How we view our bodies is often influenced by popular culture and each one of our’s social environment. Young women, in particular, tend to suffer from poor “body image,” which can result in depression, eating disorders, and all kinds of other mental issues.

Researchers at the University of Missouri wanted to see whether letting women view their own bodies from a different, more abstract perspective can influence their own body image in a positive way.

The team used an optical scanner to whole-body image women between the ages of 18 and 25. Accurate 3D representations were then created, which the women could digitally paint over using a Photoshop-like program. They were asked to used different colors to paint over different ares of the body that they tend to appreciate, whether for aesthetic, utilitarian, or other reasons.

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“In digitally painting their avatars, women could think about how, for example, their thighs help them run or how their arms can help hold others in an embrace,” explained Ramseyer Winter, one of the researchers, in a press release. “It provided the participants a way to visual their bodies in a completely different way. It allowed the participants to recognize how our bodies are much more than a size or a number on a scale.”

The team evaluated the women before, after, and at three months following the experiment, and they discovered that the participants improved their self-image and had decreased signs of depression and anxiety.

“While more research still needs to be done on the relationship between the 3D image intervention we used and its impact on mental health, we did see a significant effect on body appreciation,” Winter added. “Prior research has shown that body appreciation is related to depression and anxiety, which leads us to think that we are on the right track in creating an intervention that can improve not only body image, but mental health as well.”

Next steps will include testing this approach on women with more severe cases of body image-related depression.

Here’a v video from University of Missouri about the research:

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