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Body image

Body image

Body image is a person's perception of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body. It involves how a person sees themselves, compared to the standards that have been set by society. The Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Paul Schilder coined the phrase 'body-image' in his book The Image and Appearance of the Human Body (1935).[2] Human society has at all times placed great value on beauty of the human body, but a person's perception of their own body may not correspond to society's standards.

The concept of body image is used in a number of disciplines, including psychology, medicine, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, philosophy, cultural and feminist studies; the media also often uses the term . Across these disciplines and media there is no consensus definition, but body image may be expressed as how people view themselves in the mirror, or in their minds. It incorporates the memories, experiences, assumptions, and comparisons of one's own appearance, and overall attitudes towards one's height, shape, and weight.[3] An individual's impression of their body is also assumed to be a product of ideals cultivated by various social and cultural ideals.

The issues surrounding body image can be examined through body negativity and through body positivity. Negative body image consists of a disoriented view of one's shape; whereby one may often feel self-conscious or feel ashamed, and assume others are more attractive.[3] Aside from having low self-esteem, sufferers typically fixate on altering their physical appearances. Long-term behavior could thus potentially lead to higher risks of eating disorders, isolation, and mental illnesses.[3] Having a negative body-image may lead to a more serious mental illness such as body dysmorphic disorder: "Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), occasionally still called dysmorphophobia, is a mental disorder characterized by the obsessive idea that some aspect of one's own body part or appearance is severely flawed and warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix their dysmorphic part on their person..." Positive body image on the other hand, is described as a clear true perception of one's figure. In addition to celebrating and appreciating the body, it also requires an understanding that an individual's appearance does not reflect their character or self-worth.[3]

A 2007 report by the American Psychological Association found that a culture-wide sexualization of girls and women was contributing to increased female anxiety associated with body image.[4] An Australian government Senate Standing Committee report on the sexualization of children in the media reported similar findings associated with body image.[5] However, other scholars have expressed concern that these claims are not based on solid data.[6]

Body image can have a wide range of psychological effects and physical effects. Throughout history, it has been extremely difficult for people to live up to the standards of society and what they believe the ideal body is. Many factors contribute to a person's body image; some of these include: family dynamics, mental illness, biological predispositions and environmental causes for obesity or malnutrition, and cultural expectations (e.g., media and politics). People who are either underweight or overweight can have poor body image. However, when people are constantly told and shown the cosmetic appeal of weight loss and are warned about the risks of obesity, those who are normal or overweight on the BMI scale have higher risks of poor body image. This is something that can lead to a change in a person's body image.[7] Often, people who have a low body image will try to alter their bodies in some way, such as by dieting or by undergoing cosmetic surgery. "We expected women would feel worse about their bodies after seeing ultra-thin models, compared to no models if they have internalized the thin ideal, thus replicating previous findings."[8]


Society often constructs our behaviors and beliefs, such as personal developments, physiological and psychological interactions, and the common "perception of our bodies as a reflection of self worth".[9] Body image struggles have been prevalent for many centuries now, especially with the rapid, constant shifts in ideal body types. In the past, norms were typically set by cultural beliefs, genders, or social standings. Despite these being prevalent today, changes in the fashion and media industries are other influences at hand.

During Ancient Egyptian times, the perfect woman was said to have a slender figure, with narrow shoulders, and a tall waist. Yet, females were emboldened in their beauty habits and general independence.[10] Standards were reformed in Ancient Greece, when society began worshipping the male figure instead. As men faced greater pressures on beauty and perfection, women sported a fuller and plump figure, with fair skin tones becoming more popular.[10] The pale skin craze was soon adopted in the Han Dynasty, but waist sizes narrowed. Overall figures shrunk, as the Chinese associated petite with femininity.[10]

With the need to reflect her husband's status, the behaviors and outward appearances of the wife grew incredibly crucial during the Italian Renaissance. Since size was linked to wealth, women maintained bodies with full hips and an ample bosom.[10] The Victorian Era witnessed a similar movement, but the popularity of the corset cinching the waist, led to the desirability of the hourglass figure.[10] The era also introduced the Gibson Girl, which was the first sign of influence by the fashion and media industries. Created by Charles Dana Gibson, he envisioned femininity as slim and tall, with large busts and wide hips, but a narrow waist.[11] These girls were also often shown in magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and LIFE, which resulted in a link between trendy fashions and styles, and the maintenance of active lifestyles and healthy well-beings[12]

After World War I, the Gibson Girl transformed into the Flapper, an ideal type which dominated the period of the "Roaring Twenties". Women transitioned towards androgynous looks, in which hair styles were kept short, and brassieres were worn to flatten the chest.[13] Loose clothing was also a trend, as it downplayed the waist by lowering it below the navel, resulting in a straight boyish figure.[14]

Dress senses become more casual as well, and is said to have been a representation of the reduction in social or political tension after the war, or an extensive disagreement with the matron like image of the women behind the alcohol Prohibition movement in the USA.[15] With advertisements increasingly advocating the need to achieve a thinner frame, many women therefore pursued diets and exercises.[15] Although slimmer body types were favoured, a sporty and healthy appearance was still prized above the frail and sickly look from the Victorian Era.

The 1930s and 1940s witnessed the devastating effects of the second World War. While men were out on the battlefield, females began entering the workforce. This resulted in more formal and traditional military dress styles for women, which caused another shift in body image. While waists remained thin but prominent, the media embraced a more curvaceous look similar to the hourglass figure, through the addition of broad shoulders and large breasts as well.[15]

Since this era was part of the golden age of Hollywood, many celebrities continued to influence this trend by wearing tight fitted clothing that emphasized their figures. Pin-up girls and sex symbols radiating glamour soon followed in the 1950s, and the proportions of the hourglass figure expanded. Notable names include Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and Jessica Rabbit.[13] In order to achieve this ideal figure, women consumed weight-gain supplements.[16] The release of Playboy magazine and the Barbie doll during this era were other additions in the need to achieve this ideal.[14]

