Last weekend there was a fascinating article in The Observer about psychological research on body image: Uncomfortable in our skin: the body-image report by Eva Wiseman. The article describes a recent conference at the University of the West of England Centre for Appearance Research and also talks about the All Party Parliamentary Group Body Image Report which found that:
Half of the public suffer from negative body image. The problem is so acute that girls as young as five now worry about their size and appearance, half of girls and one quarter of boys believe their peers have body image problems, and appearance is the largest cause of bullying in schools.
The Observer article mentions the Miss Representation documentary, which links the self-objectification of women who are highly concerned with their appearance (which is up to 90% of women according to the research) to the lack of women in positions of power.
The article also talks about the way that photoshop processes mean that the images that people compare themselves against are not even anything that they could realistically look like, something that was famously highlighted in the Dove Evolution campaign.
Why, when I know that beauty is subjective, that nothing terrible would happen if I put on weight, when my desk is covered in annotated research on bodies, do I still feel bad about the way I look? Because none of us lives in a vacuum…We don’t even know we hate our bodies because we take that for granted.
This is a question – and answer – that occurred to me many times when I was writing about appearance and attraction for Rewriting the Rules. I’ve tried to come up with ways in which we might learn to treat our own bodies, and those of others, more kindly, and expanding out our understanding of what might be considered attractive. Some are already available in the resources here.