Body Image - Policy Position

Policy Piece

In April 2019, the Scottish Government’s Mental Health Directorate published research on the reported worsening of mental wellbeing of young women and girls. Body image was highlighted as one of the main drivers which contributed to this decline. Other factors included social media, disrupted sleep and school pressures. This research can be found here.

In addition, each year the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) hosts Mental Health Awareness Week, with the focus on a specific theme. The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 was ‘Body image – how we think and feel about our bodies’.

During the week, the Mental Health Foundation published a report, including the results of Scotland and UK-wide surveys of how people in 2019 feel about their bodies and how they feel their body image affects their lives and wellbeing –  ‘Body Image -how we think and feel about our bodies’

In response to both the Mental Health Foundation’s report, and the findings of the Scottish Government’s research, the Minister for Mental Health announced the formation of an Advisory Group on Healthy Body Image for Children and Young people which was co-chaired by Julie Cameron, Head of Programmes with the Mental Health Foundation and Katie Reid, Youth Ambassador for BEAT – the UK’s Eating Disorder charity. Membership of the group included representation from experts working in the field of eating disorders and/or body image as well as those with specialist knowledge of youth work, schools and equality groups. This included people from the NHS, academia, mental health charities, children’s charities, youth organisations, Education Scotland and Scottish Government officials.

The purpose of the Advisory Group was to undertake a six month review across Scotland to understand more about body image and how it can affect children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. The Advisory Group would then provide recommendations and advice to Scottish Ministers on further actions to help children and young people achieve a healthy body image.

The Advisory Group was provided with the following remit for their work:

  • identify a definition of what ‘healthy body image’ means that is relevant to every Scottish child and young person;
  • develop options for how children and young people, relevant professionals and wider support networks can support healthy body image for children and young people;
  • and provide the Scottish Government with specific recommendations and advice for next steps and consider the need for wider public consultation on where action should be taken.

The Advisory Group’s presented their final report and recommendations to Scottish Ministers in March 2020 which can be found here – ‘Body image: we are more than what we look like’.

Throughout the Advisory Group’s lifespan they considered the impact that gender can have on young people’s body image. However, the Advisory Group was conscious that poor body image is not only an issue that affects women and girls but men and boys too. Therefore the recommendations that were ultimately presented do not take a gendered approach.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic the Scottish Government has not formally responded to the Advisory Group’s report and recommendations. However, the Mental Health Directorate are currently considering their approach to a number of pieces of work as we move into recovery.