Depictions of the perfect woman slowly grew thinner from 1960s onwards. The "Swinging Sixties" saw a similar look to the Flapper[13] with the emergence of high-fashion model Twiggy, who promoted the thin and petite frame, with long slender legs,[15] and an adolescent but androgynous figure.[13] Other characteristics include, small busts, narrow hips, and flat stomachs. Many women either underwent diets or switched to weight-loss supplements to achieve the new look.[14] This eventually resulted in an increase in anorexia nervosa sufferers during the 1970s.[13]

Greater importance was soon placed on fitness. Actress Farrah Fawcett introduced a more toned and athletic body type.[13] The exercise craze continued in the 1980s with Jane Fonda and the release of workout videos, motivating women to be thin but fit and svelte.[15] This era also saw the rise of tall, long legged supermodels; such as Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, dominating the industry, and setting a new beauty standard for females around the world.[13]

Greater issues arose in the 1990s, when supermodel Kate Moss popularized the stick-thin figure instead. The fashion industry pushed her image further with the 'Heroin chic' look, which dominated the catwalks during that time.[13] This was communicated through waifish appearances, bony structures, thin limbs, and an androgynous figure.[15] Although this extreme period was only short-lived, the 2000s saw the rise of the Victoria's Secret models, who altered beauty norms to include slim but healthy figures, with large breasts and bottoms, flat and visible abs, and prominent thigh gaps.[14]

More women pursued cosmetic surgery practices, on top of diets and exercise regimes, to attain the perfect appearance.[14] As of 2017, positive measures are being taken to promote a better body image such as the emergence of fitness trends and plus-size models in the fashion and media industries. However, the advancement of technologies and pressures from the media have led to even greater importance being placed on the way we look as an indication of our personal value.[16]

The media

On account of the evolution of society today; text messaging, e-mails, social media, and other technological advancements have dominated an individual's sequence of physical interactions. Although technology provides the convenience of connecting with others, its association with the media has resulted in a "platform of delivery in which we intercept and interpret messages about ourselves, our self-worth, and our bodies" Social media plays a big part of what a "perfect body" is supposed to be. There are many apps that does photoshop to make people look beautiful The end results were all extremely different from each other in regards to the hair, body type and skin tone, etc.[17]

According to a study by Dove, only 4% of women thought they were beautiful,[18] while approximately 70% of women and girls in the UK believed the media's portrayal of impractical beauty standards fueled their appearance anxieties.[19] As a result, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that, 91% of women were mostly unhappy with their bodies,[20] while 40% will consider cosmetic surgery to fix their flaws.[20]


Women "all over the world are evaluated and oppressed by their appearances";[21] be it age, skin tone, or size. A large facet of "social currency for girls and women continues to be rooted in physical appearance".[18] With accessories and apparel designed to enhance a look, social media, magazines, marketing campaigns and advertisements also add to the burden on women to achieve perfection. This is still prevalent today, whereby female bodies are staged as the ultimate commodity, and used for the selling of products.[22] The ultimate purpose of many advertisements is thus to appeal to the insecurities of individuals, in hopes of selling them the solution. Marketers fueling negative body imagery are also highly aware that those who undergo these problems are more likely to purchase their products. For that reason, advertisements regularly advocate the ability to achieve a particular look through retouched images, the sexual objectification of women, and products accompanied with explicit messages.[23]

Many advertisements today display an image of the 'perfect' woman with an idealistic body and flawless facial features. This ideal woman creates an unrealistic image for women and puts pressure on them to live up to that certain standard. According to Naomi Wolf "our culture disempowers women by holding them prisoner to an unattainable beauty ideal".[24] They reference various researcher's experiments in this field and the results that were found. For example, they refer to Hargreaves & Tiggemann (2004),[25] in which they look at how exposure to television adverts that contain women of a thin-ideal effects the body image of the women watching them. They found that the exposure led to an increase in body dissatisfaction.

The need for body satisfaction and appearance esteem continues to increase with the abundance of billboards, magazines, and conversations displaying "unrealistic images of beauty" (LiveLifeGetActive, 2016). Weight prejudices brought up in the media or social settings are also prevalent within society. The tendency to link physical attractive qualities with positive personal qualities has been documented since the 1970s. People assign positive personality traits and overall life outcomes to those they perceive as attractive both mentally and physically. The very thin and beautiful models within the media are therefore seen as the most successful and socially desirable people on the planet*.[9]*

In most societies, thinness is typically associated with happiness, success, youthfulness, and social acceptability. This ideal is heavily portrayed throughout the mainstream media, whereby women are assumed to be perfect in every way. In addition, the idea that a person can never be too thin or too rich, makes it difficult for females to attain any sort of happiness about their personal appearance.[12]

Hence, a women's attitude towards her body are thus a result of comparing it with those depicted in the media, along with society's obsession with thinness. A study was done by Rachel Cohen in 2015 to investigate if Facebook impacted the number of women experiencing body dissatisfaction, 'Since social media forums such as Facebook involve one's peers, the current study aimed to determine whether the relationship between appearance comparison and body image dissatisfaction would be stronger for those exposed to social media images, compared to conventional media images'

Body dissatisfaction creates negative attitudes, a damaging mentality, and negative habits in young, adult females. [26] [27] The emphasis on thinness and on an ideal female body shape and size is psychologically detrimental to the well-being of many young women. Many have thus resorted to grooming, dieting, and surgical pursuits, in order to be happy.[28] A negative body image is very common among young-adult females. It has been found that “The prevalence of eating disorder development among college females is especially high, with rates up to 24% among college students” [29]

Global eating disorder rates such as anorexia and bulimia are gradually rising in adolescent girls. The National Eating Disorders Association, reported that 95% of individuals who suffer from an eating disorder are aged 12 to 26,[30] and anorexia is the third most common illness among teenagers.[30] Based on another study by Dove, 87% of individuals with low body-esteems often avoid eating, and would rather place their health at risk for the sake of beauty. With the habitual use of social media, teenage girls in particular, are most prone "to internalize negative messages and obsess about weight loss to obtain a thin appearance".[31] As a result, pressures from social media doubles for adolescent girls between the ages of 13 to 18 years old,[32] and more than half of them have already reported the need to diet. The pressure on females "to cope with the effects of culturally induced body insecurity" is therefore severe,[22] with many others previously citing that "their lives would be better if they were not judged by their looks and body shape, [as] this is leading to low self-esteem, eating disorders, mental health problems and depression."[33]

