What is Body Image?
Look in the mirror, or imagine a picture of yourself in your mind. Your beliefs, generalizations, and feelings about your own body – including its shape, height, and weight – make up your body image. Not only that, but body image is also about how comfortable you feel in your body.
People who have negative body images have a distorted perception of what their bodies look like. They may feel convinced that other people view them as unattractive, and that everyone else is far more attractive than they are. They may attribute their own body sizes or shapes to personal failings, and they feel self-conscious about and awkward in their bodies. Consequently they may worry excessively about their appearance.
People who have positive body images, on the other hand, clearly perceive their shapes and the sizes of their bodies as they truly are. They realize that how they look has very little connection with their actual value or their character traits. They do not worry too much about their appearance; they feel comfortable in their own skin.
How Body Image Affects Eating Disorders
In today's society, people tend to equate "thinness" with good character and beauty, and "fat" with laziness, weakness, ugliness, or other negative qualities. This view places immense pressure on some to look "perfect," to the point where they view their bodies as imperfect in many ways. This causes anxiety – and can be one of the causes of eating disorders in the long run.
For example, people with anorexia may begin limiting meals and snacks in order to carve out the 'perfect bodies' for themselves. People who tend to binge do so because of their obsession with food and how it affects their bodies, and they may purge themselves afterwards due to an intense guilt about how a recent binge has tarnished their very selves. Most people have times in their lives when they feel uncomfortable with their own bodies, but maintaining a negative body image for too long can lead to eating disorders.
The Media’s Impact on Body Image
It's no wonder that eating disorders are running rampant today, with the media destroying our body images. The National Eating Disorders Association found that the discrepancy between real people and those shown on television is enormous. For example, the average American woman stands at 5 feet, 4 inches, whereas the average American model stands at 5 feet, 11 inches. The average American woman weighs 140 pounds, whereas the average American model weighs 117 pounds.
People who watch a lot of television today imbibe the subconscious message that they should be taller and skinnier, and that if they stay at what is actually the average weight, they are overweight and short. In addition, a study in the 1990s of over 4,000 television commercials found that 1 in every 3.8 commercials included some kind of "attractiveness message.” This message defines attractiveness in a subjective way. The results of this study imply that the average adolescent sees more than 5,000 “attractiveness messages” each year. (The study was cited by the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Women's Center).
The connection between eating disorders and body image shows that these negative messages from the media can be extremely detrimental.