Motivation and emotion/Book/2018/Body image and emotional well-being

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Body image and emotional well-being:
How does body image influence one's emotional well being?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Multiple factors come into play in how much emotional well-being is influenced by body image. Body image and its potential negative impact on emotional well-being is emerging as a public health concern because of its role in the development of eating disorders and its others other negative outcomes, such as low mood, depression, low self-esteem, over or under exercising, obesity and unhealthy weight loss practices (Naumann, Schmidt, Sharpe & Treasure, 2013). But why is it a problem for some but not others? The pressures from aging, family, gender and social media are potentially some of the contributors, and motivators to maintaining emotional well-being (Masters, McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2015).

Social media influence[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Social Media[Provide more detail]

Social networking and social media are often associated with emotional well-being. Many people are so involved in the online world as they have grown up in the evolution of the technical world. Although digital technologies have allowed many conveniences in their lives, there are often emotions in regard to body image associated with technology use. Social media allows individuals to construct profiles, to choose who and when they share information and photos with (Slater and Tiggemann, 2016).  

With the rise of the Internet, the rise of social media outlets, and heavy focus on appearance, social media has become an even more powerful tool for promoting appearance ideals than traditional media outlets, such as TV (Petrie, Pookulangara and Strubel, 2016). With increased time spent on social media, this has opened the risk of psychological harm, but also the opportunity to promote positive body image (Campbell, Martin and Twenge, 2018).  

Exposure to the society and social media induced body ideals, contributes to body image disturbances that then increase vulnerability to match these appearance expectations (Thomsen, McCoy, Gustafson, & Williams, 2002). Often on social media, thin body ideals are depicted in a positive light, and plus size or heavier people are surrounded by negativity and stigma (Bobkowski and Brown, 2011). Repeated exposure over time can have severe psychological consequences (Petrie, Pookulangara and Strubel, 2016). As proposed body image ideals are difficult to attain (Petrie, Pookulangara and Strubel, 2016), vulnerable individuals, especially female adolescents and young adults, compare themselves to these ideals and are at risk to harming their emotional well- being (Petrie, Pookulangara and Strubel, 2016). Ultimately, this leads to conflict and reduced emotional well-being (Petrie, Pookulangara and Strubel, 2016).

In one study, 91% of teenagers who use social media participate in posting selfies (Masters, McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2015). A study Photoshopping the Selfie: Self Photo Editing and Photo Investment are Associated with Body Dissatisfaction in Adolescent girls, examined the correlation between social media and body dissatisfaction. It was found that 74% of regular photo sharers had body related concerns which in turn results in decreased emotional well-being (Masters, McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2015). Social media use is hypothesised to have stronger associations to body dissatisfaction than any other internet related activities (Masters, McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2015). This study also suggests that social media is harmful for emotional well-being, as it as a continuous and active precursor for initiating and maintaining body image concerns (Masters, McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2015). Young men were also observed to have decreased emotional well-being in regard to their body image after viewing images of thin female bodies (Diedriches & Lee 2010).

This upset in emotional well-being is an area of concern as is often associated with other psychological disorders such as eating disorders, body dysmorphia, anxiety and depression (Petrie, Pookulangara and Strubel, 2016). Do humans experience these negative emotions due to an upset in one’s own self schemas?  Self-discrepancy theory can explain this conflict and internalised discomfort/ body dissatisfaction as the discrepancy between the current body, and what one’s ideal body is, what social media has framed as the “norm” (George & Mayo, 2014). It is often a precursor for motivation for an individual to minimise discomfort by conforming.  

Implicit and explicit motives also influence how individuals formulate everyday goals, in this case their diet and exercise on a day to day basis, and they have been shown to interact with the specific circumstances of goal pursuit, to fit body their ideal body image (Bender, Burke, Dow & Woike, 2012). . The expression in which individuals recall themselves and their emotional experiences is shaped by their implicit and explicit motivational need system (Bender, Burke, Dow & Woike, 2012).  

However, to combat negative associations with emotional wellbeing and social media, numerous studies, such as Waif Goodbye! Average Sized Models Promote Positive Body Image and Appeal to Consumers (2010), have sought out to find whether after viewing no models or viewing an averaged sized woman as a model, influenced how one felt about their body image. Exposure to averaged sized models were both viewed positively by men and women, decreasing body focused anxiety and a sense of “relief” (Diedriches & Lee 2010), fitting schemas about how one is. This can be explained as cognitive generalizations about the self, derived from past experience, that organize and guide the processing of self-related information (Van den Berg, 2005).

Gender[edit | edit source]

Explanation and sources here.

