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Body Image and Eating Disorders

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Body Image and Eating Disorders go hand in hand:
Body Image and Eating Disorder Help
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What is Body Image?

How you see or picture yourself.
How you feel others perceive you.
What you believe about your physical appearance.
How you feel about your body.
How you feel in your body.



Improving Body Image © by Judy Lightstone

"If we place pornography and the tyranny of slenderness alongside one another we have the two most significant obsessions of our culture, and both of them focused upon a woman's body." -Kim Chernin

Body image involves our perception, imagination, emotions, and physical sensations of and about our bodies. It s not static- but ever changing; sensitive to changes in mood, environment, and physical experience. It is not based on fact. It is psychological in nature, and much more influenced by self-esteem than by actual physical attractiveness as judged by others. It is not inborn, but learned. This learning occurs in the family and among peers, but these only reinforce what is learned and expected culturally.

In this culture, we women are starving ourselves, starving our children and loved ones, gorging ourselves, gorging our children and loved ones, alternating between starving and gorging, purging, obsessing, and all the while hating, pounding and wanting to remove that which makes us female: our bodies, our curves, our pear-shaped selves.

"Cosmetic surgery is the fastest growing 'medical' specialty.... Throughout the 80s, as women gained power, unprecedented numbers of them sought out and submitted to the knife...." - Naomi Wolf

The work of feminist object relations theorists such as Susie Orbach (author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, and Hunger Strike: Anorexia as a Metaphor for Our Age) and those at The Women's Therapy Centre Institute (authors of Eating Problems: a Feminist Psychoanalytic Treatment Model) has demonstrated a relationship between the development of personal boundaries and body image. Personal boundaries are the physical and emotional borders around us.. A concrete example of a physical boundary is our skin. It distinguishes between that which is inside you and that which is outside you. On a psychological level, a person with strong boundaries might be able to help out well in disasters- feeling concerned for others, but able to keep a clear sense of who they are. Someone with weak boundaries might have sex with inappropriate people, forgetting where they end and where others begin. Such a person way not feel "whole" when alone.

Our psychological boundaries develop early in life, based on how we are held and touched (or not held and touched). A person who is deprived of touch as an infant or young child, for example, may not have the sensory information s/he needs to distinguish between what is inside and what is outside her/himself. As a result, boundaries may be unclear or unformed. This could cause the person to have difficulty getting an accurate sense of his/her body shape and size. This person might also have difficulty eating, because they might have trouble sensing the physical boundaries of hunger and fullness or satiation. On the other extreme, a child who is sexually or physically abused may feel terrible pain and shame or loathing associated to his/her body. Such a person might use food or starvation to continue the physical punishments they grew familiar with in childhood.


Developing a Healthy Body Image

Here are some guidelines (Adapted from BodyLove: Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves, Rita Freeman, Ph.D.) that can help you work toward a positive body image:

1. Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry.
2 .Be realistic about the size you are likely to be based on your genetic and environmental history..
3. Exercise regularly in an enjoyable way, regardless of size.
4. Expect normal weekly and monthly changes in weight and shape
5. Work towards self acceptance and self forgiveness- be gentle with yourself.
6. Ask for support and encouragement from friends and family when life is stressful.
7. Decide how you wish to spend your energy -- pursuing the "perfect body image" or enjoying family, friends, school and, most importantly, life.

Think of it as the three A's....

Attention -- Refers to listening for and responding to internal cues (i.e., hunger, satiety, fatigue).

Appreciation -- Refers to appreciating the pleasures your body can provide.

Acceptance -- Refers to accepting what is -- instead of longing for what is not.

Healthy body weight is the size a person naturally returns to after a long period of both non-compulsive eating* and consistent exercise commensurate with the person' s physical health and condition. We must learn to advocate for ourselves and our children to aspire to a naturally determined size, even though that will often mean confronting misinformed family, friends, and media advertising again and again.

