Active people live in an appearance-conscious world where each one knows what he/she is supposed to look like. Women are supposed to be sleek, slender, and slim; men bulky, muscular, and trim. Yet few people naturally possess their desired physique. Most are ordinary mortals, burdened with bumps, bulges, fat, and fleshiness. Many spend considerable energy covering up their perceived blemishes with baggy clothing, or try to reshape themselves with rigorous diet and exercise programs. They may struggle for years feeling inadequate and insecure. Those who contentedly exercise in skimpy clothes in public despite their flaws deserve great credit!
In general, about one-third of all Americans are truly dissatisfied with their appearance, women more so than men. Women most commonly complain about their thighs, abdomen, breasts, and buttocks. Men are dissatisfied with their abdomen, upper body, and balding heads. Sometimes the problem is imaginary (such as the anorectic skater who complains about her fat thighs); sometimes it is real and ranges from a mild complaint about love handles that hang over the running shorts to a major preoccupation with thunder thighs that results in relentless dieting and exercise. More likely than not, you have at least one body part that bothers you. The following Body Image Test may uncover the extent of your concerns:
1. List five body parts in order of dissatisfaction and write exactly what you do not like about their appearance. For example: fat thighs; small breasts; crooked teeth; wrinkled skin; and, protruding stomach.
2. Write out how you normally describe these parts when you are looking in the mirror (i.e., disgusting flabby thighs) and notice if your body talk is negative and self-critical, or objective and neutral.
3. To what extent do you feel embarrassed or self-conscious about your appearance around others? Do you imagine others are checking you out and thinking something negative about you because of your appearance?
4. Note the ways you feel ashamed of your body part and have tried to change or improve its appearance (i.e., liposuction, hair transplant, baggy cover-up clothes).
5. Think about how you feel about your appearance: dissatisfied? insecure? distressed? obsessed? embarrassed? Is your appearance too far up on the list of factors that define who you are (i.e., intelligent, caring, good worker... but balding)?
Athletes, particularly women, are not immuned from the epidemic of body dissatisfaction. Despite their fitness, many perceive themselves as having unacceptable bodies and go onto develop eating disorders out of desperation. According to Dr. James Rosen, body image researcher and psychology professor at the University of Vermont in Burlington, eating disorders would not exist if people liked their bodies. In fact, the best predictor of who will develop an eating disorder relates to who struggles most with body image. …