Body image, how people perceive their bodies, significantly affects people’s mental well-being. Turns out, a positive body image is also associated with better psychological well-being and life satisfaction, a new study finds.
The study by researchers, from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in England, is one of the largest studies to be conducted on the topic of body image, with 56,968 participants in 65 nations. Published in the journal Body Image, the research focused on ‘body appreciation’, which the researchers defined as “accepting, holding favourable opinions toward, and respecting the body, while also rejecting media-promoted appearance ideals as the only form of human beauty”, according to ARU’s press statement.
While previous studies have found that high levels of body appreciation can spark positive traits such as improved self-esteem and healthy eating habits and keep issues such as depression and anxiety at bay, few have examined its impact across nations, the statement explains. For the study, the researchers used the Body Appreciation Scale-2 (BAS-2), consisting of 10 items, including ‘I respect my body’ and ‘I appreciate the different and unique characteristics of my body’.
The findings showed that across nations, a higher level of body appreciation was significantly associated with higher psychological well-being, examined using a measure of life satisfaction. Notably, the researchers also found that body appreciation was higher in participants who were single and those living in rural areas.
“[P]eople who live in urban areas may feel stronger pressure to conform to body ideals promoted by Western society, and it is also notable that people from countries considered culturally different to the United States appeared to have broadly greater body appreciation,” Viren Swami, the lead author said in the statement. People in rural areas may benefit by living amidst nature, which previous studies have shown, he added.
There were significant differences in scores of the 65 nations. Only India and Australia scored lower for body appreciation than the UK. Malta scored highest, followed by Taiwan and Bangladesh.
The findings highlight the importance of developing ways to promote more positive body image globally, Swami said in the statement. The excessive importance given to beauty standards has worrying consequences which need to be addressed.