Body Image

Body image is the subjective opinion or description one has of his or her own physical appearance. The body image is also shaped by the reactions of others to a person's physical appearance as he or she perceives them. The concept of body image usually begins in infancy and develops slowly over time. People can have from very negative to very positive perception of body image and one's degree of concern with it can vary depending on age and other factors.

Body image is studied by psychoanalysis and within this area it is generally not related to any objective measure or based on facts, but is subjective or based on opinions and feelings in nature. As a result, one's opinion of his or her own body image may or may not be parallel with others' judgment of this person's body image. Body image is also closely associated with self-esteem, which is defined as a person's inward feeling of value and worthiness.

Parents that are too concerned with their children's appearances and weights can cause a problem with body image, especially when young people go through puberty. Children are also under pressure from their peers to look or act in a particular way, while advertisements in the media also try to imply a certain body look. Older children and young adults are more sensitive with body image and vulnerable to external pressures because they are more concerned about others' perception of their appearance than other age groups. As a result, their self-esteem may suffer as their body changes dramatically from adolescence to adulthood.

Scientific research has found that personal contacts with parents and family members in the form of hugs, kisses or other forms of affection can help an infant develop an early positive body image. Meanwhile, lack of such contact can affect an infant in exactly the opposite way and create an early negative body image.

Individuals generally use the body image to compare themselves against a model, or ideal, image and people use it to compare others through physical characteristics and traits. In general, women are more concerned with their body image than men because they are usually more critical of their body as a whole and of individual parts of it. However, concern with body image has become more important with men, narrowing the gap between the two genders. A perception of a poor body image is often related to a feeling of being overweight, especially with women, while with men it relates with a desire for more muscle mass.

In general, a poor body image can result in constant dieting, obesity and eating disorders along with depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and overall emotional distress. People with good exercise habits, excellent emotional and mental states, as well as positive personal and sexual experiences, generally perceive their body image more accurately and positively than people who do not have those characteristics and experiences.

People can often become too self-conscious of their body image if they do not have a healthy regard for themselves. Sometimes they can feel depressed, anxious and isolated and can use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to offset such feelings. Some people also turn away from their friends and their regular activities, becoming withdrawn and showing no interest in themselves and the world around them.

All children are concerned with some aspect of their body, which is normal and is not a medical problem. However, parents should pay attention to their children's excessive concerns about their appearance and looks.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an obsession with one's body image. It is a mental disorder which usually appears in adolescence. A person suffering from BDD is very critical of his or her body image even though anyone looking at the person sees nothing out of the ordinary. In BDD a person is preoccupied with an imagined defect in his or her appearance or is overly concerned with a minor physical flaw. BDD often leads to depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and suicide.

The systematic study of the body image started in the 1960s when psychiatrist Hile Bruch stated that negative body image was the cause for the development of anorexia nervosa. After that body-image disturbance has been often linked to the development of eating disorders and the onset of dieting. There was renewed interest in body image in the 1980s. Judith Rodin and her colleagues said the widespread concern about body image among women was a "normative discontent".

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Psychology of Appearance
Nichola Rumsey; Diana Harcourt.
Open University Press, 2005
Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice
Thomas F. Cash; Thomas Pruzinsky.
Guilford Press, 2002
Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Comprehensive Handbook
Christopher G. Fairburn; Kelly D. Brownell.
Guilford Press, 2005 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: The multi-chapter section "Psychological and Social Factors, Dieting, and Body Image" starts on p. 73
Body Panic: Gender, Health, and the Selling of Fitness
Shari L. Dworkin; Faye Linda Wachs.
New York University Press, 2009
An Evaluation of the Construct of Body Image
Banfield, Sophie S.; McCabe, Marita P.
Adolescence, Vol. 37, No. 146, Summer 2002
Body Image Dissatisfaction and Self-Esteem: A Consumer-Centric Exploration and a Proposed Research Agenda
Krishen, Anjala S.; Worthen, Dominique.
Journal of Consumer Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, Vol. 24, January 1, 2011
Male Voices on Body Image
Bottamini, Gina; Ste-Marie, Diane M.
International Journal of Men's Health, Vol. 5, No. 2, Summer 2006
Body Image and Female Sexual Functioning and Behavior: A Review
Woertman, Liesbeth; van den Brink, Femke.
The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 49, No. 2-3, March-June 2012
Development and Structure of the Body Image
Seymour Fisher.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.1, 1986
Development and Structure of the Body Image
Seymour Fisher.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, vol.2, 1986
Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences, and Remedies
Kelly D. Brownell; Rebecca M. Puhl; Marlene B. Schwartz; Leslie Rudd.
Guilford Press, 2005
Through the Wardrobe: Women's Relationships with Their Clothes
Ali Guy; Eileen Green; Maura Banim.
Berg, 2001
Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression
Jana Evans Braziel; Kathleen Le Besco.
University of California Press, 2001
Remaking the Body: Rehabilitation and Change
Wendy Seymour.
Routledge, 1998
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