Case Study:

Mia is a 19 years old girl at university. She is single and suffers from poor body image which negatively impacts her mental health. She spends a lot of time on social media, especially Instagram. She follows a lot of models and Instagram influencers. She often succumbs to pressure placed upon her to look like these models that are idealised by her peers, through excessive diet and exercise.

Age[edit | edit source]

Explanation and sources here.

Case Study:

Lillian is a 47 year old woman. She is married with 3 children and is doing well in her career. She is not very concerned about her body image, but when she was younger she was concerned about her body and what she looked like to others.  

Eating disorders[edit | edit source]

Explanation and sources here.

Social groups[edit | edit source]

Explanation and sources here.

Case Study:

Tommy is a 15 year old high school boy. Tommy enjoys playing team sports and hanging out with his friends who have similar interests. However, Tommy’s father is a bodybuilder with extreme dieting measures and is often pushing Tommy to be more aware of his diet and encouraging exercise.

Motivation[edit | edit source]

Explanation and sources here.

Emotion[edit | edit source]

Explanation and sources here.

A problem for some, but not others?[edit | edit source]

Age[edit | edit source]

Age is often associated with how body image influences emotional well-being. The perception of being overweight prior to puberty appears to place youth at risk for the later development of symptoms of decreased emotional well-being, when compared with peers who perceived their prepubertal weight as either average or underweight (Ackard & Peterson, 2001 & (Canavarro, Frontini, Gouveia & Moreira, 2014)). With obese youth experiencing social exclusion, their psychological functioning is compromised, espcially when the pressure arises from peers and parental figures, contributing to a “thinness schema”(Canavarro,, 2014).  

Family[edit | edit source]

Parents are usually the most important role models who communicate attitudes and behaviours when it comes to food, body weight and shape for their children (Cornell, Damiano, Hart & Paxton, 2015). in a systematic review by Cornell etc (2015), it was observed that pressure from society and consistent displays of the thin ideal, or unrealistic body image ideals from the media and peers are experienced by both parties - parent and child - potentially increasing body dissatisfaction. How much importance is placed on appearance by the parent is found to increase concerns on appearance in the child (Cornell, Damiano, Hart & Paxton, 2015). This is pressure is especially strong when parents directly criticise or encourage children to lose weight (Cornell, Damiano, Hart & Paxton, 2015).  

In another study by Armstrong, Dumont-Driscoll, Gowey and Janicke (2015), tested parental influence and body dissatisfaction. 96 participants aged between 8-17 and their parents were asked how their parents influenced how they felt about their bodies. Those with a higher weight had higher body dissatisfaction (Armstrong, Dumont-Driscoll, Gowey & Janicke, 2015). This has been a predictor across many studies - higher weight associated with increase of body dissatisfaction. It is important to note that boys are also a victim of body image pressure, as it was observed that boys who were of a higher weight experienced a decrease in emotional well-being when they received encouragement from their fathers to diet (Armstrong, Dumont-Driscoll, Gowey & Janicke, 2015). Boys are often perceived to be less aware of their body shape and weight, but this encouragement makes them conscious of their body composition (Armstrong, Dumont-Driscoll, Gowey & Janicke, 2015). Extrinsic motivation can be more often associated with youth males and their decrease in emotional well-being in respect to body image. Youth practicing in diet behaviours to eliminate antisocial behaviours directed towards the individual and/ or to relive social stigma experienced that is placed upon them. Girls who had a higher weight still experienced greater body dissatisfaction regardless if they were encouraged to diet by their parents (Armstrong, Dumont-Driscoll, Gowey & Janicke, 2015), but this was already known as majority of female youth already having existing worries of their weight and already participating in dieting behaviours (Armstrong, Dumont-Driscoll, Gowey & Janicke, 2015). Intrinsic motivation can explain this as it is often a motivator to partake in certain behaviours to benefit oneself, eg. Participating in excessive exercise as it makes her feel better about herself.  

Those of normal weight during youth experienced more body image satisfaction, at all ages, than those who were or became obese whilst young (Canavarro,, 2014), this could be linked to self-discrepancy theory, as those who were of normal weight had discrepancy reduction as who one is and the gap of who one ought to be, is not as large, therefore decreasing the discomfort.  

Body image and their impact on emotional well-being does not diminish as one progresses from young adulthood to late adulthood. In western society, woman tend to gain positive emotional well-being from their apperance, thus a decrease in perceived beauty from the aging process has an impact on their emotions (Ferraro, Hager, Hoverson, Muehlenkamp, Paintner, & Wasson 2008). Whereas men, gain positive emotional well-being from perception of status, wealth and intelligence (Ferraro et al., 2008).  

