Body Image: Influencing Factors And Impact On The Individual

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Body image is known as the way individuals perceive their bodies visually and is largely determined by the standards that have been set by society whether this image matches their true shape and size or not. (accessed 25/10/19). Body image is composed of perceptual (how one thinks they look), attitudinal (how one evaluates their body) and behavioural (one’s actions towards their body) components. (accessed 25/10/19) Every person has a body image whether it is positive or negative and will impact the individual’s life in some way. Body image is highly interrelated with self-esteem and mental health as each one can greatly affect the other. (accessed 25/10/19)

Positive body image is integral to healthy development and overall well being throughout the lifespan.

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Body image can be dynamic and is constantly changing throughout an individual’s lifetime. A healthy body image formed at young ages is likely to set the foundation for their future impacting physical and mental health while an unhealthy body image can have long-lasting consequences. (accessed 25/10/19) expectations from family, race, religion, socioeconomic status and gender may cause conflict and increased stress to fit into society.

Body image is ranked as the number one concern for young people and has increased enormously over the past 30 years for all ages which has sparked attention surrounding this issue.

A study has shown that in Australia nearly 23% of women report an overvaluation of body shape and size. Factors that influence the development of body image include biological and physical factors, sociocultural influences and individual characteristics. Unhealthy body image is considered to be the main cause for clinical eating disorders. Body image is frequently shaped during late childhood and adolescence but it prevalent in all age groups at different levels with different influencing factors

Individual factors

Genetics and physical predispositions often lead to poor body image as the individuals body may not satisfy society’s notion of the ideal body type but this factor is unmodifiable and meaning that no changes will be made to their body no matter the behaviours they undertake excluding surgery. Females with a higher body mass index (BMI) is more likely to experience body dissatisfaction due to not meeting societal expectations of a thin ideal body type and have formed the idea that ‘big is no longer beautiful’. Personality traits including perfectionist tendencies, high achievers, those who internalise beauty ideals and those that compare themselves to other people are at a higher risk of developing body dissatisfaction. This is due to the perception that they are not good enough and must strive to be perfect

The media

Society’s embedded ideal of bodies’ especially for females has greatly impacted individuals body image. Individuals who are constantly exposed to images of fashionable women with perfect tanned skin, tiny waists, with large breasts and bum are more than likely to attempt to obtain this unrealistic image despite it being genetically and physically impossible to achieve without some type of surgery. When individuals realise they don’t look identical to this desired body type, this can then result in body dissatisfaction which is damaging to their psychological and physical well-being.

Our society is being bombarded with images promoting unattainable, unrealistic and highly stylised appearance ideals which have been fabricated by stylists, art teams and digital manipulation. The media whether it is in the form of print or digital, they both manifest this image the majority of the time to sell products including skin tightening creams, exercise/diet programs, or clothing. marketers will often do anything they can to make a profit, and almost anything can be sold if it appeals to our sense of beauty or is considered attractive Considering Australians were found to be spending around a third of their day in front of screens displays the importance of reducing negative images of bodies in the media. A study in 2010 found that 87% of female characters portrayed as underweight in over 180 popular children’s cartoon programs. Another study of popular children’s cartoons found that females were four times more likely than male characters to be depicted as underweight while overweight characters were more likely to appear unintelligent and unhappy compares to underweight character. A study found that 50% of girls aged between 13-17 reported a desire to be as skinny as the models they viewed in fashion magazine and reported that these magazines game them a body to strive for. . the media compares body weight, appearance and overall beauty to being successful and popularity.

Family and peers

Family and peer groups are another sociocultural influence which impacts the development of body image concerns. Friendships are important in the development of body image as we place a high value on these people, spend a lot of time with them and develop shared experiences, values and beliefs while generally being concerned about what they think about us. Sociocultural standards for female attractiveness are often integrated into peer groups which can affect the cognitive processes of all group members. Female peer groups who constantly have conversations about appearance or participate in appearance comparison are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction and internalize the thin ideal. Bullying or teasing within peer groups can have a negative long lasting effect on the emotional wellbeing of the victim and can lead to peer pressure in achieving a “better” appearance. Research has also found that adolescent females are strongly influenced by their peers dieting behaviours and can cause an increased chance of engaging in chronic dieting and extreme weight control behaviours. This shows how peer groups exert a strong influence on adolescent females’ attitudes and behaviours related to body image. Young adult women have shown to engage in regular “fat talk” which is known as the way females talk about the size and shape of their bodies, generally in a negative manner. Young women have indicated that engaging in fat talk acts as a coping mechanism allowing them to express their feelings of their appearance.