*Simply stated, non-compulsive eating means eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are satisfied. This involves being able to distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger, and satiation from over fullness.
Judy Lightstone, M.F.T. is a licensed Marriage, Family, Child Counselor. She has a private practice where she works with individuals and couples. She can be contacted at www.psychotherapist.org . For more on this article visit http://www.psychotherapist.org/Index_archives_bodyimage.htm . Permission for use granted by Judy Lightstone


The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness, by Kim Chernin, Harper & Row, 1982.

BodyLove: Learning to Like Our Looks and Ourselves, Rita Freeman, Ph.D., Harper & Row, 1988

Transforming Body Image: Learning to Love the Body You Have by Marcia Germaine Hutchinson, EdD , The Crossing Press, 1985

Fat is a Feminist Issue, by Susie Orbach

Hunger Strike: Anorexia as a Metaphor for Our Age, by Susie Orbach, Norton Books, 1986

The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf, Doubleday, 1991
Eating Problems: a Feminist Psychoanalytic Treatment Model, by The Women's Therapy Centre Institute, Basic Books, 1994

Dying to Fit In- Literally! Learning to Love Our Bodies and Ourselves By Christine Hartline, MA

Today in America you can be whatever you want to be - any dream can be accomplished as long as you pursue it. We have economic security and we live in a peaceful and prosperous nation! We live in the land of opportunity, rich with culture and diversity, the land of the free! The question I pose is - "is America the land of the free, especially for women?" With all the freedom and prosperity we enjoy women still remain prisoners. "Prisoners", you ask, what do you mean? Women are enslaved to a beauty myth, chained to the false belief that our value is based on our appearance alone.

In the United States approximately 10% of girls and women (numbering up to 10 million) are suffering from diagnosed eating disorders. Of these at least 50,000 will die as a direct result! Recent data reported by the American Psychiatric Association suggests that of all psychiatric disorders, the greatest excess of patient mortality due to natural and unnatural causes is associated with eating disorders and substance abuse. How did this problem reach such epidemic proportions? Why are we dieting ourselves to death, literally dying to fit in? When did we become so ashamed of our bodies, when did we learn to hate them so much? While eating disorders claim lives and significantly impact the health and well being of sufferers, as we investigate further an even more disturbing picture emerges. An amazing 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance. These numbers are staggering! Surely they cannot be correct! How and why could we have learned such contempt for our bodies and ourselves?

Eating disorders are complex and understanding their etiology requires complex interventions by professionals. In this article I want to examine eating disorders in the context of the questions I posed above. Why are women attacking their bodies? Where did we learn that our self worth is measured by external factors - by numbers on a scale? The answer lies in constant, subtle attacks on our bodies. These attacks wear us down, shake our confidence and esteem. We loose our sense of self, individuality and fall victim to narrow definitions of beauty defined by the media. The media acts as a propaganda machine determined to shake our confidence, remind us we aren't good enough, we haven't made it, that we just simply do not measure up. In a recent poll by People magazine 80% of women reported that the images of women of TV and in movies, fashion magazines ad advertising make them feel insecure about their looks. In addition, the poll indicated that women are made to feel so insecure that they are willing to try diets that pose health risks (34%), go "under the knife" (34%) and 93% indicated they had made various and repeated attempts to lose weight to measure up to the images. Why is the media bent on making us feel so down about ourselves? Why do they go to such lengths to make us feel "less than?" The answer is quite simple - pure economics. The media machine is economically driven as billions are spent on items such as cosmetics, new diets and clothes. This "beautifying" empire is dependent on our dis-empowerment. They count on us buying into their myths and misrepresentations: "we will never fit it, we can never be happy, thus we can never end the pursuit." Alas, the pursuit is endless, the products are endless, the damage to our self-esteem is endless, and the body hatred created is devastating. The assault is unrelenting! The images everywhere. How could it all happen, right under our noses? It is a subtle, continuous bombardment of images of beauty, images defined by profiteers, images that are not real, not authentic, and not attainable. The impact that these images have on women is profound. The financial, social and psychological and physical damages of a woman's lifetime pursuit of thinness are impossible to measure. Depression, despair, depletion of self-esteem, the withering and wasting away of physical, psychological and financial resources are unbelievable. How can we begin to make changes? How can we assess our damage report? We must all take a personal inventory of how our lives have been impacted by these images and how we have fallen victim to these lies and misrepresentations of beauty. By examining how these images have impacted your life you are better equip to avoid falling victim to these myths. You will learn to measure yourself by intrinsic qualities that are of far greater value and are far more beautiful than any image manufactured on a movie screen.