Previously, little was known about why midlife body dissatisfaction was known, however a study composed of 200 Australian women aged 35 to 65 years, found that developmental factors played a role in emotional well being and body image (McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2010).  It could be concluded that potentially some people have a better acceptance of their changing bodies, but what kind of characteristics did they hold? This can be answered by the same study by McLean, Paxton and Wertheim (2010), as it was observed that though other developmental factors, and need for achievement, such having children, being in a long-term relationship and having job security have been seen to have positive effects on body image and divert attention away from the thin ideal (McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2010). It was also found that those who do not have high levels of body image concerns are thought to be able to better adjust to their changing bodies (McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2010). This adjustment being cognitive reappraisal, which is believed to offer protection against body dissatisfaction, by apprising what were their priorities and discrepancy reduction through achieving the set norms for midlife (McLean, Paxton & Wertheim, 2010).  

However self-discrepancy theory also plays a large factor in how emotional well-being is influenced by body image. Overweight female adults were more concerned about their weight, than those of normal weight, not for beauty ideals, but for weight related health concerns such as heart disease and diabetes, thus motivating women to do something about their weight to minimise concerns (Ferraro et al., 2008). In conjunction to this, only 16% of men overweight during midlife felt the same intrinsic motivation to pursue weightless for health concerns, as 84% did not experience weight related concerns to conform to societal pressure nor for health concerns as well (Ferraro et al., 2008).

Social Groups[edit | edit source]

The groups we belong to influence our psychological well-being. Humans are social beings (Branscombe et al., 2009) that like to belong to interpersonal structures which help to define who we are (Branscombe et al., 2009). They provide individuals and society with structure for behaviour (Branscombe et al., 2009) and the psychological processes involved in forming social identities (Greenfield and Marks, 2007). They are hypothesised as serving to simplify social reality and thereby help individuals avoid the distress of being overwhelmed by social complexities, such as particular body image standards (Greenfield and Marks, 2007).

It is thought that one reason why we are willingly to associate with others in groups as they have the ability to benefit an individual’s life through companionship, emotional bonding and personal security (Haslam et al., 2009). In regards to this, treatment for psychological disorders through social groups could have positive implications by encouraging stronger social identity to help protect individuals from potential distress, such as body image and body dissatisfaction (Greenfield and Marks, 2007).  

A common phenomenon that both males and female participate in, appearance conversation also known as, fat talking, is a behaviour established from socio-cultural pressure (Naumann, Schmidt, Sharpe & Treasure, 2013). Fat talking has five common components; self-comparison to ideal eating and exercise habits, fears of becoming over weight, how eating and exercising habits compare to others, evaluation of others and meal replacements and muscle building strategies (Naumann, Schmidt, Sharpe & Treasure, 2013). A study by Naumann etc (2013), found that even one single exposure to fat talking can have an immediate effect on body image and is an active and large extrinsic motivator for body image ideals across men and women (Naumann, Schmidt, Sharpe & Treasure, 2013).

A study by Cruwys, Leverington and Sheldon (2015), An Experimental Investigation of the Consequences and Social Functions of Fat Talk in Friendship Groupsadvocates that fat talk is a strong candidate for the mechanism for the thin ideal/ body image expectations can be transmitted at a micro-level between individuals. This study also suggests that fat talking, whether it be hearing and/ or expressing it is strongly correlated to disordered eating and more specifically body dissatisfaction, negative emotions and dieting intentions (Cruwys, Leverington & Sheldon, 2015). Despite this, there is evidence to suggest that it is not the fat talking that is the sole problem, it is the dynamic of the friendship group norms that is promoting of the fat talk (Cruwys, Leverington & Sheldon, 2015). What could explain, why fat talk would persist when it is damaging to personal well-being, is that conforming to norms leads people to be evaluated more positively by their friends (Cruwys, Leverington & Sheldon, 2015). In simple terms, the people who one surrounds one's self with, could be a reason for body image concerns for some and not others. There is further indication to back up this theory by the same study by, those who participated in ant- fat talk, had elevated positive emotional well-being and potentially intrinsic motivators for others participate in the same to feel the same elevated positive emotional well-being.


1 What is body image?

Picture of a body
Ideal body
Subjective evaluation of how a body

2 What best describes well-being in regards to mental health?

Not physically sick
Being able to cope with the unpredictability of life
Happy and positive

3 What is an eating disorder?

Mental illness
Physical illness
Does not exist

4 What is social media?

Online networking
Online TVs, radios etc
Watching TV with friends/ family

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Emotional well-being and body image are interconnected and is something people experience in their everyday lives. Body image awareness begins young through social media influence and puberty and continues into late life with health related concerns and developmental factors. How one feels about their body image influences their emotional well-being and is often due to many motivational influences such as self-discrpency, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and self schemas.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Ackard, D., & Peterson, C. (2001). Association between puberty and disordered eating, body image, and other psychological variables. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 29, 187-194.<187::aid-eat1008>;2-r

Anderson, J., Bresnahan, M., & Musatics, C. (2014). Combating weight-based cyberbullying on Facebook with the dissenter effect. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking, 17, 281-286.

