The Covid-19 lockdown made people feel “much worse” about their body image, with people under 18 struggling the most, a new survey has revealed.
The body image survey, carried out by MPs on the Commons’ women and equalities committee, found 58% of people under 18 and 53% of adults said lockdown has damaged their view of their appearance.
Seeing more online ads for weight loss products, the closure of gyms, media articles about “lockdown weight gain” and less mental health support were all cited as reasons for the collapse in self-esteem.
Just a small proportion (14% of adults and 16% of children) said lockdown made them feel better or much better, adding they had time to focus on their health and felt less societal pressure to look good.
The survey underlined that Brits have poor body image overall, with the majority of people feeling negative about themselves most of the time (61% of adults, 66% of children).
Women, people with a disability and transgender people were most likely to have a negative view of their body.
Six in 10 women felt negative about their body, blaming diet culture, post-natal pressures, “being bombarded with images of photoshopped, edited and sexualised women” and seeing fewer older women in the media.
A total of 71% of people with a disability reported feeling bad about their body image, compared with 60% of adults overall. They reported bad experiences with healthcare professionals, who focused heavily on their weight, and feelings of being “ignored, judged or isolated about their appearance”.
Not a single transgender person said they felt “very positive” about their body image, and 23% said they felt very negative most of the time (compared with 12% of non-transgender people).
Because it’s such a widespread problem, influenced by multiple factors, it’s easy to underestimate the real misery it causes – and to so many people.Equalities committee chair, Caroline Nokes, on body image
Trans people said gender and body dysphoria impacted their view as well as the threat of harassment and “the pressure to look ‘cis’”.
Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women said their body image was hit by advertising campaigns that targeted “plus size BAME women” and a lack of representation of minorities in the media overall.
Men, meanwhile, said body image concerns for them are “common” but discussing them is “still taboo”, with pressure to “gain muscle mass” and look masculine a factor.
The report said people want more discussion of body image in schools, regulation of advertising – for example, labelling images where the individual has had cosmetic surgery – and for the media and large organisations to focus on diversity.
Chair of the women and equalities committee Caroline Nokes said the committee will further examine the issue and make recommendations next year.
She said: “Poor body image is a well-known problem among teenage girls and young women – and that is clearly where it is most severe. But it impacts a much wider range of people as well, damaging mental and physical health and contributing to discrimination.
“And it impacts some people more than others: teenagers – boys as well as girls; people who are considered under or over weight; women, especially those who are older or BAME, LGBT people – especially gay men and trans people, and people with disabilities or a visible difference.
“Because it’s such a widespread problem, influenced by multiple factors, it’s easy to underestimate the real misery it causes – and to so many people.
“There has been plenty of commentary on the problem, but identifying proposals to tackle it is more challenging. Our inquiry aims to do exactly that: we will be hearing from a wide range of witnesses – both experts and individuals speaking from their own experience, and we will be making recommendations to government early next year.”