As you might imagine, self-image is related to what you see when you look in a mirror—however, it goes much deeper than that. Self-image refers to how we see ourselves on a more global level, both internally and externally.
Random House Dictionary explained self-image as “the idea, conception, or mental image one has of oneself.”
The Mountain State Centers for Independent Living explains further:
“Self-image is how you perceive yourself. It is a number of self-impressions that have built up over time… These self-images can be very positive, giving a person confidence in their thoughts and actions, or negative, making a person doubtful of their capabilities and ideas.”
What you see when you look in the mirror and how you picture yourself in your head is your self-image.
As one of many “self” concepts, it’s closely related to a few others.
Self-Image vs. Self-Concept
Self-image and self–concept are strongly associated, but they’re not quite the same thing.
Self-concept is a more overarching construct than self-image; it involves how you see yourself, how you think about yourself, and how you feel about yourself. In a sense, self-image is one of the components that make up self-concept (McLeod, 2008).
Self-Image vs. Self-Esteem
Similarly, self-image has a lot to do with self–esteem. After all, how we see ourselves is a big contributing factor to how we feel about ourselves.
However, self-esteem goes deeper than self-image. Self-esteem is the overall sense of respect for ourselves and involves how favorably (or unfavorably) we feel about ourselves.
Having a negative self-image can certainly influence self-esteem, and having low self-esteem is likely to be accompanied by a negative self-image, but they are at least somewhat independent “self” aspects.
How Identity is Related
Identity is also a closely related concept but is also a larger and more comprehensive one than self-image. Identity is our overall idea of who we are. As self-concept and self-esteem expert Roy Baumeister puts it:
“The term ‘identity’ refers to the definitions that are created for and superimposed on the self” (1997, p. 681).
In other words, identity is the whole picture of who we believe we are—and who we tell ourselves and others that we are—while self-image is one piece of that picture.