Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image Contents


1.After a decade of soaring social media use, increased exposure to online advertising and a persistent and pervasive diet culture, our concerns about the way we look are starting younger, lasting longer, and affecting more people than ever before.1 Over the same period, a growing body of research has been evidencing the long-lasting impact negative body image can have on the lives of those who are dissatisfied with their appearance, as well how this affects the pursuit of equality in society more widely.2 How people feel about their body is affected by societal factors such as appearance ideals promoted by media and advertising, appearance-based stereotypes, and systems of oppression including ableism, racism, and colourism as well as misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.3 With this in mind, the aim of this inquiry was to record the range of those suffering from negative body image, to learn what is driving endemic body dissatisfaction, and to recommend steps the Government and other actors can take to increase the number of individuals in the UK viewing their appearance in a positive light.

This inquiry

2.The number of individuals perceiving their body negatively is growing in the UK.4 Our inquiry sought to determine which groups were most at risk of developing poor body image, the factors driving its increased prevalence, and the impact of poor body image on the lives of those affected by it. We considered the impact body dissatisfaction can have on physical and mental health and its relationship with advertising in traditional and social media. We also considered the role Government should play through health, education or digital policy interventions to reduce the prevalence and impact of poor body image in the UK.

3.The Committee launched Changing the Perfect Picture: an inquiry into body image on 2 April 2020, shortly after the first national covid-19 lockdown came into force.5 We have noted an ongoing media focus on methods to limit weight gain while leisure facilities have been closed, and the anxieties caused by the increased use of video-conferencing platforms.6 We considered the corresponding surge in demand for help with eating disorders,7 the impact of lockdown on body image concerns, and the accessibility of support for those suffering.

4.We received 70 written evidence submissions and held five oral evidence sessions from September 2020 to January 2021.8 We also ran a survey into body image between 6 and 19 July 2020 which received 7878 responses. We published a Special Report on the Body Image Survey Results on 23 September 2020.9 We would like to thank all those who provided evidence to our inquiry.

5.This report considers: recent research on body image, the prevalence of appearance-based discrimination and previous Government efforts to tackle these issues (chapter 2); how negative body image impacts the mental and physical health of the nation (chapter 3); the impact of formal and informal education around body image (chapter 4); widespread image editing and its impact on the way people feel about their appearance (chapter 5); and how companies and the advertising industry can reduce actions perpetuating appearance ideals for different groups (chapter 6). We conclude with an exploration of the impact of social media and propose Government policy changes to improve online spaces for people with body image concerns, including in the upcoming online harms legislation (chapter 7).10

6.We received a range of evidence relating to body image during the inquiry, including submissions referencing the damaging impact of the widespread availability and accessibility of pornography.11 Whilst this hasn’t been a focus of our inquiry, we have noted the concerns raised in this area.

5 Women and Equalities Committee, Changing the perfect picture: an inquiry into body image [accessed 18 March 2021]

10 Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, Consultation outcome: Online Harms White Paper [accessed 18 March 2021]

Published: 9 April 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement