is an editor, journalist, and author whose work has been featured in a variety of platforms such as the New York Magazine, Self Magazine, Bustle, and Health.
Miller has been a guest on Christy Harrison’s podcast, Food Psych (listen to her episode titled Navigating Pregnancy and Postpartum in a Larger Body here) and often writes on difficult topics as they relate to body image, fatphobia, and the body positive movement.
About the book: The children’s book we wish we had as kiddos! Author Jessica Sanders gently introduces topics like self-worth, body appreciation, diversity, developing a sense of style without external influence, self-care, and the importance of reaching out for help. Each page features illustrations of diverse bodies of all colors, sizes, and abilities.
This book is the perfect gift for the littles in your life, those planning on having children, and even for yourself. Many express that their body image distress is rooted in childhood, making it extremely difficult to challenge negative self-talk when these thinking patterns have been the norm for so long. Sometimes, it can be helpful to nurture that inner child and speak to him/her/them with compassion. It may seem a little silly to read a children’s book aloud as an adult, but the messages in “Love Your Body” may be just what “little you” needs to hear.
Who might like it: Children, teens, and adults – especially those who were fed harmful messages that shaped body image and self-worth.
About the author: Jessica Sanders’s work is focused on body acceptance, gender equality, and self-care. Her podcast, The Unlearning Project, features discussions on harmful societal messages related to body image and gender roles. Jessica has been featured on multiple media platforms including the Huffington Post, Forbes, and a handful of Australian-based outlets.
About the book: You are Enough: Your Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery, is a comprehensive self-help book for teens and young adults. This book focuses on answering key questions during eating disorder recovery, such as why the BMI is flawed, how we are impacted by role models, treatment options, imposter syndrome, and dealing with natural body changes. Author Jen Petro-Roy brings forth knowledge from her own recovery from OCD, anorexia, and exercise abuse as well as insight from other eating disorder survivors, research, and medical professionals to help readers develop their own toolkit to navigate the recovery journey.
Who might like it: This is a good read for preteens and teenagers struggling with identity, eating disorders, and body image distress.
About the author: Jen Petro-Roy, a Massachussets native, received her Master’s in Library Science in 2010 from Simmons University. She is an avid eating disorder recovery advocate and has authored two books (Good Enough and You Are Enough) for teens and adolescents struggling with body image, eating disorders, and mental health.
About the book: Breaking Free From Body Shame discusses body image from a faith-based lens, a topic that the church often avoids. Author Jess Connolly discusses that body image work isn’t just skin-deep, but instead is wholly important when one believes they were created with purpose and intention. This book discusses Connolly’s personal journey in healing her body image after years of harmful messaging from both inside and apart from the church. She discusses how readers can too let go of body shame and believe their body is good, just as it is today.
Who might like it: This book is perfect for those interested in how body image work relates to their faith, or for those who have received harmful messages about their bodies from within their church or faith.
About the author: Jess Connolly is an author, mother, and pastor’s wife from Charleston, SC. She is also the founder of Go + Tell Gals, an organization that seeks to equip women of faith with tools they need to best utilize their abilities to enact change. Additionally, Jess founded Good Body Gals, an online community that offers live workouts from a non-diet, faith-based perspective.
About the book: This book doesn’t skirt around the fact that fatphobia is deeply rooted in racism and the marginalization of black women in the media. Author Stephanie Yeboah discusses her own experiences with racism and fatphobia and brings readers along as she recounts true stories of the discrimination that she has faced. Yeboah speaks about how she has stepped into radical self-acceptance as a plus-sized black woman and offers insight to inspire readers to live their own lives with the same, unapologetic courage to be themselves.
Who might like it: Honestly, this book should be required reading for everyone, as we’re all part of the racist, fatphobic system that Yeboah outlines. It might be especially helpful for those who identify with Stephanie Yeboah’s experiences living as a plus-sized black woman, but it’s an equally good read for those who are interested in the perspective of a marginalized individual on topics like confidence, self-acceptance, and the treatment of black, plus-sized folks throughout history.
About the author: Stephanie Yeboah is a South London-based freelance writer, fat acceptance and body image advocate, content creator, public speaker, and award-winning blogger.
In 2017, Stephanie’s story titled “Why Are Women of Colour Left Out of Body Positivity?” was featured on Elle Magazine’s platform. Here, Stephanie’s insight on body positivity and race shines through as she wrote, “The truth is, body positivity is for white women. White female bodies being safe is paramount to maintaining white supremacy.”
Stephanie’s blog features content on plus-sized fashion, mental health, fatphobia, confidence, travel, and lifestyle.
About the book: A collection of poetry and prose by several fat, queer, and trans writers and activists, this book is a must-read for anyone whose view of body acceptance doesn’t extend beyond thin, white, cisgender Instagram influencers.
It’s not a book about body image healing, per se. Rather, it’s a celebration of body liberation, activism, and radical acceptance. You could read the entire thing in one sitting, or you could keep it on the nightstand or coffee table and go through the pieces one at a time.
Who might like it: This is an anthology, not a workbook or a self-help book. If you’re looking to dig deeper into the radical acceptance movement, the perspectives here can give you a much richer understanding of what body liberation really means.
About the authors: Thirty writers contributed pieces to this book, which means you’ll get a little of everything. There are well-known names on the list, like artist and activist Caleb Luna, and Maintenance Phase co-host Aubrey Gordon, plus dozens of other fantastic voices.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, I can help. I take an anti-diet, body-positive, identity-affirming approach to recovery and healing your relationship with food. Learn more about my nutrition counseling, offered in Raleigh, NC, and virtually to clients in several states. Not ready to commit to counseling but want more information about the anti-diet approach? Subscribe to my weekly newsletter.