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Running head: BODY IMAGE


Body Image

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Body Image

     Body image can be defined as an individual’s subjective concept of his or her physical appearance. Body image involves both a perceptual and attitudinal element. The self-perceptual component consists of what an individual sees or thinks in body size, shape, and appearance. A disturbance in the perceptual element of body image is generally reflected in a distorted perception of body size, shape, and appearance. The attitudinal component reflects how we feel about those attributes and how the feelings motivate certain behavior. Disturbances in the attitudinal element usually result in dissatisfaction with body appearance. Perceptions about body images are shaped from a variety of experiences and begin to develop in early childhood. It has been shown that children learn to favor thin body shapes by the time they enter school.

     Overall body size and image concerns have been reported to be more prevalent among females than males. Gender related differences in acceptable body size are shaped from a variety of societal definitions of appealing shapes for males and females. Patterns of body dissatisfaction formed in childhood and adolescence persist into adulthood and are most prevalent in females. College women perceive their figure to be heavier than the figure they identified as the most attractive to themselves. Females experience a large discrepancy with food. On one hand, food is depicted as a reward or indulgence, or as a way of socializing. On the other hand, women are supposed to be fit and thin, which is difficult to accomplish if females indulge in the large repertoire of food. (Hurst, 1998)

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     The diet-obsessive mind of advertising in many women’s magazines provides a sharp contrast to the hedonistic view toward food. In several magazines, even the food advertisements focus more on dieting than on quality of food. Thus there are clear and quite strict limits on the degree to which American females may attempt to satisfy their hedonistic impulses toward food. Societal standards of beauty change dramatically over time.

     Today the body ideal is to be thin. However, this has not always been the case. In the 19th century large women were thought of as the image of beauty. The body ideal in the 1920’s was similar to that of today, which is thin. However, this look was achieved through the use of clothing styles and fashion. Then in the 1950’s, more voluptuous figures were the ideal. Since that time the ideal body shape for women has become more and more slender. Unfortunately, for many people the ideal thin body is nearly impossible to achieve. This makes women feel dissatisfied with their appearance, hence the beginning of a negative body image.

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     A poor body image can promote an unhealthy lifestyle. The urge to diet or use other potentially dangerous weight loss methods (such as fasting, smoking or laxatives) is almost always prompted by feeling unhappy with body shape or size. It is well documented that even moderate dieting increases the risk of developing an eating disorder amongst girls. If a woman feels self-conscious about her appearance, she may avoid exercising because it might mean exposing her body shape to the public eye. Alternatively, she might over exercise in a bid to lose weight quickly. Some studies indicate that a young woman’s body image is the single largest influence on her self-esteem. If she thinks she looks unattractive or fat, her self-confidence drops and this can impact on other areas of her life. (Brownell, 2003)

     Smoking is a common method of weight loss being used by today's youth. For the first time in history the smoking rate of girls now surpasses that of boys, with the compelling motivation for this behavior being weight control. Forty percent to 50% of women smokers smoke because they see it as a primary mean to control their weight. Of these women, 25% will die of a disease caused by smoking.

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     Another common method to lose weight is dieting. Dieting is more common than not dieting, with 95% of the female population having dieted at some time. Dieting has been as a powerful contributor to dysphoria because of the failure often associated with this type of weight loss method, 95-98% of all dieter regain their weight. Caloric deprivation experiments have shown to produce depression, anxiety and irritability. A sobering finding is that most bulimics report that the onset of their eating disorder occurred during a period of dieting.

     Eleven million women in the United States suffer from eating disorders- either self-induced semi-starvation (anorexia nervosa) or a cycle of bingeing and purging with laxatives, self-induced vomiting, or excessive exercise (bulimia nervosa). (Kliewer, 2001) Many eating disorder specialists agree that chronic dieting is a direct consequence of the social pressure on American females to achieve a nearly impossible thinness. The media has been denounced for upholding and perhaps even creating the emaciated standard of beauty by which females are taught from childhood to judge the worth of their own bodies.

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      A person who has an eating disorder is someone who uses food to work out her emotional problems. Instead of expressing feelings a person with an eating disorder thinks the only thing that will help them is eating. Someone with an eating disorder is addicted to food or dieting, like and alcoholic is addicted to liquor or a drug addict to drugs. Food becomes their whole life.

     Anorexia has been known and recognized by doctors for at least 300 years. Initially the characteristic that was described was the striking weight loss and emaciation resulting from failure to eat. There are, however, a number of organic illnesses that result in loss of appetite and consequent weight loss, and so from the late 19th century doctors tried to describe more exactly what anorexia was and began to exclude organic causes and to identify it as a psychological illness.

      Girls suffering from anorexia show a refusal to maintain body weight over a minimal normal weight for age and height. They are disturbed by their body image and are always claiming to feel fat. They have intense fear of gaining weight. Bulimia is another psychological illness similar to anorexia. It is the practice of consuming enormous amounts of food then throwing them up to avoid weight gain. Girls suffering from bulimia have recurrent episodes of binge eating and regularly engage in self-induced vomiting an average of 2 times a week. These girls have a persistent over concern with body shape and weight. Some characteristics that may occur with bulimia are damage to tooth enamel, digestive disorders, irritation of throat and mouth, mineral imbalance, loneliness, social isolation, low self esteem, shame and self disgust. (Cowan, 2006)

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     Today's culture places great emphasis on outward appearances. Society is very weight conscious, and the value placed on thinness has grown in recent decades. Admiration goes to people who are thin and heartlessness goes to the obese. The media should give us a more realistic body type for girls and women to look up to. Unfortunately, we can't wave a magic wand to make our culture more sensitive to our needs. But we can change our attitudes: we can refuse to take the media so seriously and we can challenge the images and their devaluing messages. The only way our culture will change is if we stop believing in the social attitudes which make us fell not good enough and start believing in ourselves and our right to our individual body even if it isn't a body type currently worshipped as fashionable.


     Wiederman, Hurst: (1998) Body Size, Physical Attractiveness, and Body Image among Young Adult Women: Relationships to Sexual Experience and Sexual Esteem; The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 35.

     Kelly D. Brownell: (2003) Body Objectification and Fat Talk: Effects on Emotion, Motivation, and Cognitive Performance; Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.

     Myers, Kliewer: (2001) Adolescent Self-Esteem and Gender: Exploring Relations to Sexual Harassment, Body Image, Media Influence, and Emotional Expression; Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 30.


James, Cowan: (2006) Body Objectification, Self-Esteem, and Relationship Satisfaction; Sex Roles: A Journal of Research.

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