Besides the need to be thin and young, there is also a weight prejudice within our society that is brought up in media, social settings, with friends, or even by parents.[34] These high standards for women to follow and live up to mixed with the practical impossibilities of achieving such standards develops an attitude from women that thinness is extremely desirable.[35] As an effect of this women can develop eating disorders and other mental health issues such as lower self-esteem as they feel the societal pressure to fit the mold of beautiful. Even the average size of clothing women wear has changed drastically within the past decades, as a size 8 used to be considered small to average and is now nearly plus size. Actress/comedian Amy Schumer spoke out on the issue of size when she was featured in Glamour Magazine as a "Plus Size Woman".[36] Upon the magazines publication, Schumer posted a tweet saying, "I think there's nothing wrong with being plus size. Beautiful healthy women. Plus size is considered size 16 in America. I go between a size 6 and a 8."[36]

Women who value this idea of having to be extremely thin and a size 2 or 4 have body dissatisfaction, and take part in cosmetic surgeries or weight loss behaviors (such as dieting) to try to become the standard that they so commonly see.[35] The problem in which people, specifically women, are constantly comparing themselves to the people and images in the media leads to individuals believing they are more overweight than they actually are.[37] "Idealised media images are routinely subjected to computer manipulation techniques, such as airbrushing (e.g. slimming thighs and increasing muscle tone). The resulting images present an unobtainable 'aesthetic perfection' that has no basis in biological reality" Paraskeva et al. (2015).[38]

However, other researchers have contested the claims of the media effects paradigm. An article by Christopher Ferguson, Benjamin Winegard, and Bo Winegard, for example, argues that peer effects are much more likely to cause body dissatisfaction than media effects, and that media effects have been overemphasized.[6] It also argues that one must be careful about making the leap from arguing that certain environmental conditions might cause body dissatisfaction to the claim that those conditions can cause diagnosable eating disorders.

Women are constantly exposed to the retouched bodies of celebrities, which reflect society's ideal thin body in the media. This leads to the women developing poor self-images. Women begin to see the thin ideal body, which they see constantly in the media, as the perfect body that they should aim to achieve.[39]


Males also face similar burdens in regards to attractiveness, whereby the media's depiction of the ideal muscular physique has caused numerous body dissatisfaction issues among young men. Teenage boys in particular, are now three times more likely to suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), with numbers reaching 45% since 1991.[31] BDD is a mental illness whereby an individual compulsively focuses on physical self-perceived flaws.[31] According to a study by Rawhide, 18% of adolescent males were most worried about their weight and physique (Malcore, 2016), while 29% frequently thought about their appearances.[31] Moreover, 50% had recently complained about the way they look.[31]

The main causes of male body issues include 25% being teased about their weight,[31] while 33% specified social media as the source for self-consciousness.[31] A factor that affects male body image on social media sites is "celebrity involvement". Following celebrities on social media sites makes it possible to interact personally with celebrities, which has been shown to influence male body image.[40] A number of respondents also admitted to being affected by negative body talk from others. Men may also suffer from the mental disorder bigorexia, also known as muscle dysmorphia. Sufferers of bigorexia tend to constantly chase their ideal muscular body. However, many sufferers never attain this ideal body due to never being fully satisfied with their physique.[41]

While women face expectations to be increasingly thin, endorsements featuring the muscular ideal therefore causes numerous problems for men. Granting both genders may share the idealised image of narrow waists and hips, other characteristics specific to the mesomorphic and muscular V-shaped body, include broad shoulders, a well-developed upper body, [and] toned "six-pack" abs.[28] The importance men placed on muscle and weight may be traced back to the release of an idealized male doll, G.I. Joe. The "bulked-up action heroes, along with the brawny characters in many video games, present an anatomically impossible ideal for boys, much as Barbie promotes proportions that are physically impossible for girls."[42]

Males are thus exposed to extensive imaging of men with bulging muscles, who often act as warriors or fighters, solving problems with their fists. By watching their heroes fight and punch, boys learn that aggression is essential and that they should strive to have huge muscles too. If these role models were smiling, less hyper-masculinized, or less aggressive, boys would not learn from such a young age that hyper-masculinity is the only successful way to be a 'man'.[42] A new term named 'Fitspiration' has even come into play over recent years. 'Fitspiration,' a term that combines "fitness" and "inspiration", is an online trend designed to inspire viewers towards a healthier lifestyle by promoting exercise and healthy food'.[43]

A popular slogan of 'Fitspiration' photos is "Strong is the New Skinny", an expression that encourages people to not be afraid of getting strong and working out.[44] The popularity of a desire to achieve a good body and healthy lifestyle has increased in the last decade due to fitness accounts of Facebook and Instagram. Although 'Fitspiration' accounts and pictures have the intention of motivating people to pursue healthy lifestyles, they oftentimes contain objectifying elements or only show a certain body type, which can negatively affect many women's body images. For instance, 'Fitspiration' images tend to focus on specific poses or features of a woman such as washboard abs, which in turn objectifies the person.[44]

Regardless of the lower number of products targeting males, negative messages can be communicated through fitness websites, video games, pop culture, movies, and other types of media as well. Based on a report by the Picture of Health, 53% of boys cited advertisements as a "major source of pressure to look good; [though] social media (57%) and friends (68%) exerted more influence, while celebrities (49%) were slightly less persuasive".[45] In spite of this, 22% of adolescent boys thought that the ideals depicted by the media were aspirational, while 33% cited it was healthy.[45]

With rising pressures to achieve a muscular physique, many teenage boys thus participate in extreme workouts and weight trainings for long periods of the day. Some eventually abuse supplements and steroids to further increase muscle mass. In 2016, 10.5% acknowledged the use of muscle-enhancing substances,[31] while 5 to 6% of respondents admitted to the use of steroids.[31] Although dieting is often overlooked, a significant increase in eating disorders is present among men. Currently, 1 out of 4 men suffer from eating disorders,[31] while 31% have admitted to purging or binge eating in the past.[31]

The fashion industry

The fashion industry is a prime target of body image issues, with models often facing second-hand criticism. Fashion industry insiders believe that clothes hang better on tall, thin women; however, critics argue that catwalk models communicate an unhealthy and unrealistic body image to the public.[46] In the world of fashion, it often seems as if measurements, or the number or alphabet carried defines an individual. Based on a survey participated by 13 to 17 year olds in the U.S., 90% "felt pressured by fashion and media industries to be skinny",[47] with 65% believing that the body image portrayed were too thin.[47] Furthermore, more than 60% habitually compare themselves to models,[47] while 46% will strive to achieve it.[47] The underlying issue with brands featuring underweight models, therefore revolves around expressing "the message that an unhealthy body type is the most socially valued".[48] For eating disorders sufferers, viewing these images could consequently strengthen desires to lose weight.

