Body image is the way you perceive your body, how you think others see you and how you feel about your appearance. It isn’t necessarily what is reflected in the mirror. Feeling negative and self-conscious about your body, or some characteristic such as your nose, hair or skin, can seriously impact your emotions and behaviors in many situations. If feelings like these sound familiar, you’re not alone: Surveys reveal that more than 50 percent of women and 40 percent of men are dissatisfied with their overall appearance. However, you might be wondering: “Will I ever be happy with my body?”
My body is too masculine—I have no hips, no boobs and my butt is flat. Guys never even notice me. Why would they? They want women who look like Playboy models. I have to get plastic surgery or I’ll never be happy.
What’s Maria’s deal? Maria is suffering from a negative body image and wants to fix it with plastic surgery. It is common for people to feel unhappy with their bodies or some part of their body at times. What’s more, the popularity of plastic surgery as an acceptable way to improve body image has been fueled by shows such as Extreme Makeover, The Swan and Nip Tuck. The decision to have surgery should not be made rashly; no surgery is without risk. Many people think that plastic surgery will make them happy. Although some people’s body image improves after surgery—especially if they are only dissatisfied with one specific aspect of their appearance—others are disappointed to find that their body image and happiness do not improve. Before going under the knife, consider working on improving your body image first. Try using the Body Image Workbook: An 8-Step Program for Learning to Like Your Looks by Thomas F. Cash.
I feel so small. I spend hours in the gym every day lifting weights, but I still feel like my arms are tiny and weak-looking. No matter how many crunches I do, my stomach still seems flabby. I think about it all the time. I am seriously considering juicing to bulk up. I know that there can be side effects, but nothing can be worse than how I feel right now.
Does Camilo have a problem? Camilo may be suffering from muscle dysmorphia (a.k.a. “bigorexia” or “reverse anorexia”). He is preoccupied with becoming muscular and big, feels as though he is extremely small even though he is muscular, spends excessive time working out and lifting weights at the expense of accomplishing other things and avoids showing his body in public out of embarrassment that it is too small. Approximately one million American men and boys have used anabolic-androgenic steroids at some point, and men with muscle dysmorphia often turn to steroids in an effort to reduce their distress (Kanayama et al., 2006). If you are suffering from muscle dysmorphia, the trained professionals at your school’s counseling center can help.
I am just so busy and stressed out with classes, studying and work. I am so fat and really need to lose weight. I try hard to eat only diet foods, but I never have time to go grocery shopping. I usually don’t eat all day long, but I am so starving by dinnertime that I go to a couple fast food restaurants and stuff my face. I feel like I have no control. Then I feel guilty and don’t know what else to do except to get rid of all that food I just ate by throwing up. I just don’t know how to get myself out of this cycle.
What’s wrong with Jennifer? Jennifer may be suffering from bulimia nervosa in which she cycles between binge eating (i.e., eating a large amount of food very rapidly while feeling out of control) and purging (i.e., self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, excessive exercising). People suffering from bulimia base their sense of self-worth on appearance and weight. It is a chronic mental illness with very serious medical complications. Bulimia affects 6 to 8% of college students, making it one of the most common psychological disorders in this population (Schlundt & Johnson, 1990). Effective treatments are available to help people overcome their impulses to binge and purge, including cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy and medication to treat depression that sometimes occurs with it. If you think you are experiencing symptoms of bulimia, you should seek the support of the trained professionals at your school’s counseling center.
I have always been overweight. I constantly think about how fat I am and how I need to diet, but it is so hard. When I watch TV and see muscular men getting all the women, I feel like a loser. I’ve never really had a girlfriend—no woman wants a fat guy like me. When I get stressed, bored, or mad I want to eat. Sometimes when I am feeling bad I will eat a lot of food—like a whole pizza. I just stuff it down without thinking too much. It makes me feel better at the time, but afterward I just end up feeling guilty and disgusted.
What’s the deal with Kevin? Kevin is suffering from binge eating disorder and emotional overeating. He has times when he eats a very large amount of food—much larger than anyone would consider a typical meal—in a very short time. During the binge, he zones out and feels like he doesn’t have control over his eating. People with binge eating disorder have a negative body image and are often overweight. Kevin also experiences emotional overeating, that is, he eats when he is not hungry in order to cope with negative emotions. If you are experiencing either of these problems, the trained professionals at your school’s counseling center can help you learn skills to overcome them.
Everyone says I am too thin, and my mom and friends say they are worried about me. They don’t know what they are talking about! I still feel fat. Even though I have lost weight, I still have bulging around my belly, the skin under my arms is saggy, and I still have cottage cheese thighs. I keep my daily calories at about 600, but I am thinking about cutting back. I am very proud when I am able to restrain myself from eating while everyone else eats around me. I already exercise every chance I get—I run for two hours, I do 100 crunches before and after I eat, and I even fidget as much as possible—every calorie counts. If I could lose just a little bit more, I would finally be satisfied.
What’s up with Laura? Laura is suffering from anorexia nervosa. People with anorexia considerably restrict the amount of food they eat, obsess about dieting and food, are underweight, have a strong fear of gaining weight or distorted belief that they are fat and their menstrual cycle stops. About 1% of women and men suffer from anorexia, which is associated with very serious medical complications, including death (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). This is a chronic condition that typically requires treatment. If you are suffering from anorexia, you should seek help at your school’s counseling center as soon as possible.
“My nose is so big and deformed. I feel like everyone is staring at it when I am sitting in class or walk around campus. I try to cover it with my hand, especially when I talk to people. I don’t even want to go out with my friends because it is so embarrassing. I spend a lot of time looking at it in the mirror and thinking about plastic surgery. My friends and family say that I am imagining things, but they are just trying to make me feel better about my defect.
What’s wrong with Robert? Robert is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, which is an extreme dissatisfaction and excessive preoccupation with a specific defect that is either imagined or extremely exaggerated. His preoccupation and distress seriously affects his normal activities and takes up a lot of his time. He worries that everyone is staring at or noticing his nose. People who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder often seek plastic surgery to fix their perceived defect; however, it rarely improves their body image and studies have found that often the obsession and dissatisfaction with the defect worsened after surgery (e.g., Phillips et al., 1993). If you are struggling with your body image, the trained professionals at your school’s counseling center can help.
The dreaded freshman 15. Most students have heard about it. Is it fact or fiction? A number of studies suggest that this may indeed be a myth, and that the majority of freshmen do not experience any change in their weight. Studies show that students who do, only gain an average of a few pounds—not even close to 15 (e.g., Hodge, Jackson, & Sullivan, 1993). However, the fact is that concern about the “freshman 15” is associated with negative attitudes about oneself and one’s body. So the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.References: