Is Your Body Image RealisticIs Your Body Image Realistic

While it is true that many of us, in this day and age, have a genuine need to lose weight, it is also true that there are many more women on diets than really need to be. The fact is, women have a tendency to see themselves as fat even if they aren't. Unfortunately, this is a syndrome that does not affect just women ? young girls are also very susceptible. Sadly, it is now commonplace for young girls, as young are ten or eleven, to be going on diets and expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies. This is setting them up for a lifetime of body-loathing that occasionally becomes deadly.

By now, we are all well aware of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Though these disorders have deeper underlying causes ? they are not caused only by unrealistic body image and our weight conscious culture, but by underlying psychological conditions ? body image does play a central role. Many people with eating disorders ? in fact, some studies would indicate that the correct word to use is not 'many? but 'most?, or even ?all? ? suffer from an unrealistic body image and/ or body dysmorphic disorder, in which they see their bodies as different from how they actually are. In most cases, girls and women suffering from anorexia and bulimia see their bodies as larger than they actually are. These women can look in the mirror, and 'see? something that is quite different from what is actually there.

Body dysmorphic disorder is a different, though related, problem. With body dysmorphic disorder, people feel as though parts of their bodies are much larger in proportion to the rest than they actually are. A woman might fixate on the size of her thighs, for example, feeling that they are immense, though in fact their size is quite normal and in proportion to the rest of the woman's body.

Why do some young women (and a very few men and older women) develop these disorders? There are multiple answers to this question. For one thing, there are often deep seated psychological reasons. For example, if a woman is depressed, or has been abused, or just doesn't feel good about herself, she is likely to focus on her body as a target for self-hate. On the other hand, some of these disorders can be the result of depression or even borderline personality.

On the other hand, many media critics allege that the images we see in the media play a very central role in young women's body image problems. Consider the following: the average American woman today is a size 12 or 14, and the average model is a size 0 or 2. There is a very large difference between an average woman's body ? even the body of a healthy woman, with little or no excess weight to lose ? and a model's body. True, there are some ?plus size? models today, but they are just a small minority. The most beautiful women in our society (according to popular opinion) and the most admired and acclaimed are not built like women at all. Most of us were a size 2 when we were 12 or 13 years old, if at all, and never again! So, in comparison to the most of the models we see in the magazines, we may well be overweight, even if our weight actually falls within normal parameters.

There is a need, therefore, for more realistic role modeling (no pun intended!). One way to get a more realistic picture of what real women look like is to go to a pool or gym changing room, and have a look at real women's body. There's a great range of body types. You may be surprised to see that the women who look the best in their clothes don't always look so good naked, for example ? too bony!

There is a lot to be gained by exposing ourselves and our daughters to realistic images of the female body, if only to counteract the media images that we are all bombarded with all too often. This is a serious matter ? girls and women have died from anorexia and other eating disorders. Those are serious problems, but if we can counteract them by simple means, it's well worth our while.

by Michael Bens
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