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Why does improving body image top New Year resolutions list?

IANS Jan 03, 2024

Increasingly visual and digital culture has led us to believe that how we look is intrinsic to our self-worth, said researchers as improving body image again tops the New Year resolution list.

A YouGov Poll revealed that for the last four years in a row, the top three New Year's resolutions people intended to make were about getting a better body, namely doing more exercise, losing weight and improving diet.

Researchers from the University of Warwick warned about 'lookism' and the toxic resolutions in a social media-fueled body-critical era.

"Doing more exercising, losing weight and dieting are common New Year's resolutions which might be undertaken under the guise of improving one's health, but it is often for beauty," said Professor Heather Widdows, a leading beauty philosopher at the varsity.

"We used to think we had to change what's on the inside to be better, we now increasingly judge ourselves and others on looks or how we present ourselves to the world. What we value and what matters to people has dramatically shifted in recent years with the advent of social media.

"Looks matter to this shift is radically changing our identity and our sense of self-worth, and we are barely recognising it," Widdows said.

She believes this shift in our self-worth has given rise to an epidemic of body image anxiety.

"We are starting to see body image anxiety affect people at a younger age and continue as they get older," she said. "Because this is something that is affecting so many of us, it is becoming normalised but it doesn't make it any less harmful."

Moreover, in the case of New Year's resolutions, Widdows is clear that they don't deliver what they promise.

"We think if only we could lose weight, get the right body, then other things in our life would change -- maybe we would be able to get a better job, a better relationship or being happy -- but body change is illusionary and having a 'better' body doesn't deliver these things, and so the well-meaning resolutions, end up being completely counterproductive," Widdows said.

She coined the phrase "lookism" and set up an #everydaylookism campaign, in a bid to stamp out appearance discrimination -- the most prevalent form of bullying.

"It is vital to reduce this pressure to be perfect if we are going to look after our physical and mental health as a society," Widdows said.

"We should be calling out lookism, and helping people to feel less ashamed when their bodies don't measure up. There's lots of work to be done to recognise and address appearance bullying because despite being the most prevalent, it is the one we do least about," she noted.

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