The severity of this matter continues to rise as fashion magazines directed at females, subtly promote thinness and diet practices, and are heavily relied on by teenagers for beauty and fashion advice. Seventeen magazine in particular recorded one of the highest number of articles devoted to appearances, leading to 69% of girls stating it influenced their ideal body shape.[49] In addition, 50% of advertisements featured also used beauty appeal to sell products.[50] With the high number of publications featuring articles promoting unhealthy weight loss, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported an astounding 90% of teenage girls voiced the need to change their appearances,[51] while 81% of 10 year olds were already afraid of being fat.[51] As a result, many argue that fashion and media's powerful role on body image and self-perception, will spiral into eating disorders, According to a survey by the Manchester Metropolitan University, "self-esteem and views of body image suffered after the participants were shown magazine pictures of models, [suggests] that media portrayal of images can prolong anorexia and bulimia in women and may even be a cause of it"[22].

According to Dove's Global Beauty And Confidence report, "a total of 71% of women and 67% of girls want to call on the media to do a better job portraying women of diverse physical appearance, age, race, shape and size."[19] In addition, 67% of men now strongly believe that it is unacceptable for brands to use photo manipulation techniques to alter the body image of a model.[45] To counter such issues, the fashion magazine industry has made efforts in including 'real' women, and reducing or banning the use of airbrushing tools. Despite the amount of feminist features in magazines though, "body fascism is [still] reinforced by the advertisements, fashion stories and beauty pages."[22] Likewise, fashion brands and retailers adopt vanity sizing in their assortments to intentionally raise a customer's self-esteem while shopping in stores. This involves labeling clothes with smaller sizes than the actual cut of the items, to trick and attract the consumer. The strategy was based on research reporting the lowering of customer self-esteems and interests, in products with larger sizing labels.

Less is usually known about the pressures models in the industry face, but striving hard to meet the requirements of their agency or brand is a main facet. Among the group, 69% were told to tone up,[52] while 62% cited that their agencies required them to lose weight or change their body shape.[52] Another 54% of models revealed that they would be dropped by their agencies if they failed to comply.[52] Hence, models habitually weigh themselves under the healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) level. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, discovered that a majority of models had a body mass index (BMI) of 17.41,[52] which qualifies for anorexia.

In the past twenty years, runway models have also transformed from a typical size 6-8 to 0-2. The average weight of a typical model in the United States was ecorded to be twenty-three percent less than an average woman in society. This phenomenon has caused countless of models to suffer from illness such as eating disorders and anorexia nervosa. In extreme cases, some models have died due to complications caused by eating disorders. In 2006, the fashion industry came under fire due to the untimely death of two models; Luisel Ramos, and Ana Carolina Reston. Both girls suffered complications from their eating disorders, and were severely underweight. Owing to the intensifying burdens, a high number of models are therefore willing to participate in intensive exercise regimes, diets, fasts, and detoxes; in order to maintain or lose weight. In addition, 17% have admitted to stimulant abuse,[52] while another 8% frequently engaged in self-induced vomiting.[52]

Attempts to improve

With the aim of protecting models and projecting a healthier body image, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and Israel, passed bills that prohibit models from working with a Body mass index (BMI) below 18.5.[53] The UK and U.S., chose to use less compelling tactics of cultivating the general public through the promotion of education campaigns in society. France on the other hand, introduced a new regulation this year preventing the employment of extremely skinny models,[48] and the need for a medical certificate to verify their health.[48] This was an update to the previous law passed that prohibited agencies from using models with a BMI lower than 18.[48] France is also working on ensuring retailers specify when an image is airbrushed in magazines, websites, and advertisements.[54] However, some argue that these laws may not be effective as, majority of individuals are already aware of digital retouching techniques, and may even use it themselves.[54]

Due to the criticisms surrounding the glamourising of eating disorders, some brands are actively playing their part in cultivating better body images too. Fashion conglomerates; Kering and LVMH, recently "announced that they will no longer hire models smaller than a U.S. size 2".[48] Not only will this improve the working conditions of models, both companies hope it may inspire others to follow suit. Although, the industry is moving in the right direction, it is arguable that the banning of size zero could be seen as a discriminatory act; similar to thin shaming.[55] For that reasons, focus should be placed on altering beauty norms, rather than blame the wearer for their size. Moreover, the announcement of a small and minimum dress size, which does not fit the average body type of most countries, continues to "send the message that super slim body types is the 'ideal'".[56]

Attributable to the level of interest in women who do not match the proportions of average models, plus-size models are slowly emerging in the mainstream media. With several utilising their positions to promote body positivity, their continued presence in the industry, undoubtedly reign beneficial to the health of other models and customers. Health reporter Philippa of[57]BBC News discusses how the introduction of more diversity upon body images can be a helpful factor into improving self-confidence for all body types. Prominent names include Ashley Graham; who is the face of popular plus-size retailer Lane Bryant, and Iskra Lawrence; who is a classified role model for lingerie and swimwear retailer Aerie. Fashion magazines are beginning to include plus-size models as well, with Sports Illustrated gaining worldwide attention when it showcased the first plus-size model on the cover of its swimsuit issue.[58]

