Body Image: It isn’t always what it seems

There’s no question that the advertisement and marketing industries have an impact on our perception of ourselves and our body image. Billions of dollars are spent with the intent of mass producing images that create a need or desire to purchase a product.  False messages of acceptance, approval, and likeability are entrenched in the countless images that are fed to us on a daily basis; lies dripping from pages of magazines, television commercials, and across the internet, encoded in photoshopped and skewed images presented as truth.

Though our body image is a compilation of several  factors,  recent  evidence has  suggested that  a  strong association exists between images that are typically viewed in  media outlets  and  a woman’s perception of her ideal body image.  A study done through  England’s Durham University unveiled a theory that may help explain obsession with women’s bodies who are thin.   Researchers Lynda Boothroyd, Martin Tovée and Thomas Pollet conducted  studies in which  female participants  were exposed to pictures of women of ranging  body sizes.  In one of their studies, women participants were divided into groups, where one half were shown pictures of thin models while the other group viewed pictures of larger models.  The women participants were questioned about their body size preferences before and after viewing the images for their designated group.  Interestingly, researchers found that preferences for thinness increased from pre- to post-test in women who were shown thin models during the study.  In contrast, those women who were shown images of larger models had a decrease in preference for thinness [1].

Lead author of this study, Lynda Boothroyd, commented on these results in a press statement stating, “This really gives us some food for thought about the power of exposure to super-slim bodies . There is evidence that being constantly surrounded through the media by celebrities and models who are very thin contributes to girls and women having an unhealthy attitude to their bodies.”

This evidence from this study reinforces the thought that the media environment may be a contributing factor to the development of eating disorder behavior.  While the images we are presented with are out of our control, we do have a say in regards to what we chose to surround ourselves with.  Positive, affirming, and hopeful surroundings promote healing and wellness, particularly if one is in recovery from an eating disorder.

We will constantly be battling against a force of negativity in the media realm, but our voices that support the pro-recovery movement can be more powerful and effective.  Consider today what type of environment you create for yourself.  What type of media are you allowing to permeate and influence your body image?  Something as seemingly as simple as the images we view on a daily basis can have a significant impact in regards to the standard we hold for ourselves and perception of self.

Learning to love and embrace our bodies can be difficult, particularly if in war with an eating disorder.  Day by day, we can make small changes that encourage body acceptance and self-love.  Even if you think it’s impossible to love yourself or your body, know that there is hope, healing, and restoration in every journey, no matter where you’ve come from.

I finally realized that being grateful to my body was key to giving more love to myself.
~ Oprah Winfrey

References:

[1]: Boothroyd LG, Tovée MJ, Pollet TV (2012) Visual Diet versus Associative Learning as Mechanisms of Change in Body Size Preferences. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48691. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048691

About Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC

Jacquelyn Ekern founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website.