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Body Image Study: How Social Media and Weight Loss Advertising Impact Mental Health

2 in 5 Brits have said that not being able to achieve the ‘picture perfect’ body image affects their mental health.

That’s the stark reality shaping our nation, with the impact of weight loss social media advertising, influencers and celebrity standards, leading those who don’t fit the mould to feel ashamed and 9 in 10 wanting to change their appearance.

As advocates and experts of safe health and fitness regimes, we surveyed over 2,000 social media users of all ages and genders to create ‘The Body Image Study’. These body image statistics reveal the demanding picture perfect perceptions created on social media, and by celebrities and influencers, on the UK people. 

The results revealed:

  • Nearly half of Brits say social media, filters, celebrities and reality TV are reasons for wanting to change appearance
  • 1 in 4 won’t upload a selfie without a filter or editing first
  • Almost three-quarters of female Millennials and Gen Z have considered cosmetic alterations
  • Almost a third of Gen Zs feel ‘ugly’ & 1 in 6 ‘can’t be intimate with someone’ because of social media beauty standards 

Why are Brits struggling with their body image? 

Nearly 9 in 10 Brits have said they want to change their appearance

Society’s beauty standards and the pressures of social media can be tough to bear. The results of our study reveal that a huge 9 in 10 people admitted to wanting to change their appearance - citing social media, filters, celebrities and reality TV as some of the main reasons why. 

According to Statista, people in the UK spend approximately 108 minutes per day on social media. As a consequence, frequent exposure to picture perfect lifestyles, influencers, celebrities and filtered or edited pictures, may affect people’s perceptions of what’s normal.  

What’s more, being subjected to social media’s weight loss advertisements and meal replacement promotions may lead to unhealthy weight management.

Nearly half of Brits say social media, filters, celebrities & reality TV are reasons for wanting to change appearance

The report establishes that negative body image is a very real concern, with many taking measures to change their appearance, be that temporary or permanent. 

Being exposed to picture perfect bodies online and in the media has altered the way Brits perceive themselves, as highlighted by the survey.

These factors were the reason why nearly half of Brits were dissatisfied with their appearance and influenced to strive to achieve unattainable body standards: 

Almost 1 in 4 want to change their appearance because of social media filters

Whether it’s browsing through edited Instagram images or using a Snapchat filter to morph your face, social media can distort people’s view of themselves and influence what they feel they should look like. This is highlighted in our report, as 1 in 4 Brits say they’ve been influenced to alter their appearance because of social media filters. 

Filters, which tend to smooth skin, slim the face, whiten teeth, contour features and apply ‘make-up’, have quickly trickled into mainstream beauty standards and aesthetic expectations. 

Global Web Index revealed Gen Z’s daily screen time is estimated at 8 hours. This could explain why facial and body dissatisfaction increases even more among the youngest generation. Our study found that 2 in 5 of 16 to 25-year-olds admitted they wanted to alter their facial appearance because of social media filters.

Higher percentage of Gen Z was affected by the following factors:

1Social media filters40%
2Celebrities39%
3Social media/TV influencers36%
4Love Island25%
5Other reality TV18%

Love Island has influenced 1 in 6 to change their appearance

In its seven years on air, Love Island has had its fair share of controversy. Now, our statistics reveal the show has had a profound effect on people’s self-esteem and body image, as 1 in 6 admitted to wanting to change their appearance because of the reality TV show. 

Men were slightly more influenced to change their appearance because of Love Island (16% to women’s 15%). We also found Love Island had made 25% of Gen Zs and nearly 1 in 4 of 26 to 34-year-olds want to change their appearance.

What do Brits most want to change about themselves? 

Almost 3 in 5 Brits want to lose weight and nearly half have considered cosmetic surgery

The feeling of having the perfect body is something that's applying immense pressure to plenty of Brits. And, according to our report, losing weight is the main thing people want to change about themselves - as 3 in 5 said they wanted to reduce the number on the scales. 

In this day and age, injectables are as easy to shop for as groceries and exposure to treatments are readily exhibited on social media. This might be why nearly half of Brits surveyed were willing to make more permanent alterations, admitting they have considered or undertaken cosmetic surgery - with dental enhancements, boob jobs and botox being the main wants.  

Respondents could give multiple answers, to highlight all the changes they wanted to make. 

Men and women had different appearance considerations, but losing weight was the main priority for both 

The results of the OriGym survey reveal widespread face and body image issues among social media users. In reviewing the responses, it appears that facial cosmetic surgery and losing weight were the main considerations for women. Men were more likely to want to build muscle or consider a hair transplant or nose job. 