Before birth, the child’s parents begin to form ideas about their child’s future include what their child will look like, what activities they will participate in, the clothes they wear and the toys they use. This socialisation process impacts the child’s belief of body image in the future. We learn from our family members about the things that are considered important if the family believes appearance holds importance then this belief will more than likely pass onto the child. Family members are often the first role models that children look up to. If the family diets and expresses body image concerns while modelling weight loss behaviours can increase the likelihood of the child developing body dissatisfaction.

Fig. 1.1 The Theoretical tripartite model. Source: Rodgers R, Chabrol H, Paxton SJ. An exploration of the tripartite influence model of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among Australia university female students.

The model shows the 3 major sociocultural impacts (peers, parents and media) on the development of internalization then resulting in body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and self worth.

Impact of negative body image on the individual

Body image disturbances are important because they lead to severe physical psychological health problems. The consequence of developing an unhealthy body image is that these people will go to great lengths in order to achieve this biologically impossibly body type. These include extreme dieting, or engaging in various unhealthy weight control behaviours, such as taking pills, steroids, laxatives or diuretics, self induced vomiting or excessive exercise in order to not gain any weight which can then have the potential to cause a clinically significant eating disorder. . in addition to this, a poor body image can contribute to depression, anxiety, problems in relationships, low self-esteem, low confidence levels and feelings of inadequacy Individuals suffering unhealthy body image commonly become fixated on trying to change their body shape, which can lead to unhealthy practises with food and exercise . These practices don’t usually achieve the desired outcome which then consequently results in intense feelings of disappointment, shame and guilt. Body image and eating disturbances hinder healthy development and negatively impacts the overall wellbeing and quality of life of that individual. Therefore it is essential for health professionals and educators to understand the development of body image difficulties amongst females in order to prevent the increase of eating disorders in the future.

Teenagers and young women

Simply viewing a barbie doll has been shown to reduce body esteem and increase a desire for thinness in girls aged 5-8. studies have shown that psychological processes related to body dissatisfaction are already well established by the age of 9, which is an alarming statistic. This dissatisfaction towards the individual’s body continues into adolescence where these thoughts are intensified as they go through puberty. The idea of ‘fitting in’ begins to become a concern especially within schools then leading to feelings of self-worth and body comparison. Puberty is a time when bodies change and grow and these sexual and physical changes can cause emotional disturbances impacting the way they feel about their body. The increase in social pressures and expectations at this time often develops thoughts around the importance of appearance and therefore influencing body image often negatively.

Older women

As women age, they experience physical, social and environmental changes that impact how they perceive their bodies. While older females experience similar influences on their body image including BMI, sociocultural influences and internalization, their are exposed to other factors in addition. This includes menopause and anxiety related to the aging process. It is found that eating and weight related obstacles are similar in younger women as they are in older women however show to be intensified as they age. Life events that often occur in midlife include career changes, marital problems, divorce, body after pregnancy, “empty-nest” syndrome and chronic illness which can create further stress for women who are already struggling with body image and eating difficulties. Older women. A large internet survey study of women aged 50 and older 13% of them reported current eating disorder symptoms and over 70% of the participants reported experiencing body dissatisfaction. a study by Tiggemann and Lynch suggests that women aged 20-84 continue to struggle with issues relatted tto changing shape and size throughout the life cycle. Body dissatisfaction was found to remain relatively stable across the lifespan. However, there showed to be less body monitoring, less anxiety over appearance and less dieting to weight as well as a larger ideal body type as women age. This suggests the psychological impact of body dissatisfaction may decrease as women age


Body image in particular body dissatisfaction is highly related to the desire to look attractive and to meet the social construct of “perfection”. There are multiple risk factors that increase the chance of developing an unhealthy body image including individual factors, physical and biological factors and sociocultural influences. Body image concerns affect females of all ages at different extents but due to the rising rates of body dissatisfaction, it is imperative to examine and address body image difficulties from numerous angles and at different levels of influences. This will ensure the enhancement of the quality of life among females across the lifespan and ensure the improvements of emotional, social and physical wellbeing.


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