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  • Lindsey Zousmer

Body Image: How does society affect how we see ourselves?

As a kid, dance was my outlet. It was where I released the stress of school, escaped the realities of the world, and had the opportunity to express myself with movement. When I was in the studio, there was not a single worry in the world. With the support of my instructors, laughter of my teammates, and the excitement of learning something new, it was my favorite part of each day. However, after going through puberty and maturing into a young woman, the entire energy of the studio shifted. It was no longer fun to put on my leotard and tights after school, instead, it was discouraging and defeating. 

Body image struggles are not unique to my story, in fact, it appears my case was a mild one. University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital conducted a study to gauge how many children ages 8-18 struggle with body image from a parents’ perspective, and data suggested at least ⅔ view their bodies negatively. According to the National Eating Disorder Foundation, 9% of individuals will struggle with an eating disorder, usually stemming from negative body image, in their lifetime. Unlike many adolescents, I had supportive instructors who did not push diet culture onto us, kind parents who cooked me balanced meals incorporating all food groups, and positive role models in my life who demonstrated beauty in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, though, other factors play into self-perception and confidence, for one, the media. 

Psychological research on social media, body image, and mental health shows that they are correlational. Youth spend an average of 6-8 hours per day on screens, and while scrolling through Instagram, they see thousands of photos every day. Most of those photos consist of fitness “influencers”, Victoria's Secret Models, and celebrities. Naive to the world of plastic surgery and photoshopping, this content sets an unrealistic standard of what these teens “should” look like. Gary Goldfeld, PhD conducted a study consisting of 38 undergraduate students, to assess the impact of reducing screen time on body image. After three weeks, participants who limited their time spent scrolling to under 60 minutes per day reported a significant improvement in appearance and weight esteem. 

Body image among teens is, at its core, a public health problem, outlined by the pillars of prevalence, seriousness, and prevention. 


Prevalence 

Unfortunately, eating disorders are not uncommon. The lifetime prevalence of eating disorders, primarily Binge Eating Disorder, Anorexia Nervosa, and Bulimia Nervosa is 2.8% in adolescents alone. Beyond that, it is even more common for individuals to experience disordered eating and body dissatisfaction. Contrary to popular belief, males also commonly experience body negativity. According to a Fredrick and Colleagues study, 90% of male US students report dissatisfaction with their bodily appearance, specifically regarding muscles. Body image issues and eating disorders impact those of all cultures, shapes, and sizes, including males, the LGBTQ+ community, and individuals all around the world. 


Seriousness

Eating disorders can be fatal. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reported that 5-10% of diagnosed patients die within 10 years after contracting the disease, and 18-20% of anorexics die within 10 years. Additionally, those with eating disorders are more likely to experience other mental health disorders, such as depression, and also more likely to commit suicide. 


Prevention

Clinicians have treatments available to help patients with eating disorders, including individual or group therapy, monitoring and medication, and nutritional counseling, however, these options are not always accessible and often require an acknowledgment/diagnosis of the struggle. This is why prevention efforts often include support systems and cognizant parents, as well as training coaches/teachers, to help identify early symptoms of disordered eating in an attempt to get treatment for that individual. Additionally, avoiding dieting during adolescence is important to develop a healthy mindset regarding nutrition and a balanced relationship with food. Looking up to positive role models, scheduling regular meal times, and avoiding terms like “good food,” and “bad food,” can all help foster healthy relationships with food and promote positive body image. 

The way we see ourselves is heavily affected by those around us, media included. The way we see the world is warped by the media we consume. Whether that be the adults we look up to in our lives over-exercising and obsessing over wanting to be “thin,” our Instagram feeds flooded with unrealistic body types and neglecting to showcase how beauty looks in different shapes and sizes, or inadvertently listening to negative body talk from our friends and families, all of this may affect how we view ourselves in regards to body image. Everyone’s appetite, healthy body weight, lifestyle, and genetics vary, and all of these factors affect how we look and feel in regard to our confidence and self-esteem. The devastating outcomes of body dysmorphia, whether that be missing out on family meals, viewing ourselves as our weight, or suffering extreme medical consequences, can be prevented by external factors, such as our relationships and social media, so whether you are experiencing it yourself or that role model for someone else, be kind to yourself, and ask for help when you need it. 




References

“Body Image in Childhood.” Mental Health Foundation, www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/articles/body-image-report-executive-summary/body-image-childhood. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

“Eating Disorder Statistics.” National Eating Disorders Association, 8 Mar. 2024, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/statistics/.

“Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/eating-disorders. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

“Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders#:~:text=People%20with%20eating%20disorders%20are,Complete%20recovery%20is%20possible. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Medaris, Anna, et al. “Data Suggests a Majority of Kids Struggle with Body Image.” EverydayHealth.Com, www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/survey-suggests-two-thirds-of-kids-may-struggle-with-body-image/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Mottpoll Report: Parents’ Perception of Their Child’s Body Image, mottpoll.org/sites/default/files/documents/091922_BodyImage.pdf. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

“Prevention.” Kelty Eating Disorders, 2 Nov. 2023, keltyeatingdisorders.ca/prevention/prevention-resources/.

Quittkat, Hannah L, et al. “Body Dissatisfaction, Importance of Appearance, and Body Appreciation in Men and Women over the Lifespan.” Frontiers in Psychiatry, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 17 Dec. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6928134/.

Ruffolo, J. S., Phillips, K. A., Menard, W., Fay, C., & Weisberg, R. B. (2006). Comorbidity of body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders: severity of psychopathology and body image disturbance. The International journal of eating disorders, 39(1), 11–19. 

South Carolina Department of Mental Health. “South Carolina Department of Mental Health.” Eating Disorder Statistics, www.state.sc.us/dmh/anorexia/statistics.htm. Accessed 23 Apr. 2024. 

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