Impact of Body Image

What is body image
Negative Effects

What is body image and who it affects

Body image can be described as a representation of how individuals think and feel about their own physical attributes (1).  A poor body image can cause many negative psychological and physical effects (2).  Western culture today has an obsession with being thin.  Such body image ideals are the reason for one in three 10-14 year old girls being restricting their food intake (3).  Also, girls of average weight have been found to be almost as likely to be on a diet as their overweight peers (4). 

An obsession with being thin is becoming apparent earlier in childhood.  Many studies have routinely found that large proportions of elementary school students are dissatisfied with their bodies (3), other studies, including one from Australia, has found body image ideals to be apparent in children aged six to seven years (6).  Forty percent of six year olds have also indicated that they have tried to loose weight (4). 

Negative Effects of a Poor Body Image

The previous statistics are important considering the negative effects of poor body image are as followed:

A poor body image has been related to:


The onset of depression


Eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia


Poor development of interpersonal skills


Negative self-esteem/self worth


Unhealthy exercise regimes


Substance abuse


Unhealthy dieting


The issue of body image and its effect on individuals is complex as many multitudes of factors are involved (6).  There have been, however, consistent findings that children who have a poor body image experience more frequent feelings of depression and anxiety (3).  Also, depressive symptoms are linked to large body mass, body dissatisfaction, dieting, and bulimic behaviour.  Appearance is central to the evaluation of oneself and others in Western culture, which goes to explain how a poor body image can relate to depression (7).  Depression amongst adolescents has also been associated with suicide, anxiety disorders, disruptive behaviour disorders and substance abuse (7). 

Body image is only recently becoming recognized in pre-pubescent children.  Statistics tell us that children as young as six and five associate thinness as good, this is therefore an issue which needs attention seeing as a restrictive diet at an age where vast development is occurring can cause a great deal of negative consequences on children’s physical and mental development and learning (3).  The ability to learn is greatly effected by a poor nutritional diet as hunger can affect children’s attention, alertness, energy, motivation, concentration and self-discipline (8). 

Consequences such as depression, poor physical or mental development, poor self esteem, and eating disorders have an effect not only in childhood, but throughout ones entire life.  It has been found that adolescents who report bulimic behaviour have a fifteen-fold increase in the risk of being diagnosed with bulimia ten years later (9).  Therefore, children who display patterns of eating disorders are much more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder later in life. 

            Our perceived body image impacts upon our sense of self and our degree of confidence in social situations.  Hence, poor body image can result in poor development of social skills and social relations in children which can leave a life long negative impact (10). 

            For information on how to foster a healthy positive body image see curriculum and parents pages.

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[1] (Morrison et al, 2004)

[2] (Davison & McCabe, 200; Birbeck, 2003; Stice et al, 2000; Phares et al, 2004)

[3] (Morris, 2005)

[4] (Phares et al, 2004)

[5] (Birbeck, 2003; Morris, 2005)

[6] (Birbeck, 2003)

[7] (Stice et al, 2000)

[8] (Arija et al, 2006; Ragno, 1994)

[9] (Kotler et al, 2001)

[10] (Davison & McCabe, 2006)