I was a victim of these attacks on esteem, on women's power, on our self-worth. I was a prisoner and almost a casualty of this war. If I did not wake-up and take a personal inventory and examine my value system I could have easily sunken into the prison of repeat diets, repeat failure and lifelong contempt for my body. As a prisoner I had to ask myself some tough questions: when did I start to hate my body so much? When did I begin to measure my self-worth by numbers on a scale? When did I fall prey to the idea that beauty is external and success is measured by factors that have little to do with personal strength and spirit? We must be aware of the images presented to us and unmask these images for what they truly are - destructive, superficial and unattainable images. These images do not value our uniqueness, they do not honor our wisdom and our spirit, and they do not measure us. We must reclaim and redefine our bodies as ours. They are miraculous, we all know this! Our bodies perform wonderful feats every day. We are physiological and biological masterpieces. Our bodies are not our enemies - they put us in motion, they create and sustain life. The functions our bodies perform for us are too numerous and varied to list. Vow that you will not longer fall victim to these images and help those around you to the road of self-love and acceptance. Advocate for freedom from body hatred and fight the billion dollar advertising, cosmetic, diet, entertainment and fashion industries - let's stand up for ourselves, our values, our bodies, our lives. We must challenge ourselves, our culture and our children. The stakes are too high to back down. Lives are lost each year as beautiful, healthy young women starve themselves to death. Millions of us are suffering from depression and anxiety as we are bombarded with images of our "faults." It is time to change, change begins from within and radiates out- let's begin.

The consequences of body hatred and the serious issue of eating disorders are far to significant and far reaching to be addressed simply by pointing the finger at the media machine. Eating disorders are complex and involved complex interactions of psychological, biological, sociological, and interpersonal factors and do require professional assistance. Further, eating disorders and body hatred impact the lives of millions of men and women. It is not only women that buy into these myths and it is not only women that suffer with these illnesses. Eating disorders are gripping and life-threatening. If you or someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder please seek information and assistance. For more information on the treatment and prevention of eating disorders please visit the Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center at www.EDReferral.com.

American Psychiatric Association, The American Journal of Psychiatry. Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Eating Disorders (revision), Volume 157, Number 1, January 2000.
Dept of Health and Human Services, 1995. Anorexia and Bulimia
EDAP, Eating Disorder Awareness and Prevention, www.edap.org
Maine, M. Body Wars, Gurze Books, 2000, www.gurze.net
People Magazine Sept. 4, 2000 Issue

Battling Our Bodies ? Understanding and Overcoming Negative Body Images

Nicole Hawkins, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist at Center for Change,

How often do you look in the mirror and say "If I could just lose ten pounds, then I would be happy"? Unfortunately, the majority of American women and girls are dissatisfied with their bodies, and many take extreme measures in an attempt to change their bodies. For example, one study found that 63% of female participants identified weight as the key factor in determining how they felt about themselves -- more important than family, school, or career. Other research suggests that 86% of all women are dissatisfied with their bodies and want to lose weight. Women and adolescent girls regard size, much like weight, as a definitive element of their identity. Some girls assume there is something wrong with their bodies when they cannot fit consistently into some "standard" size; others will reject a pair of jeans simply because they won't wear a particular size.

