CW: This article discusses topics of mental illness, suicide and eating disorders which could be distressing to some readers.
How do we define body image?
What is body image?
You will probably resonate with me when I say that body image has been a strong focal point within society, especially within the last 10 years but how can we define body image and why is it important?
Although body image is a multifaceted construct, the national eating disorders collaboration defines body image as a combination of feelings and thoughts regarding your body. Within this definition, there are four main aspects to body image which include perceptual, affective, cognitive, and behavioural body image.
Perceptual body image is the way you see your body which may not always be accurate due to various reasons such as body dysmorphia and different societal beauty standards.
Affective body image describes the feelings associated with your body image which generally boils down to satisfaction levels with your body.
Cognitive body image being the way you think about your body which could lead to preoccupation with your shape and size.
Lastly, behavioural body image is the behaviours employed based off your body image. For example, taking up unhealthy habits such as not eating properly to change your appearance.
From this definition it is clear that there is much more to body image than just the way we view our bodies, and ergo there are plenty of implications resulting from this. So what are some of these implications?
Psychological research from the mental health foundation with over 4000 participants found that ‘idealised’ body images from media not only undermine self-confidence but attribute to poor mental health. A shocking statistic from the foundation reported that one in eight British adults were so distraught about their body image that they experienced suicidal thoughts. This exemplifies the importance of body image.
The lack of diversity in influential media
Although there has been emphasis on the topic of body image, the stereotypical beauty standards are still prevalent in society for both men and women. For example, for men, having muscles, a six pack and a lean body has been the ideal body image. For women, being slim has been the standard of the ‘ideal body’ for a long time. An ongoing example would be the show love island which re-enforces the idea that to be attractive, you should look a certain way. Just by looking at the contestants not only this year but throughout the seasons, the common theme is for all the men to have muscles and abs and all the women to be slim, fitting into the conventional beauty standards. Although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for the youth and people of similar ages, it could have implications that to be conventionally attractive, you should look a certain way and have a body like the contestants. Diversity is heavily lacking within this program. There are many more examples of this in mainstream media. For instance, the recent Netflix documentary about the rise and fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. The awareness being brought forward by documentaries such as this one indicates a positive change occurring in society.
It is also important to mention the Eurocentric beauty standards which are prevalent in society which may make it harder for people of colour to be comfortable in their own skin. The recent Netflix documentary aforementioned shows how discrimination was the brands way of marketing, similarly ethnic minority people growing up have a hard time accepting their looks due to the Eurocentric standards of beauty. As an ethnic minority male, I can attest to this from my own personal experience. This is crucial body positivity of the wider public due to the reasons highlighted earlier, when people have a negative body image, it could lead to negative behaviours including eating disorders and mental health problems. To spread awareness is to educate which could potentially help young people from feeling insecure and allowing people of all backgrounds to feel comfortable in their skin. This is why diversity in media is imperative.
Has there been progress in terms of diversity?
It is important to note that there has been strong progress in the past years. From fashion to cosmetic companies. Some examples of these include Zara and H&M including diversity within their models when promoting their clothing lines, for instance, including hijabi models. An example of change within the cosmetic companies is Fenty Beauty being the first company to have an extensive make up line for people of colour. There has been a strong movement for body positivity with highly influential advocates. Rihanna arguably being one of the strongest advocates by establishing the Fenty beauty line. Alongside this, her fashion shows inclusive use of models of all ethnicities and sizes to ensure the message of body positivity and being comfortable in your own skin getting across. By doing so, spreading awareness to the wider public.
So how do we advocate for change and how do we promote positive body image and diversity? As mentioned prior, to spread awareness is to educate. However, there are steps that everyone reading this article can take to promote body positivity. From being kinder to yourself by reaffirming positive affirmations, educating yourself on the body positivity movement and being mindful of others when having conversations about body image. A further suggestion could be viewing exercise and physical activities a way on increasing psychological well-being, physical health, and social connections instead of purely focusing on gaining muscle or looking a certain way. To see 6 other ways on how to promote body positivity and to learn to embrace yourself, click here.