Monday, February 27, 2012

Body Image: The Horrible Psychological and Physical Drawbacks

Enlarged breasts, nose surgery, liposuctions, make ups, diets, exercise; are all part of what we know as “Body Image”, the image that gives people acceptance amongst other people within the society we live in.  Many would want to know why body image is super important to people and why amongst these people, many do whatever it takes to improve their image no matter the consequences. Here are basically the reasons pointed out by Rottenberg and Winchell: 
"We live in a society where appearances matters. How much it matters is clear from magazines, television shows, movies, and advertisements. It is clear from the alarming number of young women - and, increasingly, young men - with anorexia and bulimia, from the celebrities that our youth, male and female, choose to idolize and emulate, and from the drastic increase in recent years in the amount of plastic surgery being performed (535)."
Although, ads about body image tells society how important the appearance is. They have serious drawbacks on bulimia, anorexia, self-esteem and cultural messages among other things.
The dangers associated with the use of drugs, diets, and plastic surgery to enhance body image is the frequent focus or argumentative speech or writing. The psychological dangers may be as grave as the physical ones. We must question why so many are willing to tamper with their physical appearance and wonder how they feel once the changes are made. To whose model of physical perfection are we inspiring? Is it right, for example, to seek to remove physical signs of ethnicity? Some regard such changes as a betrayal of the race. In changing what makes each of us distinct, are giving in, as one author included here suggests, to “the tyranny of the normal”? How much are we willing to spend, how much money and how much pain or discomfort, to look good? (Rottenberg and Winchell 536).
People don’t really care how much it takes in order to satisfy their needs of self-image to look just like that anchor from the news or to look just like that actress from a movie. Many cases about bulimia and anorexia are rooted to body image (if not all of them) and are a clear example of self-mutilation or suicide that young adults are doing to them. Infatuation on body image can cause real problems when it comes to health.
A study from the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy at Ulm University, Germany suggest that attention and assessment biases are part of body image disturbances shown by patients with anorexia and perhaps bulimia. The aim was to study these biases by using eye movement analyses (Von Wietersheim).
The method for this study was quite simple. As stimuli, the study used 24 standardized pictures showing young women and a standardized picture of the respective study participant. With an eye movement tracer, scientists were able to determine what body areas that the study participants look at. The study participants were also asked to rate the attractiveness of the stimuli. Data from 3 patients with anorexia and 32 healthy controls were included (Von Wietersheim).
The results were that patients with anorexia judge their own body areas as being less attractive than the controls on a rating scale from 1 to 55 (e.g., breasts: mean [standard deviation] = 0.9 [0.1] versus 2.2 [0.8], p < .001). They were also more critical in their assessment of the bodies of others (e.g., attractiveness of people with ideal weight: 2.1 [0.9] versus 2.8 [0.5], p< .001). They spent less time looking at their own breasts (1.8 [0.9] versus 2.2 [1.0] seconds, p = .09) but significantly more time at their thighs (1.1 [0.6] versus 0.8 [0.4] seconds, p = .05). These results confirm the assumption of cognitive biases. The differences, however, are often small and vary greatly (Von Wietersheim).
Although, anorexia, bulimia, and eating disorders can be caused by showing pictures of young women that have a better body image than the person who is trying to adjust  his/her body image to a fairly acceptable level. The influence by the media or any other source of body image ads causes an dissatisfaction to the person’s psychological comfort to how the individual looks.  As the study suggest, patients with anorexia judge their bodies as being less attractive than thus of a super model or a young adult. However, the reasons for the increasing trend of drawbacks associated with body image are yet to be fully understood.
With these studies about anorexia strictly connected to body image. Many would want to know what causes the automatic reaction to people in need to improve their image just like that one person in the ads or in the magazines. So far, we know that one of the main reasons of anorexia or bulimia is related to individual looks. But, does it have another reason to be? Could body image be caused not only for individual looks but for other reasons?
Body image is also caused by significant physical changes in the individual’s body during puberty or after pregnancy when women are likely to experience highly dynamic perceptions of body image. Body image is also influenced strongly by self-esteem and self-evaluation, more than by external evaluation by others. It can, however, be powerfully influenced and affected by cultural messages and societal standards of appearance and attractiveness. Given the overwhelming prevalence of thin and lean female images and strong and lean male images common to all westernized societies, body image concern have become widespread among adolescents (Croll).
Some of these drawbacks are associated with the state of mind of the person connected with cultural messages. It is important to recognize, that body image is the appearance that the person gives to society. However, the reasons that cultural messages have when it comes to body image might defer to the ones that the individual has.  These differences can come from childhood issues, parenting pressure with ethnicity issues and appearance, from psychological issues such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which may or may not help influence physical responses to their need to look just like that one person from televised images or other sources where thin bodies or ethnicity comes into play, as the right appearance.  
In addition, one of the most common drawbacks about body image is the sociocultural factor. A sociocultural model emphasizes that societal standards for attractiveness are often unachievable (Fallon), but still lead to discrimination against “unattractive” individuals, a phenomenon labeled “beautyism” by Thomas F. Cash (Cash) (Thompson).
Body image because of chemical processes during puberty, after pregnancy, or being influenced by ads, media, magazines and television shows. Are all related to appearance and how important it is to look “good” in our society, nevertheless, they have serious drawbacks on bulimia, anorexia, self-esteem and cultural messages among other things. This is something that concerns many people and is a problem that holds back the idea to foster a healthy body image instead of an obsessive will to mutilate the body to achieve the “right” looks.

Works Cited

Cash, Thoma F. Google Scholar: The psychology of physical appearance: Aesthetics, attributes, and images. 1990. <>.
Croll, Jillian. Essay. "From Body Image and Adolescents."  Rottenberg T. Annette and Donna Haisty Winchell. Elements of Argument, A Text Reader. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin's, 2009. 536.
Fallon, Elizabeth A.  Google Scholar: "Media images of the “ideal” female body: Can acute exercise moderate their psychological impact?" (2005): 62-73.
Thompson, Leslie J. Heinberg and J. Kevin. Google Scholar: "Body Image and Televised Images of Thinness and Atractiveness: A Controlled Laboratory Investigation." Journal Of Social and Clinical Psychology (1995): 325-338.
Von Wietersheim, Jörn. Google Scholar: Selective Attention of Patients With Anorexia Nervosa While Looking at Pictures of Their Own Body and the Bodies of Others: An Exploratory Study. Ulm, 11 January 2012.
 Rottenberg Annette T. and Donna HaistyWInchell . " How Far Will We Go to Change Our Body Image." Chapter introduction. Elements of Argument, A Text Reader. 9th ed. Boston: Bedford/St.Martin’s, , 2009. 535-536.


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