Although a large majority of women are displeased with their bodies, many women and girls experience extreme body image difficulties that can be part of more complicated problems. These extreme body image disturbances include body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders and severe depression.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder:
This is a disorder of "imagined ugliness." What individuals with this disorder see in the mirror is a grossly distorted view of what they actually look like. Often, these individuals will spend hours examining, attempting to conceal, or obsessing over their perceived flaws. Some people actually spend thousands of dollars on plastic surgery in an attempt to improve their bodies.

Anorexia Nervosa:
This disorder is characterized by an extreme fear of gaining weight and these individuals actually perceive their bodies as larger or "fat" even though they are grossly underweight.

Bulimia Nervosa: 
Individuals with this disorder are also very dissatisfied with their bodies and have extreme concern with body weight and shape.

In many instances, individuals with depression often have a distorted view of themselves and believe they are less attractive than they really are.

Since negative body image is a prevalent problem for many women and girls and can also be a component of many serious disorders, it is critical that women learn to change their body image towards a healthy and positive view of self.

Seven Ways to Overcome Negative Body Image

1. Fight "Fatism": Work on accepting people of all sizes and shapes. This will help you appreciate your own body. It may be useful to create a list of people who you admire that do not have "perfect" bodies, does their appearance affect how you feel about them? It is also important to remember that society's standards have changed significantly over the last 50 years. The women that were considered the "ideal beauties" in the 1940's and 1950's like Marilyn Monroe (size 14) and Mae West were full-bodied and truly beautiful women, but they would be considered "overweight" by today's standards.

2. Fight the Diet Downfall: Ninety percent of all women have dieted at some point in their life, and at any one point in time, 50% of women are dieting. Women are two times more likely to diet than men. To dieters' dismay, 98% of all dieters gain the weight back in five years. Studies also show that 20-25% of dieters progress to a partial or full-blown eating disorder. Women are foolish if they believe that dieting will make them feel better about themselves. Dieting only helps you lose your self-esteem and energy. Dieting also creates mood swings and feelings of hopelessness. If you feel pressure to lose weight, talk to a friend or loved one or seek professional help.

3. Accept Genetics: It is critical to remember that many aspects of your body cannot be changed. Genetics does play a role in your body and at least 25% to 70% of your body is determined by your genes. While there are many aspects of our bodies we cannot change, you can change or modify your beliefs and attitudes which influence the way you feel about yourself. Change starts with you, it is internal and it starts with self-respect and a positive attitude. It is import to focus on health and not size.

4. Understand that Emotions are Skin Deep: It is important to discover the emotions and feelings that underlie your negative body image. The statement "I feel fat" is never really about fat, even if you are overweight. Each time a women looks at herself in the mirror and says "Gross, I'm fat and disgusting," she is really saying "There is something wrong with me or with what I'm feeling." When we do not know how to deal with our feelings we turn to our bodies and blame our bodies for our feelings. Every time you say "I'm fat" you are betraying your body, and you are betraying and ignoring your underlying feelings. Remember that "fat" is never a feeling, it's avoidance of feelings. Learn to discover your emotions and feelings and realize that focusing on your body is only distracting you from what is "really" bothering you.

5. Question Messages Portrayed in the Media: The media sends powerful messages to girls and women about the acceptability (or unacceptability) of their bodies. Young girls are thought to compare themselves to women portrayed as successful in the media, assessing how closely they match up to the "ideal" body form. Unfortunately, the majority of girls and women (96%) do not match up to the models and actresses presented in the media. The average model is 5'10" and weighs 110 pounds, whereas the average women is 5'4" and weighs 142 pounds. This is the largest discrepancy that has ever existed between women and the cultural ideal. This discrepancy leads many women and girls to feel inadequate and negative about their bodies. It is important to realize that only 4% of women genetically have the "ideal" body currently presented in the media, the other 96% of women feel they must go to extreme measures to attempt to reach this unobtainable image. Many of the images presented in the media have been computer enhanced and airbrushed. The models' hips and waists have often been slimmed and their breasts enlarged through computer photo manipulation. Many of the women presented in the media suffer from an eating disorder or have adopted disordered eating behaviors to maintain such low body weights. It is important to start to question images in the media and question why women should feel compelled to "live up" to these unrealistic standards of beauty and thinness.

