Body Image

ASU Stats

  • Most ASU students are pleased and accepting of their body shape, size and appearance.
  • 65% of female ASU students and 74% of male ASU students report that they feel pleased or accepting when looking in the mirror to evaluate their body.
  • Most ASU students (57.4%) are in a healthy weight range, based on calculations of their Body Mass Index (BMI).

Statistics from...
American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment: Arizona State University Spring 2009. Baltimore: American College Health Association; 2009. (n=2238)

What is Body Image?

  • Body Image is one’s perception of his/her appearance, which is composed of different factors and may include weight, body shape, and body size. [1] [2]
  • Several factors may affect one’s body image [2]:
    • Relationships (i.e. family, friends, and other people in one’s life)
    • Media
    • Celebrities
    • Representations of oneself (i.e. mirrors, pictures, videos, etc.)
    • Industries (i.e. entertainment, weight loss, fitness, etc.)
    • Businesses (i.e. restaurants, nightclubs, etc.)
    • Institutions and other organizations (i.e. government, universities, churches, etc.)
  • The media has a noteworthy influence on body image. This idea is further explored below.

Body Image and the Media

The media exerts considerable influence over our everyday life.  According to the National Eating Disorders Association:

  • "The average US resident is exposed to approximately 5,000 advertising messages a day." [6]
  • "The average adolescent watches 3-4 hours of TV per day." [6]
  • "A study of 4,294 network television commercials revealed that 1 out of every 3.8 commercials send[s] some sort of 'attractiveness message,' telling viewers what is or is not attractive." [6]

Computer-enhanced images portraying idealized and unrealistic body images fill today's media. Here are some examples of how the media portrays unattainable images:

Our society is filled with unrealistic idealizations of how we "should" look.  This influence is not only present in modern media images, such as magazine covers and TV ads, but also throughout the toy industry.  For example, consider the iconic Barbie Doll and GI JOE action figure.

  • If Barbie were life-sized [1]:
    • She would be 5'9" and weigh 110 pounds.  This means that she would weigh only 76% of what is deemed normal or healthy weight for her height. [1]  So, she would be underweight. 
    • Due to the lack of necessary body fat, she would not menstruate [1] (which is unhealthy).
      • According to the Mayo Clinic, "excessively low body weight interrupts many hormonal functions in your body [...] Women who have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, often stop having periods because of these abnormal hormonal changes." [4]  In addition to low body weight, low body fat can contribute to lack of a menstrual cycle.  For example, "women who participate in sports that require rigorous training, such as ballet, long-distance running or gymnastics, may find their menstrual cycle interrupted.  Several factors jointly contribute to the loss of periods in athletes, including low body fat, stress and high energy expenditure." [4]  Missing three to six (or more) periods is not normal!
    • Her measurements (bust-waist-hips, in inches) would be 39-18-33 [1], which are extremely unrealistic.
    • Applying Barbie's proportions to a real woman would look a little something like this...


Picture Source
Please note that the Barbie in this image is not her actual size but is to scale to a normal Barbie doll.

  • If GI Joe were life-sized [1]:
    • He would have a 27" bicep and a 55" chest.  If his waist were the same size as that of an average sized male, his waist and his biceps would nearly be identical in size.  In other words, his biceps would be "bigger than most competitive body builders" biceps [1], which is not normal or healthy.

Improving Body Image

In forming and improving our body image, it is important to remember the unrealistic images portrayed in the media - they are so unrealistic that even celebrities and 'sex symbols' are being digitally enhanced to fit 'the correct profile' of the 'perfect body'.  There are several ways to improve body image and one's perception of self:

