Having a positive body image is tough in this digital age. Between exercise videos featuring sculpted fitness gurus and the perfectly angled, filtered, and Photoshopped pictures found on most social media accounts, it’s easy to see how children as young as 8 can struggle with their body image.
Researchers from Chapman University have concluded a study examining the link between satisfaction with appearance and overall satisfaction. The results of their analysis shows that our body image has a major impact on how happy we are.
"Our study shows that men's and women's feelings about their weight and appearance play a major role in how satisfied they are with their lives overall," said Dr. David Frederick, lead author on the study and assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University, in a statement.
Frederick and his colleagues surveyed 12,176 men and women between the ages of 18 and 65. Each participant was asked to complete an online survey regarding body image that was featured prominently on NBCNews.com and Today.com in 2014. Questions focused on personality, beliefs about romantic relationships, self-esteem, TV viewing, and other personal characteristics. Weight and appearance were measured through body mass index readings.
The findings revealed that around 15 percent of men and 20 percent of women were extremely dissatisfied with their weights. Body image was the third strongest predictor of overall life satisfaction among women. The only stronger predictors were their financial situation and satisfaction with their romantic partner. For men, body image was the second strongest predictor of life satisfaction following financial satisfaction.
"These findings are consistent with the emphasis placed on the importance of being slender for women and for appearing athletic and/or lean for men. It would seem therefore, that we still have a long way to go before we achieve the goal of Americans being truly happy with their bodies," wrote Frederick.
Only 24 percent of men and 20 percent of women said they were very or extremely satisfied with their weight and half felt somewhat to extremely satisfied. People who did have a positive body image were more likely to be extroverted, open, and conscientious.
Dissatisfaction with weight also seemed to have a negative impact on each participant’s sex life and self-esteem. Negative body images affected their orientation toward their relationships. Women who indicated dissatisfaction with both their appearance and weight were more likely to suffer from anxiety over their relationship and be fearful that their partner would leave them.
"Body dissatisfaction and anxious attachment styles can lead to an out-of-control spiral and fuel each other. People who are less confident in their appearance become more fearful that their partner will leave, which further fuels their worries about their appearance."
Although this research clearly outlines some of the undesirable effects of a negative body image, outcomes tied to dissatisfaction with appearance could be much more detrimental for our health. According to the American Psychological Association, problems with body image can result in both mental and physical health consequences, including eating disorders and obesity in children and adults.
Source: Swami V Morse P, Sandhu G, Frederick D. Correlates of Appearance and Weight Satisfaction in a U.S. National Sample: Personality, Attachment Style, Television Viewing, Self-esteem, and Life Satisfaction. Body Image. 2016.