Top 10 changes women wanted to make: 

1

Lose weight

66%

2

Tone body

28%

3

Dental enhancement

28%

4

Have botox

18%

5

Have lip filler

17%

6

Have breast augmentation

16%

7

Build muscle

15%

8

Have liposuction

14%

9

Have facial filler

11%

10

Have hair extensions

10%

Top 10 changes men wanted to make:

1

Lose weight

45%

2

Build muscle

40%

3

Dental enhancement

19%

4

Tone body

15%

5

Gain weight

14%

6

Use steroids

9%

7

Have hair transplant

8%

8

Have botox

6%

9

Have nose job

5%

10

Have liposuction

5%

Over 40% of men want to build muscle & 1 in 10 want steroids 

Although losing weight was the number one want for all men, building muscle was a closely followed desire. We found that 4 in 10 men said they would like to increase their muscle mass, while 1 in 10 admitted to wanting to or taking steroids. 

The interest in steroids is also a growing topic on social media. The hashtag #steroidtransformation which is used on steroid users’ before and after transformation videos has reached 20.9m views on TikTok. This could indicate a worrying trend that the Class C drug is appealing to a younger audience, who are generally more inclined to use TikTok and are looking to artificially build their muscle mass. 

Luke Hughes, Level 4 Personal Trainer and Owner at Origym, commented that steroid use in the fitness industry has definitely become more common in the last decade. He believes the exposure to those with the ‘perfect picture’ physique, that has frequently been obtained with performance enhancing drugs, on social media has been a prime instigator for this growth.

Luke said: “People take steroids to get quick results and push their body past its organic threshold. But there is also a social, competitive element, where people want to achieve what their peers are achieving or feel they have to conform and take steroids because others are getting better, faster results. 

“Steroid use will exist in virtually every mainstream gym up and down the UK and with lenient laws against it coupled with no mainstream role models to condemn it, will result in its continued growth in the next few years.”

Luke believes the likes of #steroidtransformation being a trending topic is increasingly worrying, particularly with TikTok being the go-to social platform for teenagers.

He added: “Unfortunately, the negative and lasting effects of steroid abuse does not get much media coverage. It is sometimes glorified through the ever rising popularity of bodybuilding stars on social media, which causes these increases in people following unsafe or fad training regimes.

“Utilising steroids for recreational purposes is unsafe and can lead to a large number of health problems. Depending on the extent and duration of that abuse, steroid use can lead to high blood pressure, acne, premature balding, cancer, impotence and infertility, to name just a few.”

How have celeb beauty standards impacted Gen Z and Millennials?

The ‘ideal’ body type for women has been the topic of discussion for thousands of years. Hundreds of years ago, art and sculpture showcased curvaceous, fuller body types as the desired figure. In the 20th Century, from the Twiggy era of the 60s to the supermodels of the 90s, society celebrated thinner figures.

In more recent years, fuller busts, tiny waists and shapely derrieres have become more pined for. The stark differences in beauty standards across generations have been reflected in our survey responses. 

The Kardashian Effect: Over 40% of Gen Z females want lip filler and almost 1 in 5 want bum enhancement

The Kardashian and Jenner clan are known for their sought-after features and from the 2010s to today, the sisters have shaped the way women want to look. 

Kim Kardashian’s notable behind has had thousands of women wanting to replicate her voluptuous hourglass figure. In addition, the rise of Kylie Jenner’s lip kit, which was notoriously sought after following Kylie’s lip filler, has also led to the growing popularity of the procedure. 

As Gen Z females have been raised seeing these sisters make their mark on TV and social media, it could have influenced their potential cosmetic procedures. 

Our report found that 1 in 5 of 16 to 24-year-olds have wanted to enhance their derriere with either implants or a bum lift and 4 in 10 have admitted to wanting lip filler. This is reinforced by Google search data which shows that searches for ‘bum lift’ and ‘lip filler’ are up 69% and 261% respectively on last year.

‘Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels’: Millennials had biggest desire to lose weight

Being raised during the 90s and 00s, Millennials were exposed to size zero body types and body-shaming magazine culture. This may have had a lasting impact on female Millennials, as they were most likely to want to lose weight. 

Over two-thirds of women aged 26 - 41 said they had wanted to lose weight, while 2 in 5 said they wanted to tone an area of their body. Nearly half said they were willing to use a weight loss product or meal replacement in order to lose weight too. 

Almost three-quarters of female Millennials and Gen Z have considered cosmetic alterations

In the survey, over 55s were the least likely to want cosmetic surgery, with less than a third of women and men considering it. Despite being the youngest age groups, female Gen Z and Millenials were the most likely to have cosmetic surgery with 7 in 10 admitting to wanting facial and body procedures. 

