One of the World’s Most Obese Countries Is Also the Most Body-Confident

If you’re not satisfied with your appearance, you’re not alone, a survey finds.

(Photo: Joanna Pecha/Getty Images)

Jun 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

When you look in the mirror, are you happy with what you see? Thanks to skyrocketing obesity rates, body shaming from strangers, and unrealistically slim media images, you might not always describe yourself in positive terms.

If you’re not thrilled with your body, you’re not alone. A new survey from market research group GFK found that only about one in 10 people globally are “completely satisfied” with the way they look.

The researchers interviewed 27,000 people 15 and older from 22 countries and asked them to rate their appearance. Overall, 55 percent of respondents said they were “fairly satisfied” or better. But one-third said they felt “neutral” about their appearance.

Although American women are bombarded with Victoria’s Secret “perfect body”–style ads, the survey found that men and women have about the same level of confidence about the way that they look. Still, women were slightly more likely than men—14 percent, compared with 11 percent—to be not at all satisfied with their bodies. No wonder some would rather walk on hot coals than appear in public in a swimsuit.

The survey also reveals how body confidence varies significantly around the world. Survey respondents from Mexico—one of the fattest nations on the planet, with 57 percent of men and 65 percent of women overweight or obese in 2014—are the happiest overall with their bodies. Nineteen percent more Mexicans, compared with the world overall, were fairly satisfied or above, with 29 percent saying they were completely satisfied and another 45 percent saying they were fairly satisfied.

In the United States, nearly one-third of people are obese, and 16 percent of people said they were completely satisfied with their bodies. Another 44 percent said they were fairly satisfied.

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Meanwhile, folks from Japan, which had a 3.5 percent obesity rate in 2014, are the most unhappy with their appearance. Only 2 percent of Japanese survey respondents said they were completely satisfied with their bodies, and 13 percent said they were “not at all satisfied.” (It should be noted that the survey design was culturally specific, so asking people from different countries questions that are worded the same way can lead to misleading results.)

So, Why Should You Care? Sure, obese individuals should get into better shape and lose weight to reduce their risk of diabetes and heart disease. But feeling unhappy every time you look in the mirror isn’t the solution—and it can cause a slew of other physical and mental health problems that make it harder to take action against the real issue. Body image is a major factor in self-esteem, and according to the American Psychological Association, people who feel shame about their appearance are more likely to be depressed or anxious and to develop eating disorders. Although the prevalence of eating disorders in non-Western countries is still lower than that in Western nations, research shows that they are gradually increasing around the globe.

Curious how the nations included in the survey compare? Check out the rankings below.

Obesity in the World