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Acquaintances Can Influence Body Image

Acquaintances Can Influence Body Image

New research on social interactions and body image finds that who you hang out with makes a big difference in body perception and health behaviors.

In the study, University of Waterloo investigators found being around people preoccupied with their body image was detrimental for perception of body image. However, spending time with people who were non-body focused had a positive impact in terms of body image and wellness behavior.

“Our research suggests that social context has a meaningful impact on how we feel about our bodies in general and on a given day,” said Kathryn Miller, Ph.D. candidate in clinical psychology at Waterloo.

“Specifically, when others around us are not focused on their body it can be helpful to our own body image.”

Miller conducted this study with Dr. Allison Kelly, a psychology professor in clinical psychology at Waterloo and former Waterloo undergraduate Elizabeth Stephen.

In the study, researchers asked 92 female undergraduate students aged 17 to 25 to complete a daily diary over seven consecutive days and reflected on their interactions with body focused and non-body focused people.

Researchers measured participants’ frequency of daily interactions with body focused and non-body focused others. Investigators also assessed participants degree of body appreciation – that is, how much one values their body regardless of its size or shape, and body satisfaction.

Finally, researchers reviewed whether participants dietary behavior was in alignment with their hunger and cravings or, did they fixate on individual diet and weight goals.

Findings appear in Body Image, an International Journal of Research.

“Body dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and can take a huge toll on our mood, self-esteem, relationships, and even the activities we pursue,” said Kelly.

“It’s important to realize that the people we spend time with actually influence our body image. If we are able to spend more time with people who are not preoccupied with their bodies, we can actually feel much better about our own bodies.”

The researchers also found that spending more time with non-body focused individuals may be advantageous in protecting against disordered eating and promoting more intuitive eating.

“If more women try to focus less on their weight/shape, there may be a ripple effect shifting societal norms for women’s body image in a positive direction,” said Miller.

“It’s also important for women to know that they have an opportunity to positively impact those around them through how they relate to their own bodies.”

Source: University of Waterloo

Acquaintances Can Influence Body Image

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Acquaintances Can Influence Body Image. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 Jan 2019 (Originally: 31 Jan 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 31 Jan 2019
Published on Psych All rights reserved.