The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has released a research report on the risk to mental health associated with having a higher level of body dissatisfaction. 

It is clear from the report that it is not just one factor contributing to people's unhappiness with their body image - friends and family, long term health conditions and gender and sexuality can all influence it. Undoubtedly, however, exposure to unrealistic body images through media is also having a negative effect: 

  • 21% of adults said images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image; and
  • 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image. 

Over the last couple of years, we have begun to see brands embrace greater body diversity in their advertising and brand strategy. For example, PrettyLittleThing recently collaborated with Ashley Graham, a 'plus-size' model, on a clothing range in sizes 6 to 28. In addition, a number of celebrities, including Khloe Kardashian, have been the subject of criticism due to promoting weight loss products which is evidence of society self-regulating. Nevertheless, this is still clearly an issue and more needs to be done to promote a healthy perception of body image. 

The MHF makes a number of recommendations for regulation, policy and practice to tackle negative body image. 

They urge the Advertising Standards Authority to be more proactive in instigating investigations into adverts that promote negative body image and would like them to pre-vet broadcast adverts from high-risk industries such as cosmetic surgery companies and weight loss products. 

The MHF also recommend that the Online Harms White Paper should address harms relating to the promotion of unhelpful or idealised body image online, not just the content related to eating disorders. 

Increased regulation is not the only answer however, public health and education can play a part in tackling this issue and individuals need to recognise when social media may be affecting the way they feel about themselves. 

To read the full report, please see here