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Thirty percent of 18-24 year-olds say poor body image has impacted career progression

Phil Hannen, Health Intervention Manager - Better

A new study has revealed how the majority of people aged 18-24 in the UK have displayed signs of body dysmorphia, while also admitting that low body confidence has impacted their love life, social life, mental health and even their career progression. 

Key findings include:

  • 81% of 18-24-year-olds admit to thinking often about being muscular or lean enough, exercising despite illness or injury, feeling anxiety at missing a workout, giving up work or social obligations to maintain a workout schedule or diet, or maintaining an extreme exercise programme.
  • 45% of 18-24-year-olds have received online abuse directed at how their body looks while 42% say they know someone who has.
  • A further 41% admitted to commenting negatively on someone else’s physical appearance – compared to just 15% overall
  • 46% say low body confidence has impacted their social life 46% their love life, and 30% say it has impacted their career progression.

The survey found that a third of UK men believe that low body confidence has affected their social life, 30 per cent claim it has troubled their love life and 27 per cent that it has impacted on their mental health.

Those aged 18 – 24yrs (the group most active on social media) are also the cohort most affected by negative body confidence issues, including body dysmorphia (81 per cent). This includes thinking often about making their body more muscular or lean, feeling anxiety due to a missed workout or maintaining an extreme exercise plan.

The findings also suggest that British males are less likely to celebrate body positivity than their female counterparts. Better conducted a social media analysis of Instagram, scraping through the top 1,000 posts tagged with the #bodypositivity hashtag, finding over 83% of all posts were made by or featured women. This compares with just 10% of posts made by or featuring men.

Overall, research** shows that regular exercise has a positive impact on male wellbeing. Men are more physically active than women, exercising on average 3.4 hrs per week compared to 2.9 hrs. The main motivators for regular activity are noticing physical changes (23 per cent) such as weight loss and improvements to overall health (20 per cent).

As part of the research, Better spoke to experts and influencers to gain insights into the issues raised. Sam Thomas, a writer, speaker & mental health advocate who has suffered with body image and eating disorders, said:

“In my mid-twenties I started going to the gym for the first time and I found weightlifting helped me to improve on my confidence and self-esteem. I found when I went to the gym, I ate well and when I didn’t, I ate less so I consequently lost weight. Gym doesn’t work for everybody in recovery from eating disorders, but it works for me! Fortunately, I’ve never felt peer pressure quite as much as my friends, so have avoided comparisons of what I see on the internet and my peers.”

“More education and awareness are key so that the current and future generations don’t become adversely affected by what they see and how it makes them feel.”

“There’s nothing wrong with men wanting to become body confident and we need to celebrate men’s bodies – in all their diversity. But first, we need to get rid of any idea that there is a limited set of body image ideals that men aspire to.”

Phil Hannen, Health Intervention Manager at Better comments: “I think men who are teased in childhood for the way they look, (too fat, too weak, too small, too skinny etc.) tend to carry those negative thoughts into adult life.

“Social media and certain TV shows portray the way the supposed ‘ideal’ man should look, for example: strong, lean and muscular. The implication is that if you look like this you attract the best looking girls and have the most friends. Failure to achieve this idealised and often unattainable look can lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem, relationship problems and even self-harm.

“Exercise has a number of positive physical benefits as well as improving mental wellbeing. When exercising your body releases chemicals that can improve your mood, make you feel less anxious and reduce stress and depression, it can also improve the function of the brain.

“In today’s pressured world, exercise is really important to keep good physical and mental health. Many men I have spoken to tell me that they use exercise as there escape from the stresses and pressures of every-day life and that it provides important ‘me time’.”

*Research from Better

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