Student Blog: What do you think about when you hear the term ‘body image’?

By Alexandra Morley Hewitt, MSc by Applied Research student

When you are asked about body image, what is the first thing that comes to your mind?

When asked about their body image, most people will tend to focus on the negatives and things that they don’t like about themselves, such as “my bum is too big” or “I don’t like my nose”. We are all able to think about the negative aspects of our body very quickly, however, how we view our own bodies has seemed to change in the past few decades and people are now beginning to think more positively about themselves and their bodies.

Likewise, body image research has tended to focus on the negatives (i.e. what we dislike about our bodies or find embarrassing), but there has started to be a shift towards understanding positive body image. Initially research saw positive body image as simply being at the other end of the scale from negative body image. So, if you didn’t think positively about your body, then it meant you had a negative body image (Avalos, Tylka, & Wood-Barcalow, 2005). This could be an oversimplification of the complex nature of body image which could be a combination of both positive and negative facets. This old way of thinking about body image potentially delayed advancing the understanding of positive body image, especially as there has been a lack of measurement tools available to examine positive body image (such as validated psychometric self-report questionnaires).

In 2005, the creation of the Body Appreciation Scale (Tiggemann, 2015) provided this opportunity for better understanding more positive aspects of body image. This scale allows positive body image to be measured and examined in a new way, facilitating more nuanced body image research. Positive body image was no longer seen as having no negative body image thoughts, rather, positive body image became a widely acknowledged concept that included factors such as body appreciation, body acceptance, and inner positivity (Tylka & Wood-Barcalow, 2015). With researchers using a mixture of methods, the definition of positive body image developed, further theories were created and measurement tools adjusted, such as the further refinement of the Body Appreciation Scale.

Alongside my supervisor (Dr Alison Owen, Lecturer in Psychology), we are aiming to build upon this area of research by examining how a number of individual differences factors, ranging from age to physical disability to personality, are predictive of positive body image. If you are interested in participating in this study, please click here to find out more information about the study.

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