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Research Spotlight: Niva Piran

Body Image & Image Disorders

How can schools promote positive body image and prevent eating disorders among students?

Niva Piran developed the innovative Developmental Theory of Embodiment, which describes both protective and adverse social processes that shape girls’ lived experience in their bodies. Do girls experience embodied agency, power, and practice self-care? Or, do they experience embodied vulnerability, harsh self evaluations and shame, and do they engage in potentially self-harming behaviours?

Protective factors to positive embodiment include: continued engagement in physical activities, physical safety, and freedom from, as well as a critical stance towards, objectifying appearance-based pressures and restrictive social labels of femininity or other adverse social labels. Protective factors also include experiences of social power in relation to one’s social location, including: gender, socioeconomic standing, ethno-cultural group membership, sexual orientation and health status. Risk factors include barriers to engagement in physical activities and exposure to sexual harassment and other physical violations, as well as to appearance-based pressures and to demeaning and restrictive social labeling. Exposure to social disempowerment related to one’s social location is another risk factor.

In the transition from girlhood to womanhood, girls experience a loss of protective factors and a marked increase in risk factors, which makes them susceptible to lifelong preoccupation with: body shape alterations, substance consumption and engagement in other potentially self harming behaviors, as well as depression.

Using the Health Promoting Schools model, Niva has worked with schools and educators in Canada and internationally to create a more equitable school environment for students.

She is the recipient of the 2009 Florence Denmark Distinguished Mentorship Award by the Association of Women in Psychology. Niva’s research is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. She is the author of three books, four Journal special issues, 40 book chapters, and 47 articles in refereed journals.

Niva Piran is a professor in the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology.

Niva's faculty profile (AECP)

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