6. Recognize the Influence of Body Misperception: Women are prone to more negative feelings about their bodies than men. In general, women are more psychologically invested in their physical appearance. Your body image is central to how you feel about yourself. Research reveals that as much as 1/4 of your self-esteem is the result of how positive or negative your body image is. Unfortunately, many women with eating disorders have a larger percentage of their esteem invested in their bodies. Women with eating disorders often exhibit unequivocal body image misperception, in which they misperceive the size of part, or the entire body. Hence they are "blind" to their own figures. This distortion is real and it is not due to "fat," but to the eating disorder illness. It is important to recognize this misperception and attribute it to the eating disorder. When you feel fat, remind yourself that you misperceive your shape. Judge your size according the opinions of trusted others until you can trust your new and more accurate self-perceptions.

7. Befriend Your Body: It is important to combat negative body image because it can lead to depression, shyness, social anxiety and self-consciousness in intimate relationships. Negative body image can also lead to an eating disorder. It is time that women stop judging their bodies harshly and learn to appreciate their inner being, soul, and spirit. A women's body is a biological masterpiece; women can menstruate, ovulate and create life. Start to recognize you do not have to compare yourself to other women or women in the media. Begin to challenge images presented in the media and realize that your worth does not depend on how closely you fit these unrealistic images.

In Margo Maine's book "Body Wars," she teaches women to reclaim their bodies and offers ways to help women love their bodies. Here are examples of 10 ways you can love your body:

1. Affirm that your body is perfect just the way it is.

2. Think of your body as a tool. Create an inventory of all the things you can do with it.

3. Walk with your head high with pride and confidence in yourself as a person, not a size.

4. Create a list of people you admire who have contributed to your life, your community, or the world. Was their appearance important to their success and accomplishments?

5. Don't let your size keep you from doing things you enjoy.

6. Replace the time you spend criticizing your appearance with more positive, satisfying pursuits.

7. Let your inner beauty and individuality shine.

8. Think back to a time in your life when you liked and enjoyed your body. Get in touch with those feelings now.

9. Be your body's ally and advocate, not its enemy.

10. Beauty is not just skin-deep. It is a reflection of your whole self. Love and enjoy the person inside.

In conclusion, negative body image is a serious problem and has damaging affects on women's self-esteem and it can lead to depression, as well as an eating disorder. Changing our world starts with you, self-love and respect, and the end of prejudice starts with one person at a time. The external pursuit of changing your body can often damage spirituality by taking you away from the internal-self - the spirit, the soul, and the whole genuine self. If you or someone you care about suffers with negative body image, please seek professional help and stop the cycle of body hatred.

References and Suggested Readings:

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?, Thomas F. Cash, Ph.D., Bantam Books, New York, 1995.

When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, Jane R. Hirschmann & Carol H. Munter, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1995.

Body Wars: Making Peace with Women's Bodies, Margo Maine, Ph.D., Gurze Books, Carlsbad, 2000

Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, Mary Pipher Ph.D., Random House, Ballantine Books, New York, 1994.


Body Image by Cindy Maynard, MS, RD

Health and Medical Writer/Registered Dietitian

Body image dissatisfaction is so epidemic in our society that it’s almost considered normal. Recent studies show preschoolers are already exposed to hearing that certain types of foods, especially sugar, might make them "fat." Kids as early as third grade are concerned about their weight. But the most vulnerable are teens. This is the age we are most impressionable and start to develop self-confidence and self-perception. Body shapes are changing rapidly. About half of female teens think they’re too fat and almost 50% are dieting. There is a lot of pressure to succeed and fit in. One of the ways to fit in is to have "the perfect body."