The most common surgical enhancements wanted by the two age groups include: 

Top 5 surgical procedures wanted by Gen Z females: 

1

Lip filler

40%

2

Dental enhancement

27%

3

Boob job

23%

4

Bum lift/implants

18%

5

Facial filler

17%

Top 5 surgical procedures wanted by Millennial females: 

1

Dental enhancement

39%

2

Lip filler

27%

3

Boob job

26%

4

Botox

25%

5

Liposuction

21%

Respondents could give multiple answers

How does ‘picture perfect’ social media image affect the mental health of Brits?

Almost 2 in 5 Brits have said that not being able to achieve the ‘picture perfect’ body image affects their mental health

According to our social media and body image report, exposure to unrealistic images in the form of airbrushed photos of celebrities and influencers, could be having an increasing impact on our body image and mental health.

The survey revealed that nearly 2 in 5 Brits of all genders and ages said not fitting social media’s beauty standards affected their mental health. Of those, 1 in 3 women said social media beauty standards made them feel like their body isn’t attractive and 1 in 10 men said it made them feel ‘inferior’.

Third of Brits say ‘picture perfect’ social media images make them want to lose weight

Brits are battling inner demons and identity issues due to the unattainable beauty standards broadcasted on image-sharing social platforms. 

These are the most common thoughts and feelings Brits have when being exposed to unrealistic beauty standards online:

Respondents could give multiple answers, to highlight all the statements they could relate to 

A third of Brits say they need to lose weight because of this imagery, while almost 1 in 10 say they don’t feel that their face is ‘normal’ and almost 1 in 6 think their body isn’t either. Social media beauty standards also leave 1 in 8 Brits sadly feeling inadequate and 1 in 10 feeling like they won’t be wanted. 

Over 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men have said they feel like they need to change their appearance because of social media beauty standards. 

Over half of under 35s said that if they can’t attain a body like a celeb or influencer it affects their mental health

Our statistics show that those under 35 believe that the unattainable, social media body image they are exposed to online has an effect on their mental health. These responses show that there is a correlation between social media use, negative body image and mental health. 

As personal training experts, we have had many experiences meeting people with body dysmorphia and dissatisfaction. With this, there is an increased risk of developing depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and eating disorders. Seeing these unrealistic images of ‘perfect’ bodies can definitely lead to people having body image issues. 

Almost a third of Gen Zs feel ‘ugly’ & 1 in 6 feel they ‘can’t be intimate with someone’ because of social media beauty standards 

These statements were felt even more strongly by younger social media users, as a larger proportion related to these comments. 

The top statements for Gen Zs:

1

I need to lose weight

37%

2

My face isn’t attractive

33%

3

My body isn’t attractive

31%

4

I am ugly

29%

5

I need to change my appearance

28%

6

Gives me low self-esteem

27%

7

I need to tone up

26%

8

My body isn’t ‘normal’

25%

9

I won’t be wanted

19%

10

I need to be like them

19%

11

My face isn’t normal

19%

12

I am inadequate

17%

13

Like avoiding social media for a while

16%

14

I can’t be intimate with someone I like

15%

15

I am inferior

13%

Respondents could give multiple answers, to highlight all the statements they could relate to

Younger people’s frequent and normalised exposure to social media has had a profound effect on their body image, and many have started to internalise negative thoughts about their identity. 

Nearly a third of 16 to 24-year-olds feel their body and face aren’t attractive in comparison to what they see online and think they are ‘ugly’. Over a quarter feel they need to change their appearance to fit in, and 1 in 6 feel that they ‘can’t be intimate with someone’ because of social media beauty standards. 

Over 1 in 6 said the beauty standards of social media have made them want to avoid networking sites and apps completely, with Google searches to 'temporarily disable Instagram' up 198% year on year too.

Men are more likely to be influenced by body image standards than women

According to the survey, men were more influenced than women to make changes to their face or body after being exposed to filters, influencers, reality TV and celebrities.  

Influencers and celebrities also had a higher impact on male shopping habits when it came to purchasing diet-related products, as 5 in 10 said they had purchased a weight loss or meal replacement product based on a recommendation by a famous face. 

1 in 3 men feel negatively impacted by weight loss and muscle gain ads

Our results showed that weight loss ads shared on social media had more of a negative mental impact on men, with 1 in 3 saying they felt negative about their own body image because of the ads. This was slightly lower for women, as 2 in 5 said they felt negative about themselves.

