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Somebody Like Me

A report investigating the impact of body image anxiety on young people in the UK

Young people are facing increasing pressures relating to their appearance. While a focus on the importance of appearance in society is by no means a new phenomenon, many young people today are struggling to escape the constant barrage of messages they receive about how they should look and how they should behave.

Through powerful outlets such as print, television, film and digital media, young people are repeatedly presented with images of the ‘ideal’ body. The pressures to conform to these ‘ideals’ are reinforced by their peers and through social media in the ever-connected world in which they now live.

While concerns about appearance will inevitably vary between individuals, for some young people, they can become all-encompassing, penetrating every aspect of their life.

Body image relates to how people see their body in the context of the world in which they live, and is often thought to comprise of two elements.

Firstly, and most commonly referenced, is body confidence, which relates to how satisfied a person is with their appearance. For the purposes of this research, body confidence refers to when someone accepts, appreciates, thinks and behaves positively in relation to their body and appearance.

Secondly, and coupled with body confidence, is self-objectification. This relates to the extent to which a person sees themselves through another’s eyes, investing their self-worth in how their appearance is judged by others.

Body image, therefore, encompasses both the internal and the external – a young person’s perceptions of themselves, but also the significance they place on the perceptions, or perceived perceptions, of others.

It is these internal and external factors and how they impact upon each other that make body image so complex, and as such, body image anxiety so hard to tackle.
Research in this area has shown that a lack of body confidence can lead to poorer classroom participation and performance, as well as young people opting out of basic life activities like going to the doctor, partaking in physical activity, or even taking part in discussions.

Fostering body confidence and a positive body image among young people is, therefore, an important aspect of addressing their health and wellbeing and is critical in equipping them with the emotional skills they need to succeed in life.

Given the wide range of contributing factors and the differing ways young people can experience issues with their body confidence and body image, making positive change in this area requires a range of approaches.

Critically, for this to be effective, young people must be involved in formulating this approach.

To help facilitate this, Somebody Like Me is rooted in the experiences of those young people, who are subjected to pressures on their appearance on a daily basis.

As part of this research, young people were given the space to discuss and share their experiences. Their views and ideas were then used to create practical solutions that both they and others can take forward to help tackle body image anxiety in the UK.