When you look in the mirror what do you see? When you walk past a shop window and catch a glimpse of your body, what do you notice first? Are you proud of what you see, or do you think, "I’m too short, I’m too fat, if only I were thinner or more muscular?" Most people answer negatively. Take the following quiz and see how your Body Image I.Q. measures up. Check the most appropriate answer:
Have you avoided sports or working out because you didn’t want to be seen in gym clothes? Yes______ No ________
Does eating even a small amount of food make you feel fat? Yes_______ No______
Do you worry or obsess about your body not being small, thin or good enough? Yes____ No ______
Are you concerned your body is not muscular or strong enough? Yes_____ No_____
Do you avoid wearing certain clothes because they make you feel fat? Yes _____ No_____
Do you feel badly about yourself because you don’t like your body? Yes _____ No_____
Have you ever disliked your body? Yes ______ No ________
Do you want to change something about your body? Yes _____ No ________
Do you compare yourself to others and "come up short?" Yes______ No_______
If you answered "Yes" to 3 or more questions, you may have a negative body image. See guidelines under "Tips" for help in changing your perception to a more positive one.


Girls are overly concerned about weight and body shape. They strive for the "perfect" body and judge themselves by their looks, appearance, and above all thinness. But boys don’t escape either. They are concerned with the size and strength of their body. There has been a shift in the male body image. Boys live in a culture that showcases males as glamorous "macho" figures who have to be "tough", build muscles and sculpt their bodies - if they want to fit in. They think they have to be a "real" man, but many admit being confused as to what that means or what’s expected of them. This confusion can make it harder than ever to feel good about themselves.
Some sports can contribute to a negative body image. The need to make weight for a sport like wrestling or boxing can cause disordered eating. But other boys says sports make them feel better about themselves. Jon, a 15-year-old, states, "Guys are in competition, especially in the weight room. They say, ‘I can bench 215 lbs.’ and the other guy says, ‘Well I can bench 230 lbs.’ If you’re stronger, you’re better." Daniel, age 16, shares, "Guys are into having the perfect body. But if you feel good about your body, you automatically feel good about yourself."
Most of our cues about what we should look like come from the media, our parents, and our peers. This constant obsession with weight, the size of our bodies and longing for a different shape or size can be painful.
Where do these negative perceptions come from? Here are just a few of the factors contributing to negative perceptions and obsessions about our body:
The media plays a big part. Surrounded by thin models and TV stars, teenage girls are taught to achieve an impossible goal. As a result, many teenage girls intensely dislike their bodies and can tell you down to the minutest detail what’s wrong with it. Most teens watch an average of 22 hours of TV a week and are deluged with images of fat-free bodies in the pages of health, fashion and teen magazines. The "standard" is impossible to achieve. A female should look like, and have the same dimensions as Barbie, and a male should look like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Buff Baywatch lifeguards, the well-toned abs of any cast member of Melrose Place or Friends, and music-video queens don’t help.
Take a look at the 10 most popular magazines on the newspaper racks. The women and men on the covers represent about .03 percent of the population. The other 99.97% don’t have a chance to compete, much less measure up. Don’t forget it’s a career with these people. They’re pros. Many have had major body make-overs and have a full-time personal trainer. Most ads are reproduced, airbrushed or changed by computer. Body parts can be changed at will.
The images of men and women in ads today do not promote self esteem or positive self image. They’re intended to sell products. In the U.S. billions of dollars are spent by consumers who pursue the perfect body. The message "thin is in" is sold thousands of times a day through TV, movies, magazines, billboards, newspapers and songs. Advertising conveys the message "You’re not O.K. Here’s what you need to do to fix what’s wrong." Girls and boys believe it and react to it. In a 1997 Body Image Survey, both girls and boys reported that "very thin or muscular models" made them feel insecure about themselves.
Western society places a high value upon appearance. Self-worth is enhanced for those who are judged attractive. Those who are deemed unattractive can feel at a disadvantage. The message from the media, fashion and our peers can create a longing- a longing to win the approval of our culture and fit in at any cost. And that can be disastrous to our self esteem.
Parents can give mixed messages too. Especially if they’re constantly dieting or have body or food issues of their own. How we perceive and internalize these childhood messages about our bodies determines our ability to build self-esteem and confidence in our appearance.
The diet/fitness craze is mind boggling. It’s not just dieting, it’s diet foods, and diet commercials. Everybody’s counting fat grams. Listen to the conversation in the lunch room, locker room or on the bus to school. The talk centers around dieting, fat thighs or tight "abs" and how many pounds can be lost with the latest diet. This kind of intense focus on food and fat can lead to abnormal eating habits or - disordered eating - a precursor to eating disorders, which is taking it to the extreme.
