Most Americans believe the media promotes an unattainable body image for women

Jamie BallardData Journalist
May 26, 2021, 5:15 PM UTC

Data from the YouGov Body Image Study 2021 finds nearly nine in 10 (89%) Americans agree that physical appearance at least somewhat matters in today’s society. But many also believe that ideals around physical appearance are influenced by media and by the fashion industry, and that these standards may be unrealistic for the average person. 

Do Americans think the media promotes an unattainable body image?  

Three-quarters of US adults (76%) say that the media promotes an unattainable body image for women. Majorities of men (73%) and women (78%) both say that this is that case. Though majorities in all age groups believe the media does promote an unattainable body image for women, those who are older are more likely to believe this. Two-thirds (65%) of 16 to 34-year-olds believe this; this figure rises to 79% among 35-to 54-year-olds and 81% among those who are 55 or older.  

About half (52%) of Americans also believe that the media promotes an unattainable body image for men. One-third (34%) don’t think the media does this, and 14% are unsure. Men (56%) are more likely than women (48%) to say the media does promote an unrealistic body image for men.  



Most Americans believe fashion companies have had a negative impact on body image  

The fashion industry has often been criticized for failing to represent different body sizes on the runway or in advertisements. Americans have noticed, and most believe that these companies are having a negative impact on body image.  

Just one in nine (11%) Americans says that fashion companies have had a positive impact on the perception of body image. Far more (69%) say that the fashion industry has had a negative impact in this area.  

Majorities of both men (66%) and women (72%) believe this is the case. Among age groups, majorities say fashion companies have had a negative impact, though those over 55 (72%) and those who are 35-to 54-years-old (73%) are more likely than 16-to 34-year-olds (59%) to say this. 

What Americans think of the body positivity movement   

In recent years, the body positivity movement – the idea that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of societal standards and ideas around weight and appearance – has become more prominent.  

Two-thirds (67%) of 16-to 34-year-olds say they are at least somewhat familiar with the body positivity movement. Half (50%) of 35-to 54-year-olds say the same, and about one in five (22%) adults over 55 is similarly familiar with the movement.  

Among those who are familiar with the body positivity movement, 58% view it as a good thing for society. One-fifth (19%) say it is neither a good nor bad thing, and 12% think it is a bad thing.  

About three in five (63%) 16-to 34-year-olds familiar with the movement say that it is a good thing. Among 35-to 54-year-olds, 57% agree. Just over half (53%) of those 55 and older say the same thing.  

Among those familiar with the movement, women (64%) are more likely than men (52%) to say it is a good thing for society.  

See full results here.  

Related: How Americans feel about their bodies

Methodology: Total sample size was 1,302 US respondents 16+. Fieldwork was undertaken between April 26 - 27, 2021.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of US respondents ages 16+. 

Image: Gender Spectrum Collection