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The impact of ethnicity on body image

What is the impact of ethnicity on young people's body image in the UK? In this article, the Mental Health Foundation discusses recent research.

Body dissatisfaction or feeling negatively about appearances or abilities is a common experience for young people across all racial and ethnic groups.

  • Generally, differences in levels of body dissatisfaction between young people from different ethnic backgrounds are small [1,2].
  • Instead, research indicates that factors like age, gender, or weight may be more influential on body image than ethnicity [1,3].

Nevertheless, some differences have been observed.

  • Black British girls are more likely to express a positive body image and less likely to show disordered eating behaviours than White British girls [4].
  • Black British boys are more likely to be satisfied with their body image than White British boys [5].
  • This is mirrored in studies of adults [6].

However, the tools used to assess body image in research are limited by their tendency to focus on body weight or shape. This is particularly disruptive when exploring the relationship between body image and ethnicity, as:

  • Body ideals tend to vary between young people from different ethnic groups [7,8].
  • Concerns may not always fall under ‘body weight’ and ‘shape’, but instead around factors like skin tone, hair texture, or size and shape of facial features [9-11].


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

[2] Grabe S, Hyde JS. Ethnicity and body dissatisfaction among women in the United States: A meta-analysis. Psychol Bull. 2006 Jul;132(4):622–40.

[3] Wilkosz ME, Chen JL, Kenndey C, Rankin S. Body dissatisfaction in California adolescents. J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2011 Feb;23(2):101–9.

[4] Boothroyd L, Evans E, Thornborrow T. Written evidence submitted by Dr Boothroyd, Dr Evan and Ms Thornborrow (BYC040). [Internet]. 2017.

[5] George JBE, Franko DL. Cultural issues in eating pathology and body image among children and adolescents. J Pediatr Psychol. 2010 Apr 1;35(3):231–42.

[6] Ricciardelli LA, McCabe MP, Williams RJ, Thompson JK. The role of ethnicity and culture in body image and disordered eating among males. Clinical Psychology Review. 2007;27(1):582–606

[7] Roberts A, Cash TF, Feingold A, Johnson BT. Are black-white differences in females’ body dissatisfaction decreasing? A meta-analytic review. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2006 Dec;74(6):1121–31.

[8] Swami V et al. The attractive female body weight and female body dissatisfaction in 26 countries across 10 world regions: Results of the international body project I. Personal Soc Psychol Bull. 2010 Mar 23;36(3):309–25.

[9] The Centre for Appearance Research. Written evidence submitted by The Centre for Appearance Research (BYC055). [Internet]. 2017.

[10] Frederick DA, Forbes GB, Grigorian KE, Jarcho JM. The UCLA body project I: Gender and ethnic differences in self-objectification and body satisfaction among 2,206 undergraduates. Sex Roles. 2007 Aug 21;57(5–6):317–27.

[11] Holmqvist K, Frisén A. Body dissatisfaction across cultures: Findings and research problems. European Eating Disorders Review. 2010;18(1):133–46.

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Body Image and Mental Health in Young People

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