New Year, New You?

As a new member of the Beauty Demands Network, the inspirational, educational and always excellent posts have highlighted the increasing occurrence and variety of manifestations of Body dissatisfaction. 

Images portraying physical perfection are often used to provide motivation for exercise and weight loss. Body image issues are especially topical in the New Year, when the excesses of the holiday season are often followed by a renewed focus upon physical improvement.

As explored in a recent post by Heather Widdows, New Year resolutions often focus on changes such as weight loss.Sharp rises in gym membership, and adoption of healthy eating plans are common in January, and the drive for physical improvement also has an impact upon the number of people seeking cosmetic intervention. Some surgeons describe a rise in provision in these months, attributed to a range of factors including preparation for the summer, and the ease of masking post-surgical signs, under bulky winter clothes.The strong association with health and positive change, strengthens the implication that non-participation in the New Year fitness phenomenon, may lead to poor health (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016). For many people, the desired physical ideals are unachievable unless by cosmetic intervention (Brown & Tiggemann, 2016; Tiggemann & Zaccardo, 2016).The increasing perception of cosmetic imperfection as a state of poor health has reinforced the acceptability of the provision of medical treatment to correct it (Parsons, 1951). This may also reinforce physical ideals, and exacerbate body anxieties on those who do not conform (Lambrou, Veale, & Wilson, 2011; Noles, Cash & Winstead, 1985). 

Photo: Jack Moreh:
Increasingly extreme dieting and exercise regimens are consistent with the body types portrayed in media and advertising. Amongst celebrities and models of the 1970s and 80s, a variety of body shapes and sizes were on seen, that would be rare amongst the hyper-athletic physiques commonly displayed today. 

Objectification in advertising is common, drawing focus to body parts such as the abdominal muscles. This exposure increases the likelihood of body dissatisfaction (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997; Tiggemann & Zaccardo, 2016), despite such body types not always complying with medical definitions of a healthy body (Dittmar, 2009). Internalisation of these images exacerbates the desire to attain the physical ideals, often encouraging potentially harmful behaviour, such as extreme weight loss, exercise and use of anabolic steroids.

A wave of recent news articles have described the unprecedented rise in steroid abuse, primarily for the purpose of physical enhancement, and with enormous public health consequences. In addition to the known harmful effects of steroid abuse, an surge in HIV transmission has been witnessed, illustrating the complex health issues that may arise from the pursuit of beauty and physical enhancement.

A large percentage of patients who seek physical change and cosmetic enhancement, present with diagnosable mental disorder, such as body dysmorphia (Ishigooka et al., 1998). Arguments in favour of the provision of Cosmetic Intervention have often included the benefit to psychological health. However, evidence in support of such benefit is weak (Brinton et al., 2006; Cook, Rosser & Salmon, 2006), and research supporting psychological treatment demonstrates a greater rate of success (Cororve & Gleaves, 2001). 

Instead of allowing our focus on physical improvement to threaten our health, increasing awareness of the above issues, and focus on actions with a genuinely positive impact upon wellbeing, may help us to truly achieve a healthy start to the New Year. 

Ajmal Mubarik is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Social Ethics and Policy in the University of Manchester School of Law. His research explores consent and regulation of cosmetic surgery, and the use of media and technology in healthcare. 

Brinton, L.A., Lubin, J.H., Murray, M.C., Colton, T., & Hoover, R.N. (2006). Mortality among augmentation mammoplasty patients: an update. Epidemiology, 17, 162–169. 
Brown, Z., & Tiggemann, M. (2016). Attractive celebrity and peer images on Instagram: Effect on women's mood and body image. Body Image, 19, 37-43.
Cook, S.A., Rosser, R., & Salmon, P. (2006). Is cosmetic surgery an effective psychotherapeutic intervention? A systematic review of the evidence. Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery, 59, 1133-1151.
Cororve, M.B., & Gleaves, D.H.(2001). Body dysmorphic disorder: a review of conceptualizations, assessment, and treatment strategies. Clinical Psychology Review, 21, 949-970.
Dittmar, H., 2009. How do" body perfect" ideals in the media have a negative impact on body image and behaviors? Factors and processes related to self and identity. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 28, 1-8.
Fredrickson, B.L.,  & Roberts, T.A. (1997). Objectification theory. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 73-206.
Holland, G. , & Tiggemann, M. (2016). “Strong beats skinny every time”: Disordered eating and compulsive exercise in women who post fitspiration on Instagram. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 50, 76-79.
Ishigooka, J., Iwao, M., Suzuki, M., Fukuyama, Y., Murasaki, M., & Miura, S. (1998)  Demographic features of patients seeking cosmetic surgery. Psychiatry ClinNeurosci, 52, 283–287.
Lambrou, C., Veale, D., & Wilson, G. (2011). The role of aesthetic sensitivity in body dysmorphic disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 120, 443-453.
Noles, S.W., Cash, T.F., & Winstead, B.A. (1985). Body image, physical attractiveness, and depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53, 88-94
Parsons, T. (1951). Illness and the role of the physician: A sociological perspective. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 21, 452-460.
Tiggemann, M., & Zaccardo, M. (2016). ‘Strong is the new skinny’: A content analysis of #fitspiration images on Instagram. Journal of Health Psychologydoi/10.1177/1359105316639436


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