Hanging out with people who are not consumed by their appearance is beneficial to your body image and can improve your eating habits, a new study by the researchers from the University of Waterloo revealed. The study appeared in Body Image, An International Journal of Research.
The researchers examined how body image is influenced by social interactions. In consonance with the previous findings that being around people preoccupied with their bodies was detrimental, the researchers also found that spending time with people who are non-body focused had a positive effect on the body image.
“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, PhD 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,” she added.
Allison Kelly, a psychology professor in clinical psychology at Waterloo and former Waterloo undergraduate Elizabeth Stephen had also joined Miller in this study.
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.
The researchers assessed the frequency of participant’s daily interactions with body focused and non-body focused individuals, their degree of body appreciation, i.e., how much one values their body irrespective of its size or shape, and body satisfaction, and whether they ate intuitively in accordance with their hunger and cravings rather than fixating on their dietary and weight goals.
According to Kelly, “Body dissatisfaction is ubiquitous and can take a huge toll on our mood, self-esteem, relationships, and even the activities we pursue.” She further added, “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 findings also revealed that spending more time with non-body focused people may help in preventing disordered eating and promoting more intuitive eating.
Miller contends, “If more women try to focus less on their weight or shape, there may be a ripple effect shifting societal norms for women’s body image in a positive direction. It is 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.”