Fashion designers are also strong supporters for embracing diversity and healthy body ideals in fashion.[59] Christian Siriano specifically, shocked the fashion world by casting five plus-size models for his New York Fashion Week shows.[60] Despite the box-office success of Ghostbusters, Siriano also made global headlines after he designed a gown for actress Leslie Jones, because no one else would.[61] Although a high number of plus-size models dominated the runways this year, print advertisements saw a decrease, with only 2.2% cast.[62]

Models who publicly advocate their opinions of the fashion industry are growing as well, especially with the criticism and strain placed on their well-beings. Many have notably used Instagram as a tool to "encourage self-acceptance, fight back against body-shamers, and post plenty of selfies celebrating their figure".[58] In the U.S., a group of plus-size models launched the #DearNYFW campaign, which targeted the fashion industry's harmful approach towards their bodies.[63] This movement was broadcast across different social media platforms, with other models using the hashtag to share their experience, in hopes of persuading the American fashion industry to start "prioritizing health and celebrate diversity on the runway".[63]

In regards to men falling victims to body image issues, fashion photographer Tarik Carroll released a photo series titled the EveryMAN Project. The project showcased large-framed queer and transgender men of color, with the purpose of "challenging hyper-masculinity and gender norms, while bringing body-positivity to the forefront".[64] Furthmore, Caroll aims to enlighten society about body image struggles in men, after hearing the complaints of male models.

The lack of fashion-forward plus-size clothing in the fashion industry on the other hand, has given rise to the #PlusIsEqual movement. There was often a misconception by retailers that full-figured women were not interested in purchasing trendy styles. However, high-street brands such as Forever 21, and ASOS, have increased product offerings to include plus-size options for their customers.[65] Other brands include, Victoria Beckham who plans to release a range of high-street clothing with sizes up to XXXL in the upcoming months,[66] and Nike who expanded their plus size collection to cater for sizes 1X to 3X.[67] In regards to the criticisms surrounding the term plus-size causing unnecessary labeling, Kmart therefore replaced its numerical sizing with positive tags such as, "lovely" and "fabulous" instead.[68]

Protesting against photo retouching is another important aspect towards body positivity, with the most famous example being Aerie's ArieReal campaign. Since 2014, the movement promised to display "campaign spreads and brand imagery with stomach rolls, gapless thighs and other perceived flaws that would normally have been edited out of the ads".[65] Other brands such as Neon Moon, which is a feminist lingerie brand from London, deeply believes in embracing and advocating the beauty of flaws, instead of the need to retouch their models for aesthetic purposes. Hence, campaigns often feature a range of "diverse models and lack of airbrushing as a marketing tool".[68] U.S. e-tailer ModCloth on the other hand, explored other methods including, employing their staff as models for the swimwear collection.[69]

Social media

In the past, exposure to photos or articles were primarily found in traditional media; however, the accessibility of the internet today has resulted in an infinite array online. The world we inhabit is transpiring into a saturated place driven by imageries, which "force [narrower] standards of beauty than ever before".[70] One of the greatest influences the internet has on body image, is the creation of social media. Users are constantly bombarded by notifications, posts, and photos about the lives of others; "sending messages about what we could, should, or would be if we only purchased certain products, made certain choices, or engaged in certain behaviors".[18] Despite the ability to create and control content on social media, "the same unattainable body ideals we see in traditional media are also reflected in the online environment."[71] Over-engagement with social networking platforms and images will therefore, also "encourage a psychological adoption of unrealistic beauty ideals ..., [which] can lead to poor body image and low self-esteem".[71]

In 2016, psychologists confirmed the relationship between social media usage and body image anxieties, dieting, and the goal towards thinness. Based on a survey, 56% of women acknowledged the effect of the "social media culture in driving the pressure for perfection and negative body image";[56] whereby it forces them to look a certain way. These platforms further reiterate the need for individuals to compare themselves with others online, resulting in higher expectations towards their standards of beauty.[18] Hence, 42% of women stated social media caused them to feel worse about their bodies,[72] while another study by the University of South Australia, discovered that individuals who frequently uploaded or viewed appearance-related items were more likely to internalise the thin ideal.[71]

Applications such as Instagram have become a "body-image battleground",[70] while the "selfie" is now the universal lens which individuals use to criticise their bodies and others.[70] Facebook and Snapchat also allow users to receive appearance approvals and community acceptance through the ratio of views, comments, and likes. Since individuals who use social media platforms often only display the high points of their lives, a survey by Common Sense reported that 22% felt bad if their posts were ignored, or if it did not receive the amount of attention they hoped for.[73] The increased use of body and facial reshaping applications such as Snapchat and Facetune has been identified as a potential cause of body dysmorphia. Recently, a phenomenon referred to as 'Snapchat dysmorphia' has been used to describe people who request surgery to look like the edited version of themselves as they appear through Snapchat Filters.[74]

This could serve as a trigger for more insecurities, with many utilising digital manipulation techniques as well, to modify their photos in order to meet the media-crafted ideals of thinness and perfection. According to research by the Renfrew Center Foundation, 50% of men and 70% of 18 to 35-year-old women edited their images before uploading.[75] Therefore, 35% of respondents were also actively concerned about being tagged in unattractive photos, while 27% fretted about their appearances online.[75] Yet, with the presence of fake imagery, a majority of individuals still habitually fixate on the lifestyles and belongings of others.

With the growth of the wellness industry in recent years, social media platforms have witnessed an assortment of fitness influencers and trends. Followers obsessively pursue these diet and exercise regimes posted as a way to remain healthy, while the influencers hope it generates body positivity in return. Yet, these bloggers and companies have received numerous criticism because the "drive for 'wellness' and 'clean eating' has become stealthy covers for more dieting and deprivation".[76]

Reports have also shown that the messages delivered by "fitspiration" websites are sometimes identical to the "thinspiration" or pro-anorexia types.[77] This is evident through "language inducing guilt about weight or the body, and promoted dieting".[76] Although the wellness trend may not lead to eating disorders, the marketing of restrictive diets to young women as a form of self care could potentially cause "increasingly disordered eating",[76] whereby they became more concerned with ingredients and limited certain types of food. This illness is better known as Orthorexia; which is the obsession with the right and wrong types of food.[77]

Attempts to improve

As an attempt to tackle such issues, the UK launched a national campaign called Be Real, after findings showed 76% of secondary school students who learnt about body confidence in class felt more positive about themselves.[78] The goal of this movement was thus to improve body confidence through educational resources provided to schools, and persuading the media, businesses, and the diet industry to endorse different body shapes and sizes instead.[75] Despite the negative outcomes of technological advancements altering the perceptions of an individual's body image and mental health, the cultivation of social media is still beneficial.

