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What Negatively Affects Body Shape? – The Reality vs the Perception

If you could go back to give your younger self a word of advice, what would you say? Or, more likely, where would you even start? Inevitably there will be lots of ‘take that chance’, ‘try harder at this’ and ‘avoid a certain someone at all costs’. However, one piece of advice that most women would want to pass on is ‘appreciate just how fabulous your youthful body is — and yes, it really is!’

For young girls in today’s Instagram-dictated society — where filtering and retouching can create an unrealistic ‘norm’ — achieving body confidence is harder than ever, and many girls feel a certain amount of pressure to achieve and maintain the ‘perfect body’. There is also the worry that certain lifestyle habits or events will have a negative effect on their body shape in future years.

Sadly, this worry isn’t unfounded, as many women find that time does indeed take its toll on body contours, with the appearance of lumps, bumps and stubborn fat being a natural part of the ageing process. The reasons behind this change of shape, however, aren’t necessarily what younger women expect.

With this in mind, we undertook an independent survey among 500 women aged 18–64 to determine what factors women believed would have a negative impact on their body shape.

Here’s what we discovered:

Overall results
Junk food 59.2%
Stress 24.4%
Pregnancy 12.2%
Divorce 2.8%
Other 1.4%

How the answers differ according to age

The survey highlights that the areas younger women anticipate would have a negative effect on their body contour are completely different to the concerns of the more mature respondent — and vice versa.

While younger respondents worried about the consequences of pregnancy on their figure, the older women — who were more likely to have personally experienced this life event — didn’t consider pregnancy to be a contributing factor to a widening silhouette.

The most popular answer from older respondents was junk food. This answer was of least concern to the younger age group who hadn’t yet experienced the long-term effects of a poor diet.

In other words: younger women are worrying needlessly about the wrong things.

Junk food

Junk food received the highest number of overall votes (59.2%), and was a particular worry for women aged 45-64. A balanced diet is often the first casualty of a busy schedule, and poor eating habits can creep in unintentionally, be that through grabbing processed food on a lunch break, squeezing in a quick fast-food drive through on the way to a children’s activity, crashing out with a calorific ready meal at the end of a busy day or skipping meals and filling up on high-fat snacks.

Fewer 18- to 24-year-olds selected junk food as their main answer than any other age category.. This is possibly because younger women generally have the benefit of a faster metabolism and are likely to be more active — two factors that can help offset the creep of weight gain. However, as many of the older respondents have no doubt discovered, failing to address a poor diet in younger years may create problems over time.

Weight gain and poor body contouring isn’t the only reason why junk food should be avoided – it is also linked to health issues such as insulin resistance, anxiety, depression and high cholesterol. And the worst thing is, junk food is specifically created to be addictive, making it a very hard habit to break.


Stress was the second most popular answer, attracting almost a quarter of the votes. As previously discussed, poor diet choices are synonymous with a hectic lifestyle. It is common to ‘reward yourself’ with a glass of wine (or two) at the end of a stressful day, or treat yourself with a delicious slice of cake or serotonin-filled slab of chocolate — a ‘fix’ that a cup of tea or a healthy salad is unlikely to deliver.

Although stress is a known trigger for indulging in comfort food, research also highlights that the body is likely to gain weight during stressful periods. As stress triggers the body’s fight-or-flight responses, the body naturally produces more hormones (namely cortisol) to meet the increased energy demands required to deal with the stressful situation. Cortisol, however, is directly linked to fat storage and weight gain, especially around the stomach area.


Interestingly, of the women who selected ‘pregnancy’ as their main concern for having a negative effect on their silhouette, it was the youngest age group in our survey — 18- to 24-year-olds — that came out top.

As only a small percentage of this age group will have experienced pregnancy (125,072 women under 25 gave birth in 2016 as opposed to 571, 199 aged over 25, according to the Office for National Statistics) it appears that the younger women are voting according to perception rather than experience.

Women aged over 45 expressed little concern about the effects that pregnancy may have had on their body contour. This highlights that, on the whole, the physical effects of pregnancy are not responsible for having a lasting negative impact on the female figure.


The most popular answer among women aged 45–54 was divorce, arguably because this is a life event that typically occurs around the same age. Similarly to stress, divorce may trigger the desire to comfort eat.

Low self-esteem — a natural by-product of divorce and an area that is closely linked with stress — is also synonymous with weight gain. Historically, excess weight and the subsequent curvier silhouette were seen as being a common root of low self-esteem. However, recent studies are now highlighting that it is actually the reverse: people who suffer from low self-esteem are more likely to gain weight.

Taking control

The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report recently revealed that women in the UK have one of the lowest scores in the world when it comes to body confidence, with only 20% admitting that they liked the way they looked. This leaves a staggering 80% of women feeling unhappy with their shape. So what can be done about it?

Obviously diet and exercise plays a big role in achieving and maintaining an ‘ideal’ weight and body shape, and sticking to a healthy lifestyle can make a huge difference both physically and mentally. However, when it comes to shifting stubborn fat, many women — especially those over 35 — may find that they are fighting a losing battle. This being said, it doesn’t mean than women have to resign themselves to a life of poor body confidence.

It is possible to achieve a more streamlined silhouette without ‘going under the knife’ by using non-invasive body contouring. Body contouring allows you to ‘spot reduce’ areas of stubborn fat by targeting specific problem areas — something that isn’t possible with diet or exercise — to create a visibly contoured silhouette.

Smiling inside and out

As our survey highlights, there is no escaping the fact that a poor diet will eventually catch up with you. Forget the long-term effects of pregnancy, it’s that burger with a side of pizza that accelerates the evil ‘middle aged spread’.

Although this is not a surprising revelation, it is worth noting that getting into good eating habits at a young age will undoubtedly help combat the lumps and bumps in later life— advice that many of us would agree would have been most welcome to our younger selves.