A person's body image is their perception of their physical appearance. It is more than what a person thinks they will see in a mirror, but is inextricably tied to their self-esteem and acceptance by peers. A person with a poor body image will perceive their own body as being unattractive or even repulsive to others. While a person with good body image, or positive "body acceptance", will either see themselves as attractive to others, or will at least accept it as is. Body image is most strongly affected during puberty, and is influenced by peers, parents, teachers and mentors, and commercial advertising (see Barbie).
Body image is often measured by asking people to rate their current and ideal body shape using a series of drawings of increasing size. The difference between these two values is the rate of body satisfaction.
In the United States, poor body image is widespread, especially (but not exclusively) among women, and can often contribute to the onset of a variety of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Other possible effects of the capitalist induced cultural obsession with looking thin may include binge exercising, fad diets, and multiple cases of suing fast food chains.
One of the reasons most often cited for this continuing body dissatisfaction among young women is the influence of the media. The media often reply that they are merely reflecting the ideals of the current generation. Research has, however, shown that the media indeed play an important role in shaping, rather than merely reflecting, perceptions of the female body. There seems to be a circularity that needs to be broken in order to decrease body dissatisfaction among young women and reduce the occurrence of eating disorders. The only group that can take the first step in this, is the media and the fashion industry. It is, however, very unlikely that this will happen, given the commercial interests at stake.
The pre-occupation with thinness is a development of the latter part of the twentieth century as the perception of women's body shapes has changed significantly over the past decades. In the early 1940's it was found that people with ectomorphic bodies were perceived by others as nervous, submissive and socially withdrawn. By the late 1980's this perception had changed and thin people were considered to be the most sexually appealing. Several researchers have found that the female body depicted in the media has become increasingly thin. Research using bust and hip measurements of Playboy models has shown that between 1960 and 1979 there was a trend towards non-curvaceousness.
Parallel to the decrease of the ideal body shape for women, the dissatisfaction that women have with their body shape increased. In recent years, a number of researchers have found that females are more likely to judge themselves overweight than males. This tendency was strongest in adolescent and young adult women.
Concerns with body image have been linked to a decrease in self esteem and an increase in dieting among young women. This increase in dieting among young women has been identified as an indicator of the onset of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Great body dissatisfaction can also lead to Body dysmorphic disorders. These cover a range of personality disorders where a person is dissatisfied with one's own body.
Numerous studies have been undertaken to study body dissatisfaction in recent years. Typically the research indicates that 33% of men and 70% of women rate their current figure as larger than ideal and that body dissatisfaction among women is much larger than for men. Some researchers also found that men judge the female figure they found most attractive as heavier than women's ratings of the ideal body shape.
Some research has been undertaken to determine generational differences in body shape preferences researched body size dissatisfaction for children, adolescents and adults and found significant differences between the age groups. The ideal body shape increases as women get older which in turn decreases the degree of body dissatisfaction. These cohort differences are a confirmation of the recent increase in body dissatisfaction and eating disorders among young women.
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