Parallel to traditional media, it may be employed as a tool to share and spread body positivity. Social networking sites and applications ultimately build a platform for users to speak out on issues, with many industry insiders utilising their online leverage to protest for change. Previous techniques, brands and influencers that have been tested include, the promotion of a positive body image through popular hashtags and marketing campaigns, and the formation of groups that support self-love and the banning of body shaming.

In response to the criticism of social media driving eating disorders, platforms such as Instagram, have banned the use of thinspiration and thinspo related hashtags. Other solutions include transformation photos, and the promotion of hashtags such as #SelfLove and #BodyPositivity[79]. Transformation photos are side-by-side images displaying an individual's fitness or weight-loss progress. Although, it aims to "serve as inspiration for people looking to change themselves physically or live healthier lives",[79] some users have utilised this technique to showcase the level of deceptiveness within social media. Likewise, in an effort to actively help those suffering from eating disorders, Eating Disorder Hope launched the Pro-Recovery Movement. The project involved hosting of live Twitter chat encouraging sufferers to celebrate self-love and a positive body image, through recovery subject matters.[80]

Other organizations such as ProjectHEAL, introduced a campaign called #WhatMakesMeBeautiful,[81] with the aim of celebrating different talents, personalities, and other non-appearance related attributes that also make one beautiful.[80] This movement was especially successful among the eating disorder community; hence, emphasising the "need for social media movements that celebrate self-love and looking at beauty through a different lens".[80] Celebrity culture is known as one of the main influences on body image for this generation. Studies in this area have been carried out with the majority proving that viewing media images affects participants abilities to correctly estimate the size and parts of their own bodies. We are subjected to photoshop so often when they were shown a range of photos of famous celebrities the women with body dissatisfaction consistently choose the photos of the celebrity being photoshopped to look skinnier than the original.[82]


Body image is often measured by asking the subject to rate their current and ideal body shape using a series of depictions. The difference between these two values is the measure of body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction in girls can have many negative effects, including an increased rate of smoking and a decrease in comfort with sexuality when they're older, which may lead them to consider cosmetic surgery.[1][83]

Monteath and McCabe found that 44% of women express negative feelings about both individual body parts and their bodies as a whole.[84] The magazine, Psychology Today found that 56% of the women and about 40% of the men who responded to their survey in 1997 were dissatisfied with their overall appearance.[85] American youth (37.7% of males and 51% of females) express dissatisfaction with their bodies.[86]

In America, the dieting industry earns roughly 40 billion dollars per year. A Harvard study (Fat Talk, Harvard University Press) published in 2000 revealed that 86% of teenage girls are on a diet or believe they should be on one. Dieting has become a very common thing to not only teenage girls but even younger children as well. The National Eating Disorders Association has found out that 51% of 9- and 10-year-old girls actually feel better about themselves when they are on a diet.[87]

There are currently more than 40 "instruments" used to measure body image.[88] All of these instruments can be put into three categories: figure preferences, video projection techniques, and questionnaires. Because there are so many ways to measure body image, it makes it difficult to draw meaningful research generalizations. Many factors have to be taken into account when measuring body image, including gender, ethnicity, culture, and age.[89]

Figure rating scales

One of the most prominent measures of body image is Figure Rating Scales. Generally, these scales utilize a series of body images graded from thin to muscular, or thin to obese.[90] Individuals are to indicate which of the figures most represents their current perceived body, and which represents their ideal or desired body. Bodies depicted in figure rating scales are either hand-drawn silhouettes,[91] computer rendered images,[92] or photographic images.[93]

Video projection techniques

In one study participants were shown a series of images flashing before them; each image was a picture of them but either increased weight or decreased weight. They were measured in self-report by responding to the pictures. Also they were measured by startle-based measures and testing their eyeblink response. "The Startle response is a complex set of physiological changes that occur in response to unexpected and intense stimulus."[94] These measurements can be useful because "Objective, psychophysiological measures, like the affect modulated startle eyeblink response, are less subject to reporting bias."[94][95]


Questionnaires are another very commonly used method of measurement. One example of a questionnaire is BASS; it is a 9-item subscale of the Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire. It uses a rating scale from −2 to +2 and assesses eight body areas and attributes and overall appearance (face, hair, lower torso, mid-torso, upper torso, muscle tone, height, and weight).[96] Questionnaires can have confounding variable responses though. For instance, "Acquiescent response style (ARS), or the tendency to agree with items on a survey, is more common among individuals from Asian and African cultures."[97][98][99][100]

Gender differences

Gender differences related to body image are increasingly prevalent between men and women. Although dissatisfaction is more common in women, men are becoming more negatively affected than women.[101] In a longitudinal study that assessed body image across time and age between men and women, men placed greater significance on their physical appearance than women, even though women report body image dissatisfaction more often. Adolescence is where this difference is most notable. One reason for this is because males are being targeted in the media more heavily today. Historically, and for a much longer period of time, the media has immoderately targeted females, which may explain why they are becoming less sensitized to the effects.[102] This information suggests that appearance pressure and concerns are continuing to affect both men and women in western culture.

