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Acquaintances Can Influence Body Image

New research on social interactions and body image finds that who you hang out with makes a big difference in body perception and health behaviors.

In the study, University of Waterloo investigators found being around people preoccupied with their body image was detrimental for perception of body image. However, spending time with people who were non-body focused had a positive impact in terms of body image and wellness behavior.

“Our research suggests that social context has a meaningful impact on how we feel about our bodies in general and on a given day,” said Kathryn Miller, Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Waterloo.

“Specifically, when others around us are not focused on their body it can be helpful to our own body image.”

Miller conducted this study with Dr. Allison Kelly, a psychology professor in clinical psychology at Waterloo and former Waterloo undergraduate Elizabeth Stephen.

In the study, researchers asked 92 female undergraduate students aged 17 to 25 to complete a daily diary over seven consecutive days and reflected on their interactions with body focused and non-body focused people.

Researchers measured participants’ frequency of daily interactions with body focused and non-body focused others. Investigators also assessed participants degree of body appreciation – that is, how much one values their body regardless of its size or shape, and body satisfaction.

Finally, researchers reviewed whether participants dietary behavior was in alignment with their hunger and cravings or, did they fixate on individual diet and weight goals.

Findings appear in Body Image, an International Journal of Research.

“Body dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and can take a huge toll on our mood, self-esteem, relationships, and even the activities we pursue,” said Kelly.

“It’s important to realize that the people we spend time with actually influence our body image. If we are able to spend more time with people who are not preoccupied with their bodies, we can actually feel much better about our own bodies.”

The researchers also found that spending more time with non-body focused individuals may be advantageous in protecting against disordered eating and promoting more intuitive eating.

“If more women try to focus less on their weight/shape, there may be a ripple effect shifting societal norms for women’s body image in a positive direction,” said Miller.

“It’s also important for women to know that they have an opportunity to positively impact those around them through how they relate to their own bodies.”

Source: University of Waterloo



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