Many of us struggle with our body image – but new findings suggest that there’s an easy way we can improve it.
Five studies were conducted by researchers at University College London, Anglia Ruskin University and Perdana University in Malaysia. In the first, students were shown pictures of fields, trees and other natural environments and of built environments – and looking at natural pictures resulted in “improved body image”. Students did not feel this boost, however, after seeing images of urban settings.
In other studies, subjects took walks – in one study Hampstead Heath, the other Primrose Hill – and, again, researchers found that being in nature resulted in “significantly higher body appreciation”. Walks in built-up settings resulted in “significantly lower scores”.
Viren Swami, lead author of the research and Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, said that the studies “point to consistent effects of nature exposure on positive body image” – effects that occur “irrespective of whether exposure occurs via photographs or in-situ”.
“Findings from the present work add to a large body of evidence indicating that exposure to natural environments is associated with improved physiological, psychological, and social well-being outcomes,” he explained.
Swami believes that the findings may help design “future interventions”, based on natural environments, to promote positive body image. He also points to findings from previous researchers that suggest that “green space is more than just a luxury”.
“The provision of accessible green space should be allocated greater importance in public health and spatial planning policies,” he says. “Green spaces should be viewed as essential to improved health and health-related quality of life, including in terms of body image.”
Images: Dmitry Zelinskiy / Jake Melara