Men's body image is a topic of increasing interest in both academic articles and in the popular press.[103] Current research indicates many men wish to become more muscular than they currently perceive themselves to be, often desiring up to 26 pounds of additional muscle mass. According to the study, western men desire muscle mass over that of Asian men by as much as 30 pounds.[104] The desire for additional muscle has been linked to many men's concepts about masculinity. A variety of research has indicated a relationship between men's endorsement of traditionally masculine ideas and characteristics, and their desire for additional muscle.[105][106]

Some research has suggested this relationship between muscle and masculinity may begin early in life, as boys' action figures are often depicted as super-muscular, often beyond the actual limits of human physiology. The connection between masculinity and muscle is however a cultural trend traced as far back as the Classical antiquity and linked to the war performance and its peaceful substitutes, the athletic events.[107] In addition, men with lower, more feminine, Waist–hip ratio (WHR) feel less comfortable and self-report lower body esteem and self-efficacy than men with higher, more masculine, WHRs.[108]

In general, research shows that body image in regards to appearance becomes less of a stress for women as they age. Studies show a decline in dissatisfaction of body image in college-aged women as they progress from the first semester of college to subsequent semesters. Their appearance rating of themselves tends to increase, while males' do not significantly change and often become worse. This suggests that the early years of college serve as a period for body image development, which can later affect the mental and physical well being of an individual.[109] Studies have found that females tend to think more about their body shape and endorse thinner figures than men even into old age.[110]

When female undergraduates were exposed to depictions of thin women their body satisfaction decreased, but rose when exposed to larger models.[111][112] In addition, many women engage in "fat talk" (speaking negatively about the weight-related size/shape of one's body), a behavior that has been associated with weight dissatisfaction, body surveillance, and body shame.[113] In addition, women who overhear others using fat talk may also experience an increase in body dissatisfaction and guilt.[114] As a result, women may experience concerns related to body image in a number of different ways and from a variety of sources.

As men and women reach older age, body image takes on a different meaning. Research studies show that the importance attached to physical appearance decreases with age.[109][115]

Physical appearance remains important later in life, but the functional aspects of the body take precedence over contentment with appearance.[102] Women are reported to benefit from the ageing process, becoming more satisfied with their images, while men begin to develop more insecurities and issues. Women reach a certain stage where they are no longer subject to the social pressures that heavily emphasize the importance of appearance. Men from the same studies are reported as becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their physical appearance as they age. Men are also less likely to implement appearance-enhancing activities into their daily lives.

The older women become the more satisfied with their body image they are likely to become because of the relief of stress from societal pressures.[116] The older men become, the more dissatisfied they are likely to become due to increased physical and perceived incompetency. Since there are significant differences between men and women of all ages, gender serves as a better predictor of body dissatisfaction and sociocultural perceived influences than age.[115]

Adrienne Adams and Eaaron Henderson-King claim that the rates of cosmetic surgery have increased in recent years. It has been proven that the majority of people that undergo cosmetic surgery is a highly gendered activity. However, rates are increasing for men. it is predominantly women who spend more time attending to their to their bodies. Cosmetic surgery was initially developed largely in response to the reconstructive needs of wounded soldiers, but it is now primarily used in a much more feminine way to improve people's physical appearance and attractiveness.[117][118]


The desire to lose weight is highly correlated with poor body image, with more women than men wanting to lose weight. Kashubeck-West et al. reported that when considering only men and women who desire to lose weight, sex differences in body image disappear.[119]

In her book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf reported that "thirty-three thousand women told American researchers they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal."[120] Through repeated images of excessively thin women in media, advertisement, and modeling, thinness has become associated with not only beauty, but happiness and success. As Charisse Goodman put it in her article, "One Picture is Worth a Thousand Diets", advertisements have changed society's ideas of beauty and ugliness: "Indeed to judge by the phrasing of the ads, 'slender' and 'attractive' are one word, not two in the same fashion as 'fat' and 'ugly.'" This idea of beauty has become drastically more narrow and unachievable, putting increased pressure on people looking to satisfy society's standards.

Research by Martin and Xavier (2010) shows that people feel more pressure from society to be thin after viewing ads featuring a slim model. Ads featuring a larger sized model resulted in less pressure to be thin. People also felt their actual body size was larger after viewing a slim model as compared to a larger model.[121]

Many, like journalist Marisa Meltzer, have argued this contemporary standard of beauty to be described as anorexic thinness, an unhealthy idea that is not representative of a natural human body: "Never before has the 'perfect' body been at such odds with our true size."[120][122][123]

However, these figures do not distinguish between people at a low or healthy weight who are in fact overweight, between those whose self-perception as being overweight is incorrect and those whose perception of being overweight is correct.

Research by The Lancent Psychiatry discusses the relationship between mass media and eating disorders stating,[124] "Body-image disturbance and weight and shape concerns are the result of an acculturation process spread through the therapeutic milieu and the mass media." The struggles caused by body imaging have led to the increase of Anorexia nervosa diagnosis. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that results in significant weight loss due to a persons own distorted body image. Its increasing rate shows the correlation between the effects body imaging through social media has on people especially upon women and how it effects the measures of weight loss.

Post-1997 studies[125] indicate that around 64% of American adults are overweight, such that if the 56%/40% female/male dissatisfaction rates in the Psychology Today study have held steady since its release, those dissatisfaction rates are if anything disproportionately low: although some individuals continue to believe themselves to be overweight when they are not, those persons are now outnumbered by persons who might be expected to be dissatisfied with their body but are not.

In turn, although social pressure to lose weight has adverse effects on some individuals who do not need to lose weight, those adverse effects are arguably outweighed by that social pressure's positive effect on the overall population, without which the recent increases in obesity and associated health and social problems (described in both popular and academic parlance as an "obesity epidemic")[126][127] would be even more severe than they already are.[128]

Miss Representation[129] is a documentary by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, exploring and displaying the role that mainstream media plays in society today with regards to women and the under-representation of women in influential positions. Prominent women in today's society were featured in discussing how the media has impacted their life along with their views on how the media is impacting the lives of people from an early age. These media messages have a severe impact on how individuals carry themselves along with what aspects bog them down like insecurities with body image. This film encourages viewers to start to see beyond the message and not compare themselves to these picture perfect computer-generated images.

The 2007 documentary America the Beautiful explores how the fashion and beauty industries are contributing to the problems that individuals feel regarding body image due to their beauty obsession. The film discusses a wide range of topics like plastic surgery, dieting, eating disorders, the modeling industry along with the fashion industry and much more. Young middle-school aged girls were portrayed in the beginning of the film and asked if they found themselves beautiful. The girls who are around the ages of 13 had decided that they were not beautiful. In today's society, people are starting to see themselves as ugly at an earlier age than ever before. As individuals who identify as ugly increase, the number of body image issues also increase.[130]

In a study performed by Leslie J. Heinberg of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and J. Kevin Thompson of the University of South Florida, results showed that women exposed to appearance based advertisements experienced a significant growth in depression, anxiety, anger, and body dissatisfaction.

