Summary: Spending time in nature helps reduce negative feelings about body image and anxiety.
Source: Anglia Ruskin University
A new study has found that being in nature helps people deal with negative body image by removing some of the triggers of body image anxiety, such as the focus on social media, and strengthening coping mechanisms to keep negative feelings in perspective.
The research, published in the journal Ecopsychology, involved 401 participants from the UK, who were asked to complete a survey about their exposure to nature, “rational acceptance”, and body appreciation.
Rational acceptance is a coping mechanism, broadly defined as the way people rationalise and keep in perspective any feelings of negative body image that come and go.
The study found positive associations between all three measures in both men and women.
The paper, the first to look at how exposure to nature can help the mind cope with temporary feelings of negative body image, concludes that spending time in natural environments provides opportunities for healthy body image coping strategies. This may be due to the physical and mental distancing from the sources of body image threats such as unrealistic appearance standards, mirrors, or social media.
Being in nature may also help individuals develop healthier thought processes that allow for more realistic appraisals of body image threats and their future consequences.
Lead author Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “There is already evidence that being in nature in itself promotes positive body image, but this is the first study to look at how exposure to nature can help the mind cope with temporary feelings of negative body image that we all experience from time to time, and keep a sense of perspective.
“Being in nature takes us away from some of the triggers for negative body image – Instagram posts, models on billboards, mirrors – that we find in urban environments and gives us opportunities to put things into perspective. The restorative qualities of these natural environments may also promote healthier cognitive processes, including greater self-control and a feeling of time passing more slowly, giving us the chance to rationalise these threats.
“We know that positive body image boosts mental health, and this study adds weight to the growing body of evidence about the importance of exposure to nature, and how we need to ensure as a society that everyone has as much access to natural environments as possible.”
Positive Rational Acceptance of Body Image Threats Mediates the Association Between Nature Exposure and Body Appreciation
Mounting evidence suggests that exposure to natural environments is associated with more positive body image, but mechanistic pathways are not fully understood. In this study, we tested one such indirect pathway involving positive rational acceptance (PRA) (i.e., an adaptive body image coping strategy).
A total of 401 participants from the United Kingdom completed measures of nature exposure, PRA, and body appreciation (i.e., a facet of positive body image). Correlational analyses indicated positive, although weak-to-moderate, associations between all three constructs. Mediation analysis supported the hypothesis that PRA mediates the association between nature exposure and body appreciation.
These findings were robust in the total sample, as well as in women (n = 200) and men (n = 197) separately. These results highlight the potential benefit of nature exposure in terms of promoting adaptive body image coping strategies, which in turn are associated with more positive body image.
About this psychology and body image research news
Original Research: Closed access.
“Positive Rational Acceptance of Body Image Threats Mediates the Association Between Nature Exposure and Body Appreciation” by Viren Swami et al. Ecopsychology