The media, fashion companies and the pressure of having a perfect body

Milan DinicResearch Manager
August 05, 2021, 5:00 AM UTC

Six in ten Britons think the media are promoting unattainable body image expectations, and eight in ten say the fashion industry has harmed appearance perceptions

The media – whether it’s print, TV or online – is often blamed for promoting “ideal” body images that contribute to unrealistic expectations and standards about the way a body should look.

The YouGov Body Image Study finds that more than eight in ten Britons (83%) think the media promotes an unattainable female body image, and nearly two-thirds (64%) say the same of male body image.

Among women aged 16-24, as many as 84% think the media are encouraging unachievable expectations of what a female body should be like, while 67% think it’s the same situation for men.  Although men in the same age group are about as likely to think the media is creating unrealistic standards for male beauty (68%), they are less likely than their female peers to think the media is doing so for female beauty (70%).

When it comes to the influence of fashion companies, eight in ten (80%) say that they too have had a negative impact on perceptions of body image. Only 5% think they have made a positive impact, with 11% saying neither.

There is a significant gap between younger men and women: 67% of men aged 16-24 and 74% of men aged 25-39 think the fashion companies have had a negative impact, while this goes up to 79% and 84% among women in the same age groups. There is almost no difference in the percentage of men and women 40 and older who share this view.

Seven in ten (71%) Britons say women are under more pressure than men to have a certain type of physical appearance – with 76% of women compared to 66% of men holding this view. A quarter (24%) of Britons think both men and women experience the same pressures.

Again, there is a very big difference in opinion between younger men and women. Among 16-39-year-old women, 72-74% say members of their gender are more under pressure to have a certain appearance. Among men the same age notably fewer (49-54%) say women are more exposed to pressures to have a certain body type. The gap narrows among men and women in their 40s and 50s (70% vs 78%), and there is no difference between men and women in their 60s and older (80% vs 78%).

Slightly more men (27%) than women (21%) say the pressure to have a similar body type is similar for both genders.

We also asked Britons directly if they felt pushed to have a certain body type. Half (51%) say they felt a great deal or somewhat pressured to do so, with women significantly more likely to say so than men (61% vs 40%).

Women aged 16-24 (40%) and 25-39 (30%) are significantly more likely than men of the same age (12-14%) or women over 40 (5-13%)) to report feeling a great deal of expectation to have a specific body appearance.

Fewer than one in five Britons (18%) say they feel under no strain to have a certain body type, with this view more likely to apply to men (23%) than to women (13%).

See full results here