60% of Brits think weight loss ads on social media should be banned - like Pinterest has

Last year, Pinterest took a step towards promoting a healthy lifestyle on their site and became the first major social media platform to ban weight loss adverts. This includes adverts that feature testimonials about weight loss or diet products. It also covers advertisements that discuss body mass index (BMI) and more. 

Our report reveals that 60% of Brits feel that other social media platforms should follow Pinterest's decision to ban these potentially harmful promotions. This could be a positive step towards accommodating users who may be easily influenced by these ads, or those who have lower self-esteem. 

The growing impact of social media and influencers

6 in 10 Brits say they get their diet tips online - with Tik Tok leading the way for Gen Zs

As social media plays such a significant role in all of our lives, many now use social networking apps to shape their lifestyle.  

Unfortunately, the dangers of following dieting, health and fitness trends on social media, is that a lot of the time, fads portray losing weight either too quickly, or in an unhealthy way. 

As personal training experts, we would encourage people to lose weight over a long period of time, as rapidly losing weight too quickly can put considerable stress on the body. It can also have a negative effect on people’s mental health and cause them to develop an obsession with their weight. It could also lead to rising cases of eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

Top online platforms Brits use for exercise and diet advice

Our report found that YouTube was the most popular sharing platform for Brits who are looking for diet, fitness and health tips. While TikTok was the leading app for Gen Zs sourcing guidance, with almost 3 in 5 admitting they get their diet tips from the video-sharing app. 

What I eat in a day reels, progress pictures, workout tips and calorie guidance videos are all becoming largely followed topics online. Many Brits say they find them ‘motivational’ to lose weight, build muscle or tone up. Our report found that the following were the most motivational online trends that made people want to change their body:

Top 5 most motivational trends:

1

Progress pictures/videos

37%

2

Workout videos

32%

3

Calorie deficit meal plans

25%

4

What I eat in a day videos

22%

5

Seeing images of aspirational bodies

20%

Respondents could give multiple answers

The impact of influencer advertising: Almost half of Brits have bought a weight loss product on influencer recommendations

Despite Instagram implementing rules about 'quick fix' weight loss products and cosmetic surgery on its app, many weight loss and meal replacement products are still being promoted across social media. 

Our study reveals that 48% of Brits have purchased a product after it was recommended by an influencer. The results also show that, due to their exposure they had a heightened reliance on influencer recommendations, as two-thirds of Gen Z and 2 in 5 Millennials had bought a weight loss or meal replacement product based on influencer or celebrity recommendations.

Most commonly purchased weight loss products following influencer recommendations:

1

Slimfast

24%

2

Herbalife

10%

3

My Protein Works

8%

4

MyProtein Low Cal Meal Replacement

7%

5

Huel

7%

6

Flat Tummy Tea

6%

7

V24 Gummies

6%

8

Optimum

5%

9

Bootea

5%

10

Fuel Station Juice Cleanse

4%

11

Boombod

3%

Respondents could give multiple answers to highlight all of the purchases they had made. 

Quarter of Brits won’t upload selfie without filter or editing first

The rise of social media filters and photo editing apps that alter, ‘enhance’ and slim features have had a huge impact on body image and self-esteem, according to our report. 

Leading image and video sharing platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat are filled with face-altering filters and the carefully curated lives of influencers and celebs. This can generate feelings of body and face dissatisfaction amongst social media users, as 1 in 4 Brits now say they won’t upload selfies without a filter or editing first. 

Our report also found that just under a third of women wouldn’t post on social media without applying a filter or editing and this percentage increased further among Gen Zs. Having been brought up with social media as normality, over 2 in 5 of 16 to 25-year-olds wouldn’t post on social media without altering their features first. 

What could social media influencers and celebrities do to promote ‘healthy’ body image?

Who’s leading the way for the UK's body-positive movement?

Despite the prominence and popularity of body and face editing on social media, body positivity  is an increasingly trending topic, with #bodypositive tagged to 18.1 million posts on Instagram and #bodypositivity collecting a huge 23.7 billion views on TikTok. 

The body-positive movement strives to promote ‘authentic’ beauty. To do this, many body-positive influencers are sharing unedited and unposed selfies and body shots. Many people believe this will make men and women feel more empowered and confident in their own skin. 

Lots of influencers are showing ‘Instagram vs. Reality’ images, showing what their photos look like before editing and filters. But who’s leading the movement online?

The 10 body positive male, female and non-binary UK influencers you need to follow on Instagram: 

1. Iskra Lawrence - 4.9m followers

2. Megan Jayne Crabbe - 1.2m followers 

3. Alex Light - 471k followers

4. Sonny Turner - 269k followers

5. Stephanie Yeboah - 235k followers

6. Mollie Campsie - 228k followers 

7. Tess Daly - 219k followers 

8. Max Hovey - 135k followers

9. Lauren Black - 123k followers

A photo from Lauren Black's Instagram.

