Body Image: The 2021 List of Facts, Figures, and Statistics

Body image is becoming an increasingly well-known topic, between online campaigns about loving your body, television shows about weight loss, and celebrities being more open about their own struggles with this topic.

But how widespread are body image issues? And what contributes to them?

While there are various studies about eating disorders out there, body image isn’t strictly about weight or body shape—and the United States doesn’t seem to study body image as a topic as much as other countries do. In fact, most studies in this country seem to involve fewer than 1,000 people or very narrow populations, while countries like the United Kingdom are performing nationwide surveys [1] on the topic. So, the information below will come from both the U.S. and other countries.

You’ll find data about body image issue rates, how different populations experience body image challenges, causes and correlations for body image struggles, and more. At the bottom, you’ll find a list of key terms to clarify the data, as well as citations.

Read on to learn about the results of all types of body image studies.

What is Body Image?

When someone talks about having a positive or negative body image, it’s common to think strictly about weight. However, body image can relate to any part of someone’s body [1]—hair, nose, freckles, or the body as a whole.

While nearly everyone [2] experiences negative feelings toward their bodies at times, the problems may run deeper.

What is the “Ideal” Body?

These statistics deal with people’s perceptions of what the “ideal” body is. This doesn’t mean there is an ideal body, but instead reflect people’s opinions on what’s “best” in terms of appearance.

Who Believes There’s an “Ideal Body?”

65% of those under 18 and 45% of adults believe in an “ideal body”. [1]

What Type of Body is Thought to be “Ideal?”

This shows the percentages of adults who believe in these different ideals. [2]

Athletic Body (Regardless of Gender)
54% of men and 43% of women

Dad Bod (Men)
30% of those 55+; 12% of those between 18 and 34

Curvy Body (Women)
34%

Model Thin
11%

How Has the “Ideal Body” Changed Over Time?

The “ideal woman” has changed throughout history. A few examples of these historical transitions are: [1]

Ancient Greece, the Italian Renaissance, and Victorian England
“Rounder” looks

1920s
“Androgynous” and slim

1930s-1950s
“Hourglass figure”

1980s
Simultaneously athletic, thin, and curvy

1990s
Extremely thin

How Have Body Image and Its Study Changed Over Time?

Both the image we have of our bodies and how much this topic is studied have changed over the last 100 years:

1920s
The first studies in body image issues absent brain damage began with Paul Schilder in the 1920s. [1]

Since 1980
Over 90% of relevant studies have occurred since 1980. [2]

1973
23% of women and 15% of men expressed body dissatisfaction. [3]

1997
56% of women and 43% of men disliked their appearances as a whole. [4]

2018
83% of women and 75% of men were dissatisfied with their bodies. [5]

How Has COVID-19 Affected Body Image?

Regarding the COVID-19 lockdown in the U.K.: [1]

53% of adults reported feeling worse or much worse about their bodies during that time and 58% of those under 18 reported the same.

Lockdown has made my body image worse due to being able to spend my time on social media and just having time to sit in front of the mirror for ages

–(Girl, 15–17)

How Are Children and Teenagers Affected by Body Image Issues?

Body image challenges don’t discriminate by age, and young people are greatly affected by body dissatisfaction and low body appreciation.

By the age of 3 or 4 some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds—and even hold strong views—about how bodies should look.

–Jacqueline Hardine, advisor to the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) [1]

How Are Very Young Children Affected by Body Image?

Age Three
Children begin to have opinions about their bodies

Cause of Negative Body Images in Daycare-Aged Children
Likely more due to social pressures than mental health disorders [2]

How Do Children in Daycare Feel About Their Bodies?

Daycare workers in the U.K. said they heard and saw children (ages three to five) engaging in the following statements or behaviors at these rates: [3]

  • “They Are Fat”: 37%
  • “I Am Fat”: 31%
  • “I am Ugly”: 10%
  • Avoiding Foods for Fear of Fatness: 19%

How Do Preschool-Aged Children Ages Perceive Weight?

An Australian study provided nutrition resources to some parents and Confident Body, Confident Child (CBCC) resources to others, the latter of which focuses on healthy eating and positive body image. Their children were ages four to six. The results of this project found: [4]

1. These young kids already felt there were “negative social consequences for larger figures,” including being left out and unpopular.

2. Children whose parents received the nutrition information instead of the CBCC program reported significantly greater weight bias.

3. Parents who attended a CBCC workshop were more concerned with eating habits than body image.

How Do Eight- to 15-Year-Olds Perceive Their Bodies?

  • Number Thinking They’re “Fat” or “Overweight”: Just under 18%
  • Attempting to Lose Weight “Sometimes” Within the Past Year: Nearly 49%
  • Attempting to Lose Weight “Frequently” Within the Past Year: Nearly 10%
  • Percent Hoping to Lose Weight: Nearly 34%
  • Percent Hoping to Stay the Same Weight: Just over 22% [5]

How Do Middle School Girls Perceive Their Bodies?

  • 67.5% say they’d prefer to be thinner
  • 60.6% report weight loss attempts
  • 10.8% state they want to be larger
  • 45.4% are already at healthy weights [6]

How Do Boys and Girls Differ in Body Image?

At age 13, boys and girls show similar rates of body dissatisfaction. At 14, girls begin to show significantly higher levels, and the levels increase for them and decrease for boys as they age. [7]

How Do Kids and Adults Differ in Body Image Experiences?

66% of people under age 18 and 61% of people age 18+ feel negative or very negative about body image all the time [8].

Body Image Education in U.K. Schools

78% of young people want to learn about body image in school, but only 23% had received this kind of instruction.

I feel as though, children, especially in secondary school should be taught about body image and how to appreciate your body despite your appearance because it has affected me and my friends very negatively, especially with social media always telling us we need perfect teeth, clear skin, curvy body, toned stomach etc. It makes teenagers not feel good enough.

–(Girl, 15–17)

What Do Kids Think Affects Their Body Images?

Social Effects
Internalization of society’s body ideals, criticisms about one’s appearance, and discussions with friends and peers account for 45.7% of body image variance.

Body Image Curricula
Under 20% of curricula taught in schools had lasting impacts on participants. The majority of this instruction only focused girls, excluding boys or other genders. [9]

How Does Bullying Affect Body Image?

Childhood bullying correlates with low body image during the teen years and disordered eating in adulthood. [10]

How Does Body Image Affect Children’s Social Skills?

Children ages nine to 12 in Spain who are happy with their bodies “have greater skills to understand and appreciate the emotions of others, greater flexibility and effectiveness to resolve conflicts, and a more positive life attitude, and therefore, they can better control their emotions.” [11]

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