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Body Image Issues Are On The Rise Amid COVID-19, Study Finds

Abby Moore
Author:
Abby Moore
mbg Nutrition & Health Writer
By Abby Moore
mbg Nutrition & Health Writer
Abby Moore is an editorial operations manager at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Prismatic Portrait of a Woman
Image by Chelsea Victoria / Stocksy

The mental health effects of the ongoing pandemic are serious, and unfortunately, they don't seem to be slowing down. Along with increases in anxiety and suicidal thoughts, a new study found pandemic-induced stress may be linked to increased body image issues1 among men and women.  

The research, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, looked at 506 adults in the United Kingdom and found those with greater anxiety also had an increase in body dissatisfaction. While women desired being thinner, men desired being more muscular. 

Why body image concerns are on the rise amid COVID.

According to social psychologist and lead study author Viren Swami, Ph.D., the conditions of lockdown at the onset of the pandemic as well as the general decrease in human contact may have created the perfect conditions for body image concerns to fester.

"Our screen time increased, meaning that we were more likely to be exposed to thin or athletic ideals through the media, while decreased physical activity may have heightened negative thoughts about weight or shape," Swami said in a news release. "At the same time, it is possible that the additional anxiety and stress caused by COVID-19 may have diminished the coping mechanisms we typically use to help manage negative thoughts."

These issues seemed to span between men and women and followed traditional gender stereotypes, with women feeling pressured to appear thinner and more "feminine," and men desiring to look stronger and more "masculine."

"Given that masculinity typically emphasizes the value of toughness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of status, COVID-19–related stress and anxiety may be leading men to place greater value on the importance of being muscular," Swami says. Meanwhile, messages about using the pandemic and "extra time at home" for self-improvement may have triggered the dissatisfaction in women, he adds. 

The bottom line.

Stress and anxiety have heightened significantly due to social isolation, fear of the virus, and change in routines. These impacts are also triggering associated mental health issues, like body dysmorphia and dissatisfaction.

Negative body image can segue into dangerous eating disorders, like anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, or yo-yo dieting. Despite some misconceptions about eating disorders, it's not uncommon for them to hide in plain sight. Especially during the pandemic, when access to treatment is limited and loved ones aren't around to notice changes, these issues can be exacerbated. 

It's not easy to always like what you see in the mirror (these small steps may help), so if you or someone you know has struggled with eating disorders and body image issues in the past, it's important to reach out for help in these challenging times. 

For additional information about the Eating Recovery Center, call 877-789-5758, email info@eatingrecoverycenter.com, or visit www.eatingrecoverycenter.com to speak with a master's-level clinician.

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