During the teen and young adult years, when both young men and young women are bombarded with a host of different physiological and psychological changes and challenges, it is especially important to try to maintain a healthy body image. Body image actually includes a number of different factors. It is how we see our bodies and how we feel about our appearance. Body image is also how we think other people view our bodies and the degree to which we are connected to our bodies. And, thinking about body image is not a rare occurrence. In fact, both male and female teens and young adults think about their body image often. According to the Brown University Web site, one study of college students found that 74.4 percent of normal weight women indicated that they thought about their weight or appearance either all the time or frequently; the same study found that 46 percent of the normal weight men responded in the same way. Yet, paradoxically, the more focus is placed on body image, the worse people tend to feel about themselves. 1 And, poor body image is associated with a number of medical problems, including extreme dieting and/or exercising, self-induced vomiting, abuse of laxatives, and ingestion of anabolic steroids.
And the preoccupation with body image is not only a problem in the United States. In a study published in 2013 in Nutrición Hospitalaria, researchers from Brazil examined a cohort of 852 females and 642 males between the ages of 11 and 17 years. All of the members of the cohort, who were public school students in Salvador, Brazil, completed questionnaires. The researchers found that body image dissatisfaction was present in almost one-fifth of the students. Prevalence was 26.6 percent among the girls and 10 percent among the boys. The researchers noted that these findings indicated “a high occurrence of body image dissatisfaction” among the students they studied. 2
In a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, researchers from Houston, Texas, and Hanoi, Vietnam, examined the association between major depression, obesity, and body image among adolescents. The cohort consisted of 4,175 teens between the ages of 11 and 17 years. The teens completed questionnaires and had their weight and height measured. There were two measurements of body image—perceived weight and body satisfaction. The researchers found that the actual weight of the teens was less important than their perceived body weight. And, both the males and females who thought they were overweight had an increased risk for major depression. The researchers concluded that “perceived weight is more important than weight in terms of risk for major depression.” They recommended that greater attention be paid to how teens “feel about their weight and body.” 3
In a study published in 2011 in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, researchers from Portugal evaluated the association between physical activity and dissatisfaction with body image. The cohort consisted of 234 students between the ages of 10 and 17 years. Trained interviewers took measurements, such as height and weight, and they assessed students’ level of physical activity and body image perceptions. The researchers found that more females than males (68.1 percent versus 52.9 percent) were dissatisfied with their body image. Close to 72 percent of both male and female students demonstrated body image distortion. As their body mass index levels rose, so did body image distortion. Still, there was a hopeful finding. Higher levels of physical activity were associated with lower levels of body image dissatisfaction in males and females. According to the researchers, it has long been known that regular physical activity has a number of benefits. Now these include improvements in body image dissatisfaction. 4
In a study published in 2010 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, researchers from Australia evaluated the efficacy of Happy Being Me, a school-based body image intervention program for young female teens. The cohort consisted of 194 female seventh-grade students from two Catholic secondary schools in Melbourne, Australia. The students in one school became the intervention group, and the students in the other school became the control group. The students in the intervention group participated in three 50-minute interactive body image sessions; the goal was to teach the students about the negative consequences of poor body images and to develop strategies to combat forces promoting negative images. The students in the control group attended their normal classes. Questionnaires were administered at baseline, postintervention, and at a three-month follow-up. The researchers learned that the students in the intervention group had significantly more positive outcomes on a number of different measures than the students in the control group. The researchers concluded that their work provided proof that this school-based program was effective and had proven results. 6
In a study published in 2013 in the journal Body Image, researchers from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst had 44 female college students, with a mean age of 20.2 years, view a slideshow of very thin models. After two weeks, they watched a second slideshow of healthy weight models. After each slideshow, the researchers measured the participants’ body image, anxiety, happiness, and depression. The researchers found that when the students viewed the healthy weight models, their notion of ideal body types was larger than when they viewed the thinner models. This effect was significantly stronger in those with high levels of baseline anxiety. These students “also had significantly more positive affect after viewing healthy weight models than after viewing thin models.” The researchers concluded that “a movement toward healthy weight models in popular media may provide a substantial benefit to mental health.” 7
In a study published in 2014 in the journal Sex Roles, a researcher from Urbana, Illinois, used a Korean research firm to learn how the post-baby bodies of celebrities influenced Korean women who had given birth. The research firm sent email questionnaires to women in their twenties and thirties who had experienced childbirth within three years of the study. The researchers later decided to include only the women who gave birth within a year. That left 345 women in the cohort; their average age was just under 30 years. The researchers found a positive association between women who were interested in the postpregnancy bodies of celebrities and women who compared their bodies to others. That association was positively linked to body dissatisfaction and the drive for thinness among postpartum Korean women. The researchers noted that their findings “confirm the effect of media representations of postpartum celebrities as a beauty standard for non-celebrities.” 8
In a cross-sectional study published in 2014 in Eating Behaviors, researchers from the North Dakota State University examined the association between “appearance-related teasing” and body image during the teen years. The cohort consisted of 80 girls and 78 boys in seventh, eighth, and ninth grades in a Midwestern middle school. Over 90 percent were white. The researchers used specific scales to measure teasing and body image. In general, the group experienced relatively low levels of teasing. The highest levels of teasing came from peers. Siblings teased more often than parents. However, parents who engaged in appearance-related teasing had siblings who teased more often. In fact, when parents teased, siblings were almost 10 times more likely to tease. And, this teasing was significantly associated with the body dissatisfaction of the girls’ and the boys’ drive for muscularity. Because of the potential negative impact of teasing, the researchers recommended that “teasing needs to be addressed with family members and peers through therapy, research, and prevention and intervention programs.” 9
1. Brown University, www.brown.edu.
2. Mônica L. P. Santana, Rita de Cássia Silva, Ana M.O. Assis et al., “Factors Associated with Body Image Dissatisfaction Among Adolescents in Public Schools Students in Salvador, Brazil,” Nutrición Hospitalaria 23, no. 3 (2013): 747-55.
