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A few thoughts on body image

21/10/2009

A few thoughts on body image - questions & answers

* Where does our current concept of body image come from - ie, what are the influences and are we being exposed to more unhealthy pressures nowadays?

Having done a piece of research on body image issues I found that there are many influences on the way women feel about their bodies. There are the obvious influences like media and advertising images of beautiful, apparently flawless women which means that we feel the pressure to be perfect like they are. These images are everywhere - in magazines, newspapers, television and films, and advertisements. But we’re also influenced by what we think men want. We assume they want women with very slim bodies when actually most men prefer a few curves. And we think like this because of all these images saying "slim bodies are the most". But probably the most difficult for women is the sense of competition we have to be at least as slim or pretty as our girlfriends and female colleagues.

* What are the possible consequences of an unhealthy body image? Are women more at risk of eating disorders?

There are many consequences of an unhealthy body image. First off, forget bad hair days, at some point one in five women suffer "bad body" days where they make any excuse not to go out. They feel so bad about themselves and their body shape and size that they simply don't want to face the world that is an enormous waste of their energies and draining to their self-esteem. Although eating disorders of various types have been around for longer than we realise, it appears that these have increased with the pressure to be perfect. If someone is vulnerable images if perfection and believes that that's the only way they are going to be a worthy and desirable person then they can embark on a vicious cycle of dieting. Until we have healthier images of more rounded women - thankfully there are small strides in this direction - vulnerable  women will be at risk of eating disorders.

* What do you think needs to be done to address the body image problem nationwide - and how can women keep a healthy check on their own body image (eg, how do you know when you're being unrealistic about your expectations for your looks, etc)?

This is a complex area that needs a multi-pronged approach. Certainly more advertisers and film and television casting directors need to hire women who have realistic proportions - we need more Kate Winslets and Nigella Lawsons promoted as healthy and beautiful. Secondly, nationally we need a more consistent and easily understood campaign in schools about healthy eating. Doctors also need to be aware of the signs of eating disorders at an early stage. Unfortunately many simply don't recognise eating disorders until they are full-blown. Finally parents need to be vigilant and ensure their children feel good about themselves. They should also be aware of any signs of unrealistic body image expectations. However, with concerted efforts from many corners you still won't prevent some women feeling bad about their bodies and perhaps resorting to eating disorders.