News

BIAS (Body Image Awareness Seminars): A new positive body image program in Canada

We live in a society where the rates of dieting, eating disorders, cosmetic surgeries, skin-lightening and tanning sales, and other body-altering interventions have reached all-time highs. Dissatisfaction with the body is so rampant in society that researchers call this phenomenon a norm, meaning it is abnormal for people to love their bodies. Positive body image interventions are needed now more than ever but currently they are scarce, and this is especially true for individuals outside the adolescent and university student populations. We recognized this problem and decided to create a positive body image program that would be applicable to a variety of individuals to improve body perceptions and attitudes with people in the community.

This led to the creation of BIAS (Body Image Awareness Seminars), a positive body image program that is unique in three ways: 1) it was created by working with participants, 2) it is applicable to a diversity of people including older adults and people with physical disabilities, and 3) it is grounded in the theory of positive body image. Usually body image programs have been created to specifically reduce negative body image or prevent eating disorders. These programs are important and do show promising results; however, there is a lack of body image programs that specifically target the increase of positive body image. This was in part due to limited knowledge about positive body image. Just over the last 10 years the research on positive body image has mushroomed, demonstrating that it has unique characteristics from negative body image. Interview and survey research with adolescents, young adults, older adults, ethnically and racially diverse individuals, and people with physical disabilities demonstrate consistent findings about the core characteristics of positive body image. Positive body image is understood as overall respect, acceptance, and appreciation for the body, above and beyond appearance. Research has also shown that because negative and positive body image operate separately, that it is possible to be unhappy with your appearance and still experience positive body image. This is because positive body image is not contingent on appearance but rather is a shift in focus to more internal (e.g., personality) and functional (e.g., strength) qualities.

The BIAS program was built to specifically educate and promote the core characteristics of positive body image. This occurred in three phases. The first phase involved recruiting seven stakeholders from the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being to help design the program. These individuals included people with spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis, older adults, and a breast cancer survivor, all who shared their unique experiences and perceptions on designing a positive body image program. It was during this phase that participants voiced a lack of knowledge about the body image concept. It was found that education about the definition, causes, and influences of body image would be very important for improvements in positive body image to occur. Findings showed that specific positive body image activities and tools that people could implement would be essential to see improvement in people’s body image and overall quality of life. At the end of this phase, a 6-week program with 60-minute seminars was agreed upon by the group to be an appropriate length and a stakeholder came up with the clever name, BIAS.

After a few months of designing the program framework, the preliminary BIAS program was rolled out with the same stakeholders to test its effectiveness. It was agreed that nothing needed to be changed to the content but rather a re-ordering of lessons and activities would improve the flow and progression of materials. It was also decided there should be an online component to improve accessibility of content (please visit exerciseandbodyimagelab.com). Lastly, the seminar length was changed to 90-minutes to ensure enough time for group discussions.

The last phase of BIAS involved implementing it to any member at the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being. During this phase, 24 participants who ranged in age, ability, health, and gender, enrolled in the program. Participants completed body image measures at the start, end, and 6-weeks after the program. In addition, participants completed an interview after the conclusion of the program to share their perceptions and experiences. Body appreciation, intuitive eating, and body satisfaction all improved from the start to conclusion of the BIAS program and these improvements were sustained at the 6-week follow-up. Participants described an improved understanding of the body image concept and shared teachings and the website with friends, family, and acquaintances to help spread positive body image in the Niagara community and beyond.

The BIAS program is one of the first to be created by, and implemented for, a diversity of people including men and women, older adults, and people with various physical disabilities. A BIAS program manual is currently being created to provide a step-by-step guide for future facilitators of BIAS. Researchers, teachers, and allied health professionals are just a few examples of potential future facilitators of BIAS who may recognize the need to promote positive body image at their facilities. We are excited to expand the reach of BIAS in hopes to combat the proliferation of negative body image in society and encourage everyone to experience positive body image.