Awareness of eating disorders got a big boost in 1995 when Princess Di began talking openly about her struggles with bulimia. Actress Tracy Gold, still struggling with her eating disorder, continues to help others by discussing her eating disorder with the media. Recently many organizations have initiated an effort to expand awareness of eating disorders and promote a positive body image and self esteem.
Why is a positive body image so important? Psychologists and counselors agree that a negative body image is directly related to self esteem. The more negative the perception of our bodies, the more negative we feel about ourselves.
Being a teenager is a time of major change. Besides the obvious changes in size and shape, teens are faced with how they feel about themselves. Body image and self esteem are two important ways to help promote a positive image.
When most people think about body image they think about aspects of physical appearance, attractiveness, and beauty. But body image is much more. It is the mental picture a person has of his/her body as well as their thoughts, feelings, judgments, sensations, awareness and behavior. Body image is developed through interactions with people and the social world. It’s our mental picture of ourselves; it’s what allows us to become ourselves.
Body image influences behavior, self esteem, and our psyche. When we feel bad about our body, our satisfaction and mood plummets. If we are constantly trying to push, reshape or remake our bodies, our sense of self becomes unhealthy. We lose confidence in our abilities. It’s not uncommon for people who think poorly of their bodies to have problems in other areas of their lives, including sexuality, careers and relationships.
A healthy body image occurs when a person’s feelings about his/her body is positive, confident and self caring. This image is necessary to care for the body, find outlets for self-expression, develop confidence in one’s physical abilities and feel comfortable with who you are.
Self esteem is a personal evaluation of one’s worth as a person. It measures how much you respect yourself
physically: (how happy you are with the way you look)
intellectually (how well you feel you can accomplish your goals)
emotionally (how much you feel loved)
morally (how you think of yourself as a person)
How you see yourself affects every part of your life. High self esteem makes for a happier life. It allows you to be your own person and not have others define you.
Self esteem, self confidence and self respect are all related. Self esteem is also defined as the judgments a person makes about themselves and is affected by self confidence and respect. Self confidence is believing in our ability to take action and meet our goals. Self respect is the degree to which we believe we deserve to be happy, have rewarding relationships and stand up for our rights and values. All these factors affect whether or not we will have a healthy body image.
To begin to achieve healthy images of ourselves and our bodies is a challenge. Here are some things you can do to start feeling better about your body and yourself:
When you look in the mirror, make yourself find at least one good point for every demerit you give. Become aware of your positives.
Decide which of the cultural pressures - glamour, fitness, thinness, media, peer group - prevent you from feeling good about yourself. How about not buying fashion magazines which promote unrealistic body images?
Exercise gets high marks when it comes to breeding positive body feelings. It makes us feel better about our appearance, and improves our health and mood.
Emphasize your assets. You’ve got lots. Give yourself credit for positive qualities. If there are some things you want to change, remember self-discovery is a lifelong process.
Make friends with the person you see in the mirror. Say, "I like what I see. I like me." Do it until you believe it.
Question ads. Instead of saying, "What’s wrong with me," say, "What’s wrong with this ad?" Write the company. Set your own standards instead of letting the media set them for you.
Ditch dieting and bail on the scale. These are two great ways to develop a healthy relationship with your body and weight.
Challenge size-bigotry and fight size discrimination whenever you can. Don’t speak of yourself or others with phrases like "fat slob," "pig out," or "thunder thighs."
Be an example to others by taking people seriously for what they say, feel, and do rather than how they look.
Accept the fact your body’s changing. In teen years, your body is a work in progress. Don’t let every new inch or curve throw you off the deep end.
You know you are successful when you can look in the mirror and instead of asking, "What’s wrong with it," and say, "There’s nothing really wrong with me." And little by little you’ll find you can stop disliking your body. When Clister Smith, age 15, was asked how we can like our bodies better he says, "Quit worrying about what others think of you. If you want to change your body, do it for yourself, and not anyone else."
This is the starting point. It is from this new way of looking at a problem that we can begin to feel better about ourselves. Make this the time to accept the natural dimensions of our bodies instead of drastically trying to change them. We can’t exchange our bodies for a new one. So the best thing is to find peace with the one we have. Your body is where you’re going to be living the rest of your life. Isn’t it about time you made it home?
Cindy Maynard, M.S.,R.D. is a health & medical writer and registered dietitian living in San Diego, California. Current Health 2, 1998, Weekly Reader Corp., For article references: See Bibliography below.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Who’s the thinnest of them all?