Armstrong, B., Dumont-Driscoll, M., Gowey, M., & Janicke, D. (2015). The moderating effects of gender on paternal encouragement to diet and body dissatisfaction in youth. Children's Health Care, 44, 353-367.

Bender, M., Burke, C., Dow, E., & Woike, B. (2012). The relationship between implicit and explicit motives, goal pursuit, and autobiographical memory content during a diary study. Journal Of Research In Personality, 46(4), 374-383. doi: 10.1016/j.jrp.2012.03.005

Bobkowski, P., & Brown, J. (2011). Older and newer media: Patterns of use and effects on adolescents' health and well-being. Journal Of Research On Adolescence, 21, 95-113.

Branscombe, N., Garcia, D., Outten, H. and Schmitt, M. (2009). Coping Options: Missing Links between Minority Group Identification and Psychological Well-Being. Applied Psychology, [online] 58(1), pp.146-170. Available at:

Campbell, W., Martin, G., & Twenge, J. (2018). Decreases in psychological well-being among American adolescents after 2012 and links to screen time during the rise of smartphone technology. Emotion.

Canavarro, M., Frontini, R., Gouveia, M., & Moreira, H. (2014). Quality of life and psychological functioning in pediatric obesity: the role of body image dissatisfaction between girls and boys of different ages. Quality Of Life Research, 23(9), 2629-2638. doi: 10.1007/s11136-014-0711-y

Cornell, C., Damiano, S., Hart, L., & Paxton, S. (2014). Parents and prevention: A systematic review of interventions involving parents that aim to prevent body dissatisfaction or eating disorders. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 48, 157-169.

Cruwys, T., Leverington, C., & Sheldon, A. (2015). An experimental investigation of the consequences and social functions of fat talk in friendship groups. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 49, 84-91.

Ferraro, R., Hager, T., Hoverson, F., Muehlenkamp, J., Paintner, A., & Wasson, T. (2008). Aging, Body Image and Body Shape. Retrieved from

George, V., & Mayo, C. (2014). Eating disorder risk and body dissatisfaction based on muscularity and body fat in male university students. Journal Of American College Health, 62, 407-415.

Greenfield, E. and Marks, N. (2007). Religious Social Identity as an Explanatory Factor for Associations Between More Frequent Formal Religious Participation and Psychological Well-Being. THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL FOR THE PSYCHOLOGY OF RELIGION. 17(3), pp.245-259].

Haslam, C., Haslam, S., Jetten, J. and Postmes, T. (2009). Social Identity, Health and Well-Being: An Emerging Agenda for Applied Psychology. Applied Psychology, 58(1), pp.1-23. Available at:

Heekeren, H., Meshi, D., & Tamir, D. (2015). The emerging neuroscience of social media. Trends In Cognitive Sciences, 19, 771-782.

Masters, J., McLean, S., Paxton, S., & Wertheim, E. (2015). Photoshopping the selfie: Self-photo editing and photo investment are associated with body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 48, 1132-1140.

McLean, S., Paxton, S., & Wertheim, E. (2010). Factors associated with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in women in midlife. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 43(6), 527-536. Retrieved from

Naumann, U., Schmidt, U., Sharpe, H., & Treasure, J. (2013). Is fat talking a causal risk factor for body dissatisfaction? A systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 46, 643-652.

Scheithauer, H., Schultze, M., Schultze-Krumbholz, A., Wölfer, R., & Zagorscak, P. (2015). Feeling cyber victims’ pain: The effect of empathy training on cyberbullying. Aggressive Behavior, 42, 147-156.

Shiffrar, M. Eating Disorders. Retrieved 29 September 2017, from

Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2016). Facebook and body image concern in adolescent girls: A prospective study. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 50, 80-83.

Slade, P. (1994). What is body image?. Behaviour research And therapy, 32, 497-502.

Stewart-Brown, S. (1998). Emotional wellbeing and its relation to health. BMJ, 317, 1608-1609.

Van den Berg, P. (2005). Self-schema and social comparison explanations of body dissatisfaction. University Of South Florida Scholar Commons. Retrieved from

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Wright, M. (2014). Predictors of anonymous cyber aggression: The role of adolescents' beliefs about anonymity, aggression, and the permanency of digital content. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking, 17, 431-438.

Recommended to watch[edit | edit source]

Body Dysmorphia Ted Talk