Body Image Research Lab - Research

Situated in the Werklund School of Education’s Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Calgary, our research team consists of graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. Dr. Shelly Russell-Mayhew leads the lab and is one of the few researchers worldwide who works across the eating disorder and obesity fields. Our team conducts innovate research on body image, eating disorders, obesity, and weight bias, with particular interest in how the spectrum of eating and weight-related issues materialize in education, health, and social justice settings.

Major goals of our research include:

  • A focus on prevention, early intervention, and treatment across a spectrum of weight-related issues
  • The integration of mental health promotion and prevention across risk factors
  • A systemic inclusion of all stakeholder groups (e.g., teachers, students, parents, policy makers, health professionals, prospective employers) across multiple levels (e.g., in schools, universities, and the health care system) associated with eating and weight-related issues

Current Research

Podclass podcast cover art

Wellbeing at School

Dr. Russell-Mayhew is involved in multiple collaborative projects focused on better understanding and facilitating improved wellbeing in the school setting for all stakeholders. Projects related to this area of interest:

  • Analysis of impact a system-wide prioritization of wellbeing has on teachers and students
  • Development of The Podclass: Conversations on School Health podcast mini-series in collaboration with Ever Active Schools
  • Research studies on suicide prevention and gender-based violence
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Teacher Preparation

Teachers and students both need to feel well in healthy school cultures. Dr. Russell-Mayhew, in partnership with Lab members, other researchers, and community organizations has developed numerous resources and researched how to best prepare future teachers to be well themselves and support their students’ wellbeing. Current projects related to teacher preparation include: 

  • The Teachers of Tomorrow initiative supports innovative courses and publicly available resources to better equip teachers with the knowledge they need to address their own wellbeing needs and enhance wellbeing for their students
  • Interventions designed to reduce compassion fatigue and burnout in teachers
  • Development and research on a required teacher preparation course on Comprehensive School Health and Wellness 
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Weight-Neutrality in School

How does it impact students when their weight is taken in the school setting? How can teachers sensitively teach about food and physical activity given widespread body image concerns among youth? The intersection of school and the complexities of weight is a regular focus of study for the Body Image Lab. Studies that have investigated how weight is taken up at school include:

  • Systematic review of weight bias in the school setting
  • Scoping review of the impact of physical measurements, such as weighing, in the school setting
  • Analysis of the impact professional learning series about weight-neutrality has on in-service teachers
  • Qualitative study on the short and long term effects of body measurement in the school setting
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Complexities of Weight

What does weight signify? What are the messages and discourses surrounding weight in our culture? Multiple studies conducted at the Body Image Lab seek to better understand how complex weight is in our current cultural landscape. Research experts in the field, teachers, parents, university students, and community research volunteers have shared information and insights with Lab members about how this constantly changing part of our bodies can impact our everyday lived experience. Studies related to this topic include: 

  • Correlational research on weight stigma and other traits
  • Qualitative studies focused on how we learn cultural discourses on weight
  • Studies on the inter-generational transmission of messages on weight between mothers and daughters
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Eating Disorders and their Prevention

Eating disorders are a serious threat to many people’s health and wellbeing. Lab members are often motivated to improve prevention, detection, and counseling for these mental illnesses. Our understanding of eating disorders evolves with more research and the inclusion of more people in that research. Recently, Lab members have sought out those with unique perspectives to better understand eating disorder issues and body image concerns in the following studies:

  • Parents’ accounts of their discovery of anorexia in their children
  • Qualitative research into the lived experiences of those with atypical anorexia
  • The role revictimization plays across the lifespan in relation to disordered eating
A woman embraces her own reflection in a mirror

Body Image

How we feel about and relate to our bodies varies regularly, and is impacted by numerous factors. Understanding how body image relates to our overall identity and quality of life is a regular area of focus for the Lab. Research studies conducted by Lab members have explored the following topics related to body image:

  • Analysis of the relationship between self-compassion and body dissatisfaction in males
  • Lived experiences of gender euphoria in transgender individuals
  • Study on the impact cancer has on individuals’ relationship with their bodies


The research team regularly presents research at local, provincial, national, and international conferences including:

  • Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference
  • Canadian Psychological Association Convention
  • Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association Conference
  • Canadian Obesity Summit
  • Eating Disorder Association of Canada Conference
  • National Eating Disorder Association Conference
  • Shaping the Future Conference
  • International Health Universities Conference