  • Do NOT focus on weight and numbers.  Because people come in all shapes and sizes (i.e. different body types, different heights), there is no ideal weight that pertains to everyone or that accurately reflects one's health and fitness level.  Additionally, weight doesn't differentiate body compositions; in other words, how much of a person's weight is muscle mass, fat, or bone mass.  Most importantly, weight doesn't define a person's worth! [1]
  • Recognize that there are physiological limits.  There are limits to how much muscle mass each person can obtain.  It is unrealistic to strive for a very muscular and very lean body because it is not natural to be extremely muscular and yet extremely lean.  The human body requires a certain amount of fat to function properly. [1]
  • Respect your body type. [1]  Every person has a different body type.  Some people are thin and tall, while others are generally muscular and shorter, and yet others are generally pear or apple shaped and may carry more body fat in certain regions of their bodies.  There are many different body types that are not mentioned here and many people fall somewhere in between these general categories. [10]
  • Do NOT weigh yourself constantly.  Instead of focusing on numbers, focus on your quality of life, how your clothes fit (i.e. complement your body type), and how you feel. [1]
  • Invest in yourself instead of fad dieting.  Instead of wasting money on dieting and diet supplements, spend both your money and your time on personal indulgences, such as massages, flattering clothing, or pedicures and manicures. [1]
  • Move your body and ENJOY it (this may be a novel and radical concept).  Be active and participate in physical activity that is actually enjoyable.  Instead of doing exercise because you have to lose weight or gain muscle, focus on doing it because it is enjoyable and results in feeling energized. [1]
  • Recognize and combat FATISM.  Although it is not communicated as such, fat-ism "is a form of discrimination similar to sexism, racism, and classism.  Assumptions that body shape determines attractiveness, personality, and success are incorrect and unjust." [1]

Body Image and Eating Disorders

Although many different factors contribute to the development of eating disorders, our culture and in turn the media, as well as the resulting negative body images formed from these influences, do contribute to the development of eating disorders.  It is important to recognize that "media images that help to create cultural definitions of beauty and attractiveness are often acknowledged as being among those factors contributing to the rise of eating disorders." [6]

Eating Disorders [8]

Even though eating disorders are more likely to occur in females than males, males also experience eating disorders.  Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the two main types of eating disorders, but there are also other types of less common eating disorders.  If not treated, eating disorders may lead to death. 

  • Bulimia Nervosa
    • An eating disorder that "involves periods of overeating followed by purging, sometimes through self-induced vomiting or using laxatives" [8]
    • A person can be diagnosed with bulimia nervosa when he/she engages in binging or purging at least two times a week for a three-month period.
  • Anorexia Nervosa
    • According to the National Institute of Health, anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder "in which you become too thin, but you don't eat enough because you think you are fat" [8]
    • Weight is one factor used to diagnose anorexia nervosa.  A person whose weight is 15% less than what is considered to be a normal, healthy weight for a person of that age and height, could be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
  • Binge Eating Disorder
    • Binge eating or "out-of-control eating" involves consuming very large amounts of food in a short amount of time" [8]

Warning Signs for Eating Disorders [8]

Someone with an eating disorder may exhibit the following warning signs:

  • Skipping meals
  • Having explanations for not eating
  • Eating only certain foods, usually foods that are low in calories
  • Very concerned with weight, saying he/she is too fat when he/she is not overweight
  • Constantly looking in the mirror and picking out things that he/she does not like about his/her body
  • Removing him/herself from social activities that he/she would normally engage in
  • Consistently stating that he/she is fat
  • Using products to help with weight loss
  • Avoiding eating in public

Visit ASU Wellness

Visit the Body Image and Eating Disorders page on the ASU Wellness website for additional information.

Resources

  • ASU Wellness can provide additional information about Eating Disorders and Body Image
    • Contact wellness@asu.edu
    • Cost: FREE
  • National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)
    • Information and referral toll free helpline 1-800-931-2237
    • This helpline provides "support and guidance with compassion and understanding" for those personally dealing with an eating disorder and for those who know someone who is dealing with an eating disorder. [5]
  • National Eating Disorders Associaiton (NEDA) also offers a resource for finding local eating disorder support groups and treatment centers. 
    • In order to utilize this tool, go to this website and click on "Finding a support group or treatment provider."  Then, follow the steps for accepting their disclaimer and selecting a state and what you want to search for (treatment professionals, support groups, etc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content Development: Jelena Peric with contributions from Jennifer Kelly