Jenni Schaefer
Author, Life Without Ed

Throughout my life, I asked myself this question many times. Some people said that I was the thinnest. The mirror gave me a variety of answers depending on what day, hour, or even minute I asked. Some extreme individuals had the nerve to say that I had anorexia. Others actually said that I looked really good and showered me with accolades. Still others stared at me from afar and did not say anything all. I only cared what the mirror had to say.

As time past, I began to realize that I spent a lot of time worrying about food and body image. I obsessed much more about these topics than my friends. For instance, a day that started out on a positive note would hit rock bottom when I realized that my belt fit on a larger notch than it had the day before. Subsequently, my meal plans for the day would change dramatically, including making up excuses to avoid eating with friends and family at social events. I became painfully isolated in my efforts to satisfy the mirror hanging on the wall and important, long-term relationships took a back seat to my body image.

My obsessions with food and weight quickly spiraled into a full-fledged battle with anorexia and bulimia. A common characteristic of those struggling with eating disorders is a misperception of body size and shape. In recovery from my eating disorder, I learned from others that --- no matter how clique it might sound --- it really is what is on the inside that counts. Even though my weight fluctuated greatly throughout my recovery, the people in my life who truly cared about me never treated me any differently. Despite the number on the scale, I was always given absolute love, respect, and even admiration. The clothes in my closet changed dramatically as I moved from size to size, but my friends remained constant.

Slowly I learned to treat myself with the same love and respect that others showed me. In the beginning, I cared for myself by simply not gazing into mirrors as much as possible. Yes, in our image-based society, I was actually successful in avoiding mirrors and even my reflections in store windows most of the time. I began focusing on the parts of myself I had always wanted to develop on the inside, rather than on what had started to die on the outside. When I felt more confident with my inner strengths, I gradually began allowing myself more glances into the looking glass. This time I did my best not to ask questions such as who is the thinnest or the prettiest. I did my best not to compare myself to others, to previous versions of myself, or even to possible pictures of what I could look like in the future.

I do not avoid mirrors today. I do not obsessively gaze into mirrors. I use mirrors as the tools that they were originally created to be. Mirrors are great for brushing my teeth and for ensuring that my contacts lenses are properly placed into each eye. Of course, I am not perfect. Even with my contact lenses in place, I sometimes see my body incorrectly. When this happens, I remember everything I have learned and do not let the visual distortion affect my attitude or behaviors with food. I just close my eyes, and I focus on the truth.

I am more than my body. I am more than any mirror on the wall.

And so are you.

Jenni Schaefer is a singer/songwriter, speaker, and the author of Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill). She is a consultant and spokesperson with Center for Change in Orem, UT. For more information, visit www.jennischaefer.com or email jenni@jennischaefer.com.

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In Partnership with the American Eating Disorder Association- -SINCE 1999