Body image on most women’s minds

Two new studies show the extent of women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies.

In one of the largest studies of its kind, the Breast Size Satisfaction Survey (BSSS) found the majority of the women sampled (70.7%) in 40 countries are dissatisfied.

Dr Ivanka Prichard, a Senior Lecturer in Health Psychology, Health and Exercise Sciences at Flinders University, is an Australian contributor in the new study of 18,541 women, with an average age of 34, who were asked to complete measures of ideal breast size.

The results were based on current ideal breast size comparisons, as well as measures of factors such as personality, socioeconomic status, Western and local media exposure, weight and psychological wellbeing and general appearance and breast awareness.

In the total dataset, 47.5% of women wanted larger breasts, 23.2% wanted smaller breasts, and 29.3% were satisfied with their current breast size.

“There were no significant differences between the Australian sample and the overall international sample on current or ideal breast size or breast size dissatisfaction,” Dr Prichard says.

“About 43% of the Australian sample desired larger breasts, 28% desired smaller breasts, and 28% wished to stay the same.

“For the whole international sample, higher absolute breast size dissatisfaction was associated with higher appearance and weight dissatisfaction, and lower happiness and self-esteem.”

Worryingly, the overall dissatisfaction resulted in less frequent breast self-examination and lower confidence in noticing a change in the breasts, which are important health checks for breast cancer and other disease.

Read the study, ‘The Breast Size Satisfaction Survey (BSSS): Breast size dissatisfaction and its antecedents and outcomes in women from 40 nations'(March 2020) in Body Image (Elsevier) – pages 199-217, Volume 32. DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.01.006

Dr Ivanka Prichard from the SHAPE Research Centre at Flinders University.

In a second study, Australian researchers studied feedback from a documentary film called Embrace, which focuses on the story of Taryn Brumfitt, whose body-positive social-media post started the global Body Image Movement, impacting millions of people around the world.

The film was released in Australia in 2016 and has since been distributed in more than 190 countries on Netflix and iTunes.

The research focusing on the impact of the film on 1429 women aged between 18 and 77, ‘#ihaveembraced: a pilot cross-sectional naturalistic evaluation of the documentary film Embrace and its potential associations with body image in adult women‘ has been published in the online journal BMC Women’s Health DOI: 10.1186/s12905-019-0870-7

Lead author Associate Professor Zali Yager, from the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, says: “We found that women who had seen the film were much more likely to report appreciating their body, and, in some cases, the film had prompted some really major and positive shifts in their lives that the women said contributed to their well being.”

Co-author Dr Ivanka Prichard, Senior Lecturer in the College of Health and Nursing at Flinders University, says: “It’s fabulous to see a film of this nature build awareness about body image around the world, and really be a catalyst for women starting to change the conversations they have about their bodies.”

Taryn Brumfitt, who created the film, has now moved on to crowdfund Embrace Kids, and to collaborate with the researchers to develop a documentary aimed at improving children’s body image.

“After attending a number of Q&A screenings of Embrace in high schools, it became apparent that showing the film to teenagers was almost too late to make a lasting impact.

“Despite the research supporting the positive impact of the film, I knew we needed to embed the embrace philosophy earlier, helping 8-12 year olds to build a foundation of values based on who they are, what they do and how they feel as opposed to what they look like.”

Dr Laura Hart, from the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne, who specialises in teaching parents about how to develop positive body image in children in her Confident Body, Confident Child program, says “this research is important in showing us that documentary films are a useful and powerful force for good in changing body attitudes.”

Dr Prichard is also lead author on other new publication, ‘The effect of Instagram #fitspiration images on young women’s mood, body image, and exercise behaviour‘ (2020) by I Prichard, E Kavanagh, KE Mulgrew, MSC Lime and M Tiggemann has also been published in Body Image
Volume 33, June 2020, Pages 1-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2020.02.002

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