In this day of Instagram perfection, body dysmorphia has become an epidemic, as we struggle with the idea that our health and wealth and happiness is 100% dependent on what we look like. This is of course not a new phenomenon – each society has had its own idea of what is considered beautiful, and those who do not fit this norm internalize the idea that they are not enough.
What are the psychological processes behind this? How does one develop a negative body image, that could then morph into something more serious – body dysmorphia? When does it start? I spoke to Dr. Jessica Alleva who works on the psychological aspects of body acceptance, and she told me about some really cool experiments that she has done, that can fundamentally change how we view ourselves. I was really excited to hear how appreciation of body functionality, rather than appearance, can be a counter movement to the media/social media driven tsunami dedicated only to physical perfection.
Alleva, J. M., Karos, K., Meadows, A., Waldén, M. I., Stutterheim, S. E., Lissandrello, F., & Atkinson, M. J. (2021). “What can her body do?” Reducing weight stigma by appreciating another person’s body functionality. PLoS ONE, 16(5), e0251507.
Alleva, J. M., & Tylka, T. L. (2021). Body functionality: A review of the literature. Body Image, 36, 149-171.
Alleva, J. M., Holmqvist Gattario, K., Martijn, C., & Lunde, C. (2019). What can my body do vs. how does it look? Young women and men’s descriptions of their body functionality or physical appearance. Body Image, 31, 71-80.
Alleva, J. M., Diedrichs, P. C., Halliwell, E., Peters, M. L., Dures, E., Stuijfzand, B. G., & Rumsey, N. (2018).More than my RA:Improving body image in women with rheumatoid arthritis using a functionality-focused intervention programme. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 86, 666-676.
Alleva, J. M., Diedrichs, P. C., Halliwell, E., Martijn, C., Stuijfzand, B. G., Treneman-Evans, G., & Rumsey, N. (2018).A randomised-controlled trial investigating potential underlying mechanisms of a functionality-based approach to improving women’s body image. Body Image, 25, 85-96.
Alleva, J. M., Martijn, C., van Breukelen, G. J. P., Jansen, A., & Karos, K. (2015). Expand Your Horizon: A programme that improves body image and reduces self-objectification by training women to focus on body functionality. Body Image, 15, 81-89.
Alleva, J. M., Martijn, C., Jansen, A., & Nederkoorn, C. (2014). Body language: Affecting body satisfaction by describing the body in functionality terms. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38, 181-196.