Research showing the effects of beauty/body image on health

Our perceptions of beauty, as well as body image both greatly influence our mental health. What we choose to see in our reflections does undoubtedly have an impact.

A journal written by A. Kholmogorova, P. Tarhanova, and O. Shalygina sheds light on some research into the negative consequences of unhealthy beauty standards on the mental health of youths. This research will be explored further in the article.

There are several ways in which unhealthy beauty standards are promoted and the effect on mental health is evident. Through the media, through the communities we live in, through our society, we are inundated, from a young age, by beauty standards and ideals of ‘perfection’.

Whether we are conscious of this or not, this can take a toll on us. Even in seemingly innocent ways; such as beautiful toy dolls or beautiful princesses and prince’s in storybooks, we are being immersed.

‘Standards of an unnaturally thin body shape with distorted proportions even at preschool age’ are being reinforced (Shalygina & Kholmogorova, 2014). With the prevalence of fashion dolls, children begin to associate beauty with the ‘style, glamour and rare beauty’ that is stressed by advertisers. A particular example is barbie dolls. This image children are given from a young age sticks with them and influences their perception of what they themselves should strive to look like. When this unrealistic ideal is not met, problems can begin to arise…

When we are bombarded with unhealthy beauty standards, our self-esteem and beliefs towards the self can be negatively impacted. This can be due to the ‘dissatisfaction with appearance and physical perfectionism’ that is cultivated.

Research conducted by Mental Health Foundation (2019) found that:

‘One in five adults (20%) felt shame, just over one third (34%) felt down or low, and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year.’

The dissatisfaction with appearance and striving for physical perfectionism evidently has negative implications on our emotions. But how exactly does this come to be?

Vygotsky’s (1984 & 2007) cultural-historical theory of cognitive development can provide a framework to describe how young people form perceptions of physical attractiveness and attitudes toward their body. This, he suggests, is developed through the social situation that they grow up in. A child will internalise beliefs about beauty and this in turn will become their internal tool for their later perceptions of beauty. Thus, if negative beauty standards are developed, attitudes towards own appearances may become unhealthy leading to negative consequences for mental health.

In order to avoid negative impacts on our mental health we must be careful with digesting so much of what we are exposed to and when we are exposed. We must be aware of the ways in which we can be influenced. We can use this awareness to tackle and challenge insensitive views which we may face about our beauty or body image.

Remember Allah (SWT) is Al Khaliq (The Creator), Al Mussawir (The Shaper of Beauty) and He made you beautiful.

“We have indeed created man in the best of moulds.”
[Qur’an 95:4]

Zainab Shafan

Zainab Shafan

Zainab is currently on her gap year – something she never thought she would do. She was studying Psychological and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, however that did not work out so hopes to study pure Psychology at UCL next year. This year she aims to build a foundation for herself to develop skills and give back to the community; and the perfect opportunity arose with Inspirited Minds. The charity combines two disciplines very close to her heart (Islam and Psychology) and to be able to be involved through writing, a passion of hers, is a huge blessing. Reading the newsletters herself has been a continuous source of enlightenment and a means of catharsis; so, to be able to provide this for other people will be undoubtedly rewarding.

2 Comments

  • Kefayat Hussain Haider says:

    If this negative impact occurs in our mind and effect on our mental health issues then how we remove these impacts from our minds?
    Why they are generated in our minds as we know these negative things are not good for our health as well as others? Do these things occur by nature?
    Waalaikumsalam

    • Zainab says:

      AsalamAlaikum,

      I feel that it is difficult to completely remove these factors however by being aware that they affect us we can try out best to challenge them and not let them overwhelm us.

      May Allah(swt) help us all.

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