how body image is formed
Your body image is both real and imagined. Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror? Your body image is not dependent upon your size, your muscle development or how many rolls you have around your waist. In fact, it is really not based on what you see in the mirror but rather on what you perceive in your mind's eye.
Women who have a positive body image have a real perception of what their actual size and shape are, they are also very comfortable with it as well. Each of us are individuals. We cannot look like the most recent top model nor can we imitate the walk of the most popular actress. Much like our shoe size, our shape is individual to our body so is our body shape unique to ourselves.
Psychologists recognize that men and women who have a negative self-image or body image often have a distorted view of their actual shape and size as it compares to others. Women, especially, will feel ashamed or anxious about their bodies that results in an altered social situations, such as not going to the pool, or altered eating habits, such as an eating disorder. Men and women who suffer from poor body image can also experience depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and extreme dieting.
Psychologists have found that body image is affected by a complex aggregate of psychological, social, familial, cultural and media factors. There is early research that suggests there may also be a genetic predisposition to individuals who have an altered self-image. This genetic suggestion does not automatically result in an eating disorder, but instead means that under the right circumstances these individuals are more likely to turn to controlling their food and weight as a means of controlling their environment before someone who may not carry that particular genetic marker.
Body image is also formed through cultural and familial interactions with mom, dad, friends and school peer groups. When individuals are accepted by their family for who they are or what are and not what size clothing they fit into they are also more likely to accept their own body and move forward through life. However, when mom consistently compares the size of one person's hips to another or feeds the brother more food to bulk up while asking the sister not to eat and stay thin, the child is more likely to have a distorted view of what their actual body image is.
But don't feel alone if you feel that you have a negative body image. Unfortunately, women in the United States are under a great deal of pressure to measure up to his specific cultural ideal. Images in the media, the stress of daily living in a standard Western diet all contribute to many Americans facing a crisis in obesity.
Researchers understand that a healthy body is not linked to appearance. And, neither should body image. A healthy body is linked to diet, nutrition, sleep habits, and lifestyle choices. It is more important to make good choices without disease or illness than to be stick thin. In fact, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes and learning to incorporate a healthy lifestyle choice will lead to a positive body image. Other things that affect our body image range from the foods that we eat, which can affect our mood, to the relationships we keep and the hurts from our past.
In one study using college students researchers and psychologists attempted to learn how body image is formed. These students were studied both before and after receiving education about body image and health. The researchers found that those who were not educated had a lower body image or self image without differences between the sexes. Those college students who were educated did not have a lower body image. Using this information the researchers theorize that educating college-age students may be able to minimize the negative affects the body image on young adults which could then decrease the potential for developing eating disorders. (1)
Body image is closely tied to eating disorders and other psychological conditions. Some research has tied a more positive body image to individuals who receive good education about body image and healthy lifestyle choices. The research conducted was done at the college age but further research with education done at the high school level may prove to have significant benefits as well. (2) If you, or someone you love, are suffering from negatives body image issues it is important to speak with another person who can help you work through these issues. That person may be a friend, relative or a professional counselor who can help you to get a better grasp of your actual shape, size and health issues, all of which impact your body image.
When our body image is an accurate reflection of how we feel about ourselves, and that body image is positive, we are better able to cope with the stressors in our lives. Individuals who have more positive body images are also more apt to make changes in their lives which will positively impact their body image and self perception even more.
(1) Health Canal: University of Michigan Researchers to Study Student Attitudes on Eating and Body Image
(2) University of Virginia Women's Center: Body Positive
University of California Los Angeles: Body Image
Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario: Formation of Body Image
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