Life drawing ‘can boost teenage body image'

Creating pictures of naked models has psychological benefits for self-conscious adolescents, research has shown.

Teenagers unhappy with their appearance can be helped by taking part in life drawing classes, new research suggests.

Depicting naked models with often less than perfect bodies appears to improve their own body image, a study found.

Psychologists recruited 14 teenagers aged 16 to 18 who took part in three life drawing sessions over three weeks.

Prior to the classes they answered questions about their body image, the importance they placed on their appearance, and self-esteem.

The same assessment after the sessions showed that scores for three key aspects of body image had gone up.

At the same time the importance the young people attached to their appearance was reduced.

Professor Viren Swami, from Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Previous studies with adults have shown that life drawing has a positive effect on body image, with evidence coming from cross-sectional, experimental and prospective studies in multiple university and community samples.

“It’s encouraging to see the same may be the case for adolescents as well.

“Negative body image is a real public health concern in young people, particularly because of its association with disordered eating and poorer psychological well-being.

“Our findings are important because they point at an effective means of promoting healthier body image in this age group.

“Regular life drawing classes have the potential not only to promote a more positive body image, but also to develop more realistic notions of what bodies look like.”

For girls, life drawing challenged the idea that the perfect body was thin, he said. Boys no longer assumed that they had to be muscular to be attractive.

Participants also became more respectful of other people’s appearance, the study showed.

“They were less judgmental about other people they might meet, or how they treat their bodies, what they do with their bodies, or how they clothe their bodies,” said Prof Swami.

Previous research had shown that around half of young girls and 35% of boys were dissatisfied with their bodies, the professor added.

The three aspects of body image improved by life drawing were appreciation, acceptance and pride. These related to respecting, feeling good about, and taking care of your body.

The research, reported in Empirical Studies of the Arts, will be discussed this week at the British Science Festival in Hull.

As part of the festival programme at the University of Hull, Prof Swami will hold a special life drawing class alongside artist Richard Hatfield.

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