Body Image Plays Important Role in Self Esteem and Eating Disorders

Body image, or the mental representation of what we think we look like, plays a crucial role in the development of self-esteem.  Body image also influences emotions and behaviors in both men and women.  Poor body image can be a driving force in eating disorders, manipulating many to alter their lifestyles based on a distorted perception of their own body.

Research has shown a close correlation between poor body image and eating disorders.  While there are a variety of factors that can impact the progression of an eating disorder, negative perceptions by a person regarding their body, such as the thought that they are fat or if they are dissatisfied with a particular part of their body, can lead to mental disorders (such as depression or bulimia).

How exactly is one’s body image formed?  Many things can influence body image, including relationships, familial support, and the sociocultural pressures that are often voiced through mass media.  Various life experiences, emotional states, as well as the messages we receive from family and friends also shape our body image.  There is a common misconception that negative body image is something that only affects young, adolescent girls, but the truth is that poor body image is something that a person of any race or gender can experience throughout their life.

A recent study published in the Journal of Women and Aging investigated body image satisfaction in middle-aged women over 50.  Using a sample of almost 1,800 American women, researchers found that just over 12% of the participants reported that they were satisfied with their current body.  Aspects of their physical appearance that these women reported feeling unhappy about included their skin (80% of women), their stomachs (56% of women), and their faces (54% of women).  Researchers also found that participants who had undergone cosmetic surgery were no more or less satisfied with their body image compared to those women who did not have surgery.  In the group of women who did report satisfaction with their bodies, researchers found that these participants were less likely to have eating disorders and dieting behaviors [1].

In regards to the findings of this study, lead researcher Dr. Cristin Runfola noted, “Of course the fact that so few women are satisfied with their body size is concerning.  But we were interested in how some women remain happy with their size and shape, given ubiquitous social pressures to retain a youthful thin appearance, and the influence of a multibillion dollar anti-aging cosmetic industry.”

Positive body image is something that continually needs to be built upon throughout one’s life, particularly as the different life stages can influence how you feel about yourself and your body.  This is an important prevention step in the fight against eating disorders for both men and women of all ages.

What are some practical ways to boost your body image today?  No matter your age or where you are in life, you can create a positive body image by stopping negative self-talk, treating yourself with the same kindness and compassion that you would a loved one, and focusing on aspects of your body and looks that you do feel satisfied with.

Body image can be a struggle for many people, leading to more detrimental mental health issues.  Learning how to improve your body image can be one of the most effective steps in eating disorder prevention.


[1]: Characteristics of Women with Body Size Satisfaction at Midlife: Results of the Gender and Body Image (GABI) Study, Cristin D. Runfola et al., Journal of Women & Aging, DOI:10.1080/08952841.2013.816215, 11 October 2013.

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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.