Weight & Body Image Disorders: Causes, Symptoms & Signs
What is Negative or Distorted Body Image?
Body image refers to how people see themselves. Distorted body image (also called negative body image) refers to an unrealistic view of how someone sees their body. Like eating disorders, it is seen most commonly in women, but many men also suffer from the disorder. You begin forming your perceptions of your body’s attractiveness, health, acceptability and functionality in early childhood. This body image continues to form as you age and receive feedback from peers, family member, coaches, etc. Personality traits such as perfectionism and self criticism can also influence the development of a negative internalized image of your body.
Signs & Symptoms of Negative Body Image
Symptoms of unhealthy or negative body image may include:
- obsessive self scrutiny in mirrors
- thinking disparaging comments about your body and frequent comparison of your own shape and size to other people
- envy or a friend’s body, or just as commonly: the body of a celebrity or someone else in the media.
Causes of Negative Body Image
Sometimes body image is negatively impacted by one or more significant events. For example, a gymnast who is continually chided by her coach and fellow athletes to lose a little weight, may develop a deeply ingrained and long standing dissatisfaction with her body, no matter how thin she becomes.
If you are concerned about your body image, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is my perception of beauty distorted from years of media exposure that glorifies a very thin ideal that is unrealistic for most people to obtain in a health manner?
- Do I find myself regularly criticizing my own appearance?
Relationship Between Weight & Body Image
A normally healthy weight range for an individual can be perceived as overweight by someone with a distorted body image. An anorexic young woman may look at herself in a mirror and see a reflection that is greater than her actual size. Conversely, it is not uncommon for obese individuals to report that they did not realize they were as large as they are and had perceived their body as much smaller until an occasion arises where they see a photograph, video or window reflection that strikes a nerve and causes them to come to terms with their actual image.
Relationship Between An Eating Disorder & Body Image
Body image concerns and eating disorders go hand in hand. Often, it is the early dissatisfaction with a young person’s appearance that leads them to conclude that losing weight would enhance their appearance, and make them feel better about themselves and their bodies. Thus, restrictive eating and over exercising are often next, frequently leading to patterns of disordered eating and weight obsession that can develop into anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, compulsive overeating or binge eating disorder.
Treatment For Negative Body Image
Getting treatment for distorted body image is a critical step to recovery. The problem won’t just go away by itself. Recognizing and acknowledging your feelings and accompanying body sensations will help you become more comfortable in your body and lessens the tendency to suppress feelings and revert to unhealthy, negative inner diatribes to escape uncomfortable feelings. Cognitive Behavior Therapy, an approach where irrational thoughts are recognized, analyzed and restructured to more rational self talk, is frequently used. Additionally, dance and movement therapy are often employed to develop a greater trust and appreciation of one’s body based upon creating internal experiences, rather than simply evaluated one’s body aesthetically. Many centers for eating disorder treatment specialize in body image awareness.
Weight & Body Image Articles
- Spring break can often be a time that promotes diet fads and crazes. Poor body image can make individuals susceptible to self-criticism and low self-esteem. Learn more about the signs of poor body image, ways to strengthen your self-esteem, and boost your confidence.
- There are a lot of people who want to “drop a few pounds” or “get healthy”, so many that “losing a few pounds” has created a $50 billion industry. Often, the people trying to lose weight will chase a fad diet and the misinformation that goes with it. Unfortunately, these diet fads can be dangerous to your health and can lead to an eating disorder.
- It is widely believed that being obese is detrimental to one’s health. However, are people who are obese really unhealthy? How strong is the evidence that supports this belief? There may be evidence that contradicts the norm established over the past two decades. Is Obesity Really a Problem?
- Body Image Disturbance is complex and much more that just I Hate or Love My Body. The dissatisfaction can range from a little to a severe body-hatred, and the poor body image can be tied to self-esteem issues, depression and eating disorders. It may be challenging to improve ones body image or support another in this effort, but it is essential to recovery from anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder.
- Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a serious affliction that needs to be carefully evaluated. It is a condition where a person develops an imagined defect in their appearance and begins to fixate on this imagined flaw. It becomes such an obsession that the BDD begins to negatively affect the person’s life. Unfortunately, those suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder attach strong personal meanings to their beliefs about their appearance.
- Our perception of our body plays a pivotal role in our self esteem. If we are critical of our bodies, we are likely to feel inadequate, alienated from and ashamed of our bodies. Often eating disorder sufferers tend to disown uncomfortable feelings and turn toward negative body obsessing as a distraction. Learn more about to one’s true feelings and authentic self, and our relationship to our body image.
- The pressure to fit in is paramount during our school years. One’s body has come to be perceived as a billboard for expression of one’s success, power, desirability and status. Preschooler’s have indicated fears of being fat and concern about all the social stigma that goes along with being viewed as obese by their peers. This is coupled with a societal message that kids can and should mold their bodies into the thin ideal so popular in our culture today. Learn more about body image issues in students.
- From about the age of 10 through 19, it is a roller coaster of body changes, varying and intense emotions and a fledgling sense of identity. This can be a very painful and difficult time. The good news is parents have the opportunity to greatly influence their child’s developing body image and self esteem. Focusing on children’s unique talents and inner attributes, coupled with unconditional love, offers a strong foundation for a lifelong positive body image. Learn more about creating a healthy body image in your child.
- What is a healthy weight? Should it be based on the shifting tides of public opinion over time? Should it be based on an important sounding mathematical equation, such as BMI? Or is a healthy weight a unique matter for each individual based on their genes, lifestyle, age and other factors unrelated to societal expectations of what they should look like? Identifying the myths is the first step in determining what is a healthy weight. Read more about healthy weight and body image perception in the media.
Last Reviewed and Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on
April 10, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com, Eating Disorder Information Resources
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