Body Image

When we think about our body type or try to explain to another how we perceive our bodies it is often a quite uncomfortable interaction. Have you ever sat with this discomfort long enough to ask yourself why it is such a difficult topic? Or even wondered what your internal perception may be perpetuating when it comes to your overall health and wellness? The fact is that body image is a very personal mental perspective about how you feel emotionally about your size, shape, and weight. It also includes how you see yourself, your perception of how you are seen by others, and what level of control you believe you have over the nature of your physical body.

There are many factors that influence the perceptions of body image with discernable explanations such as sociocultural influences, stigma, and discrimination with underlying anxiety, obsession, and low self-esteem (Donatelle, 2017). These situations, when left unacknowledged, can lead to the development of psychological disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) where one becomes obsessed with their appearance and has a distorted view of their body that often is accompanied by imagined or exaggerated flaws (Donatelle, 2017). While others may even develop what is described as social physique anxiety (SPA) where their fixation drives them so hard where diet and exercise are concerned that it destructs their ