Society's obsession with body image detrimental to our physical and mental health
Not-for-profit organisation Central YMCA reveals that body anxiety is a major barrier to staying fit and healthy. Society's obsession with appearance and body image could prove detrimental to our physical and mental wellbeing, according to their new research.
More than three quarters (77%) of those questioned think gyms should do more to attract people with a wide range of body shapes. Furthermore, 70% said that they found the image of gyms and the people who use them intimidating.
The organisation commissioned the research to help highlight the launch of its national 'Body Confidence' campaign, which seeks to encourage positive body image and body diversity at a time when the pressure to achieve the 'ideal' body image appears to be at an all-time high.
TV presenter and Strictly Come Dancing winner, Camilla Dallerup, who is supporting the campaign along with presenter and stylist, Gok Wan, says; "Anyone, whatever your shape or size, can benefit from being physically active. It worries me that more and more people are simply too self-conscious or shy to take part in exercise and are ultimately putting themselves at risk by maintaining a sedentary lifestyle. There's no such thing as a quick fix so if you want to stay healthy and get body confident, I urge people to stand up to the stereotype."
The findings also reveal how over a third (36.8%) of men and around half (50.4%) of women questioned said they compare their bodies to people on TV. Interestingly, 42.4% of men compared to almost a third (30%) of women said they would like their bodies to look like the models who appear in magazines.
Rosi Prescott, Chief Executive of Central YMCA, comments: "These findings reflect the greater emphasis society puts on simply looking good over and above being fit and healthy. Negative body image can permeate every aspect of day-to-day life and can have serious repercussions, including social exclusion, depression and low self-esteem, not forgetting an increased tendency to opt for 'quick fixes' such as fad diets, pills and supplements.
"Good health is not defined by body size, but rather it is a state of physical, mental and social wellbeing. One of the key ways to achieve this state is through physical exercise, but many feel excluded because they don't have the confidence to get started."
Central YMCA's research revealed that nearly half of all respondents (48.9%) said more diversity in the appearance of people shown in advertising, magazines, fashion and on TV (including body shapes and sizes, ages and ethnicities) would be helpful to promote positive body image. While the charity is urging all people to take note of its current campaign and help promote greater body diversity, it is particularly calling on both the media and fitness industries to take a leadership position to help bring about change.
Rosi Prescott adds: "The media and fitness industries are not only partly responsible for perpetuating this issue, but are also the key to changing attitudes and awareness so that nobody need feel excluded from being active.
"Our research shows how the media, in particular, could help with this by using a more varied mix of healthy body shapes and types. The fitness industry also has an important role to play by doing more to broaden its appeal through inclusive marketing and by seeking diversity in those who work in gym environments. These would be tremendous steps in the right direction, helping individuals to take a more rounded view of their health by limiting the negative and often damaging effects of body image pressures."
Central YMCA intends its campaign to be far-reaching, and teenagers and children are no exception. Additional research from the Centre for Appearance Research commissioned by the charity among this group highlights the emergence of body anxiety in children as young as 11 years-old. Over a third (38.3%) of girls said they do not feel comfortable leaving the house without make-up on, and one in 10 (11.1%) boys said they would start taking steroids to build muscle if they were unhappy with the way they looked.
Central YMCA is a leading health and education charity - and the world's first YMCA, established in 1844.
We welcome this research and hope it highlights the responsibilities of gyms and the media to take these issues very seriously.
For more information about the campaign and to access a free copy of the charity's guide to 'Quick Fixes', please visit: ymca.co.uk/bodyconfidence