In a study done at Old Dominion University, Thomas F. Cash, Julie R. Ancis and Melissa D. Strachan studied college women and their attitudes toward gender, feminist identity and body image. "Relative to men, women are considerably more psychologically invested in their appearance. Moreover, women's poor evaluations of and stronger investments in their looks potentiate greater body-image dysphoria in women's daily lives."[131] A contributing factor in this scenario that leads women to greater objectification of their bodies are the images that are seen throughout media. Women who are portrayed in the media often possess unattainable beauty. "Furthermore, the social construct of femininity is partially tied to perceived beauty, as evinced by the 'what is beautiful sex-typed' stereotype."[131] These internalized ideals along with the pursuit for this unattainable beauty of one's body image can lead to body dysmorphic disorder, body objectification, eating disorders, anxiety, depression and other related psychological difficulties.

In the same study from Arizona State University, it was said that the idea of beauty is generated from these media messages. "Cultural messages about beauty (i.e. what it is, how it should be cultivated, and how it will be rewarded) are often implicitly conveyed through media representations of women."[132]

In the study from Old Dominion University, the authors state the importance of research in this area. "Given the centrality of body image in clinical and sub clinical eating disturbances that are so prevalent among women, research on gender and body image has substantial importance."[131] Even though there is research being done, there is still much more work to be done to help individuals who struggle with their body image.

The link between body image and eating disorders is becoming increasingly prominent in the younger generations as the growth of social media and social influencers inhibits their perspective on their own bodies.[133]

To combat unhealthy body image issues among women, in 2015, France passed a law requiring models to be declared healthy by a doctor to participate in fashion shows. It also requires re-touched images to be marked as such in magazines.[134]

Weight - The Psychosocial burden of childhood overweight and Obesity: Children also have a hard time dealing with 'body image' and can face discrimination. According to (European Journal of Pediatrics 2017 ) According to research, It has shown that the psychological, social and behavioral consequences of childhood obesity shows that children who are overweight experience not only discrimination but overall body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, social isolation and depression.


Perceptions of races have drastically changed over the years dating all the way back to the medieval era referencing light and dark, good and evil. Hundreds of years later perceptions would be changed again with the Atlantic slave trade, which left ideas of idealism for Caucasians and a negative idea of any other race. Caucasian nationalists such as Goldstein also believed that all races originated from the 'white' race.[135] With this extreme racism of the time the black body was studied, displayed and scrutinized for any minor difference. "The ideas about beauty we contend with in the twenty-first century draw in part on very old ways of thinking about human bodies and African difference."[136] In the 1960s the Black is Beautiful movement and Black Power movement took form and shook the world in a display of racial pride. Today's perceptions of different races has come a long way in bringing a positive mentality to racial body image but there are still some core issues in today's society.

The fashion industry is known for not being inclusive of more races in their runways and ad campaigns, and several studies that have been conducted prove that the lack of racial diversity can contribute to body image issues amongst non-white minorities.[137] In one such experiment, conducted in 2003, 3 photographs of attractive white, black and Asian women were shown to a group of white, black and Asian students. The study concluded that Asian women thought that the photograph of the white woman was the most attractive, and reported high levels of body dissatisfaction.[138] Such dissatisfaction may even cause these individuals to suffer psychologically due to the pressure to embody these ideals,[139] and may result in them going through several means to change their physical appearance in order to match the Eurocentric idea of beauty.

Weight loss is one such method. For instance, Mexican American women who have been attuned to mainstream US culture reported greater body dissatisfaction and have described their ideal body types to be similar to the white norm. In spite of the fact that certain ethnicities naturally have different body types,[140] this ideal has led to disordered eating amongst Latinas.[141]

Plastic surgery is another method, and is especially popular in Asia for "Westernizing" facial features. Two of the most popular treatments are rhinoplasty (nose lifts), and blepharoplasty (eyelid lifts), which are done to make these features look more Caucasian.[142]

Skin lightening products are also prevalent in countries where non-white ethnicities are the majority, and the industry makes billions of dollars every year. In India alone, whitening products make up 45% of the skin care market.[143] Plenty of these whitening cosmetics are known to have dangerous side effects due to the ingredients in them; hydroquinone, for instance, is known to cause irritation and leukemia while mercury is known to cause rashes and pigmentation.[144]

In spite of these effects, industries like the fashion industry have not significantly featured women of color (and when they have, the women may have either been significantly "whitewashed" – with digitally lightened skin and hair – or may already have features that are considered "white").[141]

The fashion industry believes that by advertising unattainable standards of beauty, they fuel a customer demand by "creating a craving that can't be satisfied".[145]

Body size and shape misperception

As well as being dissatisfied with their body size, exposure to idealized images of thin bodies is associated with overestimation of one's own body size.[146] Recent research suggests that this exposure to images of thin bodies may cause a recalibration of the visual perceptual mechanisms that represent body size in the brain, such that the observer sees subsequently-viewed bodies, including their own body, as heavier than they really are,[147] a process known as "visual adaptation". There is evidence that individuals who are less satisfied with their bodies may spend a disproportionate amount of time directing their visual attention towards unusually thin bodies, resulting in an even greater overestimation of the size of subsequently-viewed bodies.[148] Further evidence suggests that a similar mechanism may be at play in people (particularly young men) who underestimate their muscularity,[149] such as those suffering from muscle dysmorphia. The nature of the interaction between body size and shape misperception and body dissatisfaction is not yet fully understood, however.

See also

  • Body cathexis

  • Body schema

  • Body shape

  • Fear of Negative Evaluation

  • Male body shape

  • Female body shape

  • Figure rating scale

  • The Honest Body Project

  • Inverted binocular phenomenon

  • Physical attractiveness

  • Self (psychology)

  • Sex in advertising

  • Sexual objectification

  • Social Media


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