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What is body image?

What is body image? In this article, the Mental Health Foundation discusses how to define the term and where body image concerns can originate from.

Defining the term

‘Body image’ is a term that relates to a whole range of ways in which we experience our bodies. Typically, the term is used to describe how we think and feel about our bodies.

As these thoughts and feelings can be complex, there are various approaches to define and understand body image, including [1-4], how we view our bodies and how accurate this self-perception is, how satisfied we are with our bodies and appearance, how we experience our bodies in our environment, how much we value what other people think about our bodies and appearance, and how much other people’s opinions about our appearance affect our feelings about ourselves.Young man walking with body image definitions listed in bubbles around him. In short, body image is complex and relates to a whole range of ways that help us consider our thoughts and feelings about our bodies.

‘Body image concerns’ refer to feelings of being unsatisfied with our bodies – either because of their appearance, or the way they function. This is also described as ‘body dissatisfaction’.

In contrast, ‘healthy body image’ refers to feelings of being satisfied with our bodies, holding respect, appreciation, and acceptance of their abilities, and having a healthy balance between valuing our bodies as well as other aspects of ourselves that make us ‘us’ [2,3,5].

Where do body image concerns come from?

Body image does not develop in isolation. We all have unique and personal methods for processing and coping with the different events and environments we face throughout our lives. Thus, the way these experiences affect body image will be intrinsically different for each of us.

That being said, research suggests some key factors impact body image, including:

  • Relationships with our own bodies.
  • Relationships with our family and friends [6].
  • How our family and peers feel and speak about bodies and appearance [7].
  • Exposure to images of idealised bodies through media or social media [1,8,9].
  • Pressure to look a certain way or to match an ‘ideal’ body type [9].

These factors, amongst others, will be explored throughout this course in relation to how they impact children and young people’s body image and mental health.

References

[1] Burrowes N. Body image – a rapid evidence assessment of the literature. [Internet]. London; 2013.

[2] Government Equalities Office. Body confidence campaign progress report 2015. [Internet]. London; 2015.

[3] National Citizen Service. Taking action on body image An active citizenship toolkit for those working with young people. [Internet]. 2014.

[4] British Youth Council. A body confident future. [Internet]. 2017.

[5] Andrew R, Tiggemann M, Clark L. Predictors and Health-Related outcomes of positive body image in adolescent girls: A prospective study. Dev Psychol. 2016 Mar;52(3):463–74.

[6] Holsen I, Jones DC, Birkeland MS. Body image satisfaction among Norwegian adolescents and young adults: A longitudinal study of the influence of interpersonal relationships and BMI. Body Image. 2012 Mar;9(2):201–8.

[7] Neves CM, Cipriani FM, Meireles JFF, Morgado FF da R, Ferreira MEC. Body image in childhood: An integrative literature review. Rev Paul Pediatr. 2017;35(3):331–9.

[8] Holland G, Tiggemann M. A systematic review of the impact of the use of social networking sites on body image and disordered eating outcomes. Body Image. 2016; 17:100-10.

[9] Cafri G, Yamamiya Y, Brannick M, Thompson JK. The influence of sociocultural factors on body image: A meta-analysis. Clin Psychol Sci Pract. 2005 May 11;12(4):421–33.

In the comments section below, consider the following questions.

What new information have you learned?

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Body Image and Mental Health in Young People

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