Body Image: Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children (4th Edition)

Interest in body image has increased in the last few years, and high-profile initiatives aiming to promote positive body image, such as the Dove® Be Real Campaign, have highlighted some of the dangers inherent in the cultural idealisation of slender and toned bodies. Body dissatisfaction is important in its own right as a threat to well-being, and also because it is associated with various health-related behaviours, some of which present significant risks. For instance, the twenty-first century has seen a significant increase in cosmetic surgery and use of drugs such as anabolic steroids and ephedrine in men and women who are dissatisfied with their bodies. Indeed, health psychology research suggests that even relatively minor body concerns may lead to exercise avoidance, unhealthy eating, inability to quit smoking, and greater incidence of risky UV exposure. By identifying factors that predict dissatisfaction, we may be able to produce useful ideas for encouraging more positive body image in those who are dissatisfied, and improve health and well-being.

Body image: Understanding body dissatisfaction in men, women and children, 4th Edition (Grogan, 2021) reviews current work on incidence, causes/correlates, and effects of body dissatisfaction in adults and children, and makes suggestions for how to reduce dissatisfaction. Body image is conceptualized as subjective, and influenced by social context. Theory and data from a variety of disciplines including psychology, sociology, gender studies, media studies, sport and exercise science, and clothing/apparel studies are integrated to address the question of how men, women and children experience body image and embodiment. Recent key developments in body image research are reviewed, including novel work on older men’s body image, impacts of whole-body scanning on men and women’s body dissatisfaction, and effects of social media use and video game avatars on body image. It is argued that, despite a large amount of new work on body image in the twenty-first century, more research is needed to understand a number of issues. Areas for future research include work on effective interventions to promote positive body image in boys and men, more research on body image in people who are non-binary or transgender, and further investigations of body dissatisfaction in children under five years of age.  

Based on evaluation of available evidence, it is concluded that the representation of a narrow range of idealised body shapes in popular media, including in social media, sends clear messages to viewers about how they are expected to look. The dieting and cosmetic surgery industries benefit from body dissatisfaction by offering apparent solutions. In the long term, it will be important to reduce cultural objectification of the body and to shift body aesthetics to encompass a variety of body shapes and sizes; various activists within the fashion world, as well as academics, are trying to shape these kinds of social changes. In the short term, interventions to improve self-esteem and self-efficacy, and to reduce the internalization of thin/muscular ideals, social comparison and self-objectification, may be useful. Work on positive body image has already shifted the ways that we think about body image, away from pathology and body dissatisfaction and towards body appreciation and acceptance. Encouraging acceptance of body types that differ from the prevailing aesthetic, and celebrating uniqueness, seems likely to result in improved quality of life, and reduce linked health-risking behaviours.

Grogan, S. (2021). Body image: Understanding body dissatisfaction in men, women and children (4th Edition). London: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781003100041

 

Sarah Grogan is Emeritus Professor at Manchester Metropolitan University and can be contacted on s.grogan@mmu.ac.uk.

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