3. Robert E. Roberts and Hao T. Duong, “Perceived Weight, Not Obesity, Increases Risk for Major Depression Among Adolescents,” Journal of Psychiatric Research 47 (2013): 1110-17.
4. Marisa J. Monteiro Gaspar, Teresa F. Amaral, Bruno M.P.M. Oliveira, and Nuno Borges, “Protective Effect of Physical Activity on Dissatisfaction with Body Image in Children—A Cross-Sectional Study,” Psychology of Sport and Exercise 12 (2011): 563-69.
5. Gina L. Bruns and Michele M. Carter, “Ethnic Differences in the Effects of Media on Body Image: The Effects of Priming with Ethnically Different of Similar Models,” Eating Behaviors 17 (2015): 33-36.
6. Shanel M. Richardson and Susan J. Paxton, “An Evaluation of a Body Image Intervention Based on Risk Factors for Body Dissatisfaction: A Controlled Study with Adolescent Girls,” International Journal of Eating Disorders 43, no. 2 (2010): 112-22.
7. Rebecca Owen and Rebecca M. C. Spencer, “Body Ideals in Women After Viewing Images of Typical and Healthy Weight Models,” Body Image 10, no. 4 (2013): 489-94.
8. Jiyoung Chae, “Interest in Celebrities’ Post-Baby Bodies and Korean Women’s Body Image Disturbance After Childbirth,” Sex Roles 71 (2014): 419-35.
9. Mallary K. Schaefer and Elizabeth H. Blodgett Salafia, “The Connection of Teasing By Parents, Siblings, and Peers with Girls’ Body Dissatisfaction and Boys’ Drive for Muscularity: The Role of Social Comparison as a Mediator,” Eating Behaviors 15 (2014): 599-608.
10. Jasmine Fardouly and Lenny R. Vartanian, “Negative Comparisons About One’s Appearance Mediate the Relationship Between Facebook Usage and Body Image Concerns,” Body Image 12 (2015): 82-88.
Bruns, Gina L., and Michele M. Carter. “Ethnic Differences in the Effects of Media on Body Image: The Effects of Priming with Ethnically Different or Similar Models.” Eating Behaviors 17 (2015): 33-36.
Chae, Jiyoung. “Interest in Celebrities’ Post-Baby Bodies and Korean Women’s Body Image Disturbance After Childbirth.” Sex Roles 71 (2014): 419-35.
Fardouly, Jasmine, and Lenny R. Vartanian. “Negative Comparisons About One’s Appearance Mediate the Relationship Between Facebook Usage and Body Image Concerns.” Body Image 12 (2015): 82-88.
Gaspar, Marisa J. Monteiro, Teresa F. Amaral, Bruno M.P.M. Oliveira, and Nuno Borges. “Protective Effect of Physical Activity on Dissatisfaction with Body Image in Children—A Cross-Sectional Study.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise 12 (2011): 563-69.
Hayes, Jacqueline F., Kristen E. D’Anci, and Robin B. Kanarek. “Foods That Are Perceived as Healthy or Unhealthy Differentially Alter Young Women’s State Body Image.” Appetite 57 (2011): 384-87.
Nicoli, Marina G., and Raphael D. R. Liberatore Junior. “Binge Eating Disorder and Body Image Perception Among University Students.” Eating Behaviors 12, no. 4 (2011): 284-88.
Okeke, Nnenna L., Margaret R. Spitz, Michele R. Forman, and Anna V. Wilkinson. “The Associations of Body Image, Anxiety, and Smoking Among Mexican-Origin Youth.” Journal of Adolescent Health 53 (2013): 209-14.
Owen, Rebecca, and Rebecca M. C. Spencer. “Body Ideals in Women After Viewing Images of Typical and Healthy Weight Models.” Body Image 10, no. 4 (2013): 489-94.
Richardson, Shanel M., and Susan J. Paxton. “An Evaluation of a Body Image Intervention Based on Risk Factors for Body Dissatisfaction: A Controlled Study with Adolescent Girls.” International Journal of Eating Disorders 43, no. 2 (2010): 112-22.
Roberts, Robert E., and Hao T. Duong. “Perceived Weight, Not Obesity, Increases Risk for Major Depression among Adolescents.” Journal of Psychiatric Research 47 (2013): 1110-17.
Santana, Mônica L. P., Rita de Cássia R. Silva, Ana M. O. Assis et al. “Factors Associated with Body Image Dissatisfaction Among Adolescents in Public Schools Students in Salvador, Brazil.” Nutrición Hospitalaria 28, no. 3 (2013): 747-55.
Schaefer, Mallary K., and Elizabeth H. Blodgett Salafia. “The Connection of Teasing By Parents, Siblings, and Peers with Girls’ Body Dissatisfaction and Boys’ Drive for Muscularity: The Role of Social Comparison as a Mediator.” Eating Behaviors 15 (2014): 599-608.
Brown University. www.brown.edu .