Exposure to natural environment and images of nature may have a powerful effect on promoting positive body image, according to a study led by scientists, including one of Indian-origin. The study, published in the journal Body Image, involved five separate studies from researchers, including those from Anglia Ruskin University in the UK.
In three studies, participants were shown photographs of both natural and built environments, with results showing that exposure to images of natural, but not built, environments resulted in improved body image. A fourth study involved members of the public walking in both natural and built environments in and around London, while the final study involved participants who were recruited as they were entering the park at Primrose Hill in London.
Both of these studies indicated that spending time in a natural environment resulted in significantly higher body appreciation. “There are several reasons why exposure to nature could be having this effect on positive body image,” said Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at the Anglia Ruskin University.
“It might be that it distances people, physically and mentally, from appearance-focused situations that are one of the causes of negative body image,” Swami said. “It is also possible that exposure to environments with depth and complexity restricts negative appearance-related thoughts,” he said.
Previous research has shown that the natural environment has a beneficial effect on both mental and physical health, while a number of activities including sports, dance, yoga and life drawing classes have been shown to promote and develop positive body image. This new research provides evidence that exposure to natural environments can also promote positive body image, which involves respect for the body and a rejection of rigid ideals around appearance.
“More specifically, natural environments effortlessly hold your attention – a process known as ‘soft fascination’. This is often accompanied by feelings of pleasure, such as when you are drawn to the sight of a setting sun,” Swami said.