Development and Structure of the Body Image - Vol. 1

By Seymour Fisher | Go to book overview

4
Body Size Experiences

NORMAL PERSONS
Research into the size aspects of body experience has continued to thrive vigorously. A major part of the energy devoted to studying body image phenomena has been channeled into an analysis of why people differ in their perceptions of how big or small they are. It has long been obvious that size variables are importantly involved in persons' feelings about their bodies. Young children have to cope with the contrast between their own tiny body and the hulk of adults. Adolescents have to adapt to changes in magnitude of key body organs such as the penis and the breasts. Adults are forever fascinated with whether their size specifications match cultural norms. People wonder whether they are too short or too tall, whether specific body parts like the nose or the ears are too big, whether sexual parts are up to par, and so forth. A good deal of clinical observation and theorizing has been cast in body size terms. Adler linked certain compensatory behaviors with being too short. Freud thought significant aspects of feminine behavior could be traced to having genitals he thought were inferior in size to those of males. The clinical literature is full of accounts of unusual size distortions experienced by schizophrenics, amputees with phantom limbs, persons under the influence of drugs like LSD, and those who have suffered brain damage. Strange body size sensations have been linked with special subjective states presumably typical of being hypnotized, falling asleep, waking up, feeling anxious, and losing one's usual spatial markers ( Fisher, 1970).
Summary of Literature (1958-1968)
Before analyzing the literature of body size perceptions, let us set the stage by quoting Fisher's ( 1970) brief summary of the pertinent work published in the period 1956-1968. He noted:

What has emerged from the mass of observations concerning the individual's perception of his own body size?

1. There does seem to be a consistent trend for that which is large (or mesomorphic) to be labeled as masculine and that which is small to be linked with femininity. But one cannot say that there are consistent sex differences in over- or underestimating the size of one's body or in the accuracy of such estimation. . . .

-159-

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