10. Jules Von Hep - 81.8k followers

What does a body positive influencer have to say about social media beauty standards? 

Lauren Black, creator of @loveglowheal and a body positive social media influencer who suffered with anorexia for over ten years, says there is immense pressure being created from social media beauty standards.

She said: “There is definitely pressure to look a certain way and I have absolutely felt that pressure. I do however know that self-esteem issues usually run deeper, so I think social media can sometimes perpetuate and bring to the forefront those issues.”

Lauren admits it’s a normal reaction to want to emulate the standards we see online, she adds: “I think we all do naturally compare as human beings but I think when it starts to dictate what you may or may not do in your own life that's when it becomes a big problem.”

The body positive influencer said it could be beneficial to follow accounts that make people feel mentally positive. 

She said: “Seeing more body diversity has a really positive effect on people as they are able to relate to and identify themselves within other people. It's all about connection, people want to feel connected and understood and heard, so diversity gives the chance for everyone to feel that online.”

Her advice for becoming more body positive is: “Identify how you really feel and sit with that. Then you can move forwards. We have a tendency to ignore how we truly feel and push it away, which leads us into a cycle of feeling bad. If you identify how you really feel and accept it, before starting to rewire your beliefs, that is when real progress starts to happen.”

Although she says it’s unlikely image editing or filters will come to an end, there are ways to stop people from letting it mentally impact them. 

She said: “I don't think we'll ever stop the altering of images, however, you can develop a sense of​ mindfulness by stopping yourself in the middle of your thoughts and saying ‘ this might not be real, so I'm going to consciously make the choice now to not compare myself to this person.’ 

“When you’re feeling like this, take a break from your phone and go and do something else whilst using the likes of affirmations, that's what I do.” 

4 in 10 Brits say influencers shouldn’t edit their pictures 

Our report found that many Brits think more influencers should follow in these footsteps, with 4 in 10 believing influencers shouldn’t edit their pictures. Nearly as many people say social media influencers should put a disclaimer when they’ve had surgery, edited their pictures or used a filter. 

Here are the top things Brits think influencers can do on social media to reduce unachievable image standards: 

1

No editing

42%

2

Say when they’ve had surgery

41%

3

Admit to filters/editing

40%

4

No filters

40%

5

Show skin imperfections

38%

6

Show natural, unposed angles

37%

7

More real body influencers

37%

Respondents could give multiple answers to highlight all the opinions they held.  

What can we expect next? 

Overall, these social media and body image statistics show a worrying rise of people with negative body image, providing evidence to suggest that social media, celebrities and influencers play a profound role in influencing body image and people’s own self-worth. 

By contrast, the study does show there is an increased demand for people wanting to feel body positive and an increasing need for the promotion of healthier, more sustainable health and fitness regimes, that promote a positive relationship with our own bodies. 

If you are interested in contributing to people’s healthy relationships with fitness and nutrition or have a passion for changing the lives of others through exercise, then contact OriGym Centre of Excellence to enquire about our personal training courses

Methodology:

We surveyed 2,130 social media users using Censuswide, to find out about their experiences using social media, how their own body image has been affected by beauty standards portrayed in the mainstream, on social media, online and in broadcast. The sample included women, men, transgender, non-binary and gender-fluid people (and an ‘other’ option to specify a different gender not listed). They ranged between 16 and 55+ from across the UK.

We also used Google Trends and TikTok and Instagram hashtag data to show popularity for certain cosmetic treatments, fitness and health trends and searches, when comparing May 2021 vs. May 2022.

Statistics:

Time spent online stat - Statista https://www.statista.com/statistics/507378/average-daily-media-use-in-the-united-kingdom-uk/ 

Gen Z screen time - Global Web Index, 99 Firms https://99firms.com/blog/generation-z-statistics/#gref 

Fair use statement: 

If you want to share our study, any findings or images from the study, please credit with a link to this page.

Written by Luke Hughes

CEO and Co-Founder

Join Luke on Facebook at the OriGym Facebook Group

Luke is the CEO and Co-Founder of OriGym. Holding a first-class degree in Sport and Exercise and an MSc in Sport and Nutrition, he is also qualified as a Level 4 Personal Trainer with various specialist credentials covering the entire spectrum of health, fitness and business. Luke has contributed to a variety of major industry publications, including Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Metro, Cosmopolitan, The Mirror, The Sun, The Standard and more.

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