Flinders University’s Marika Tiggemann started researching body image perception in the 1980s, when it was far less influential and, as time has passed, has watched her research topic become a key element of modern culture.
“I never could have guessed when I first began my study just how much it makes so many of us unhappy,” Professor Tiggemann says in The Investigator Transformed, a collection of profiles about leading Flinders University academics, researchers and alumni.
Messages about what constitutes the perfect body now come from a multitude of sources and drive sales of magazines, clothes, food and even discretionary surgery.
The Professor of psychology is interested in normative body dissatisfaction, where the average population experience ongoing feelings of unhappiness based on their body image.
This has largely been the preserve of women and girls in the past, but is increasingly afflicting males.
“There is a new trend called fitspiration, which is about people promoting health and fitness through posting photos of themselves exercising and looking good,” Professor Tiggemann says .
“Fitspiration may sound like it should have positive impacts, but the reverse is happening for many girls and women. It still perpetuates the perception that there is one perfect body type.
“Our latest study on the fitspiration trend has shown that people do feel more inspired to get active and eat well and try to emulate these people, but it also negatively impacts on their thoughts and feelings of their own bodies which makes it potentially an unhealthy motivational tool.
“An entire cultural change around appearance is needed for the body dissatisfaction rates to reduce and I am hopeful that one day soon we can make it socially acceptable to be happy and comfortable in your own skin.”
From as young as six years old, girls can “internalise” society’s expectations about the ideal body weight, so this is imagery can be “difficult to shift” by the time the individual is a teenager and young adult.
Social media, including Facebook, plays a role in this, according to her latest paper in the International Journal of Eating Disorders (Tiggemann, M and Slater, AE (2017). ‘Facebook and body image concern in adolescent girls: A prospective study.’
Professor Tiggemann also has published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology (2015) ‘The role of self-objectification in the mental health of early adolescent girls: Predictors and consequences’ and in Body Image (Tiggemann, M and Zaccardo, M (2015). ‘ “Exercise to be fit, not skinny”: The effect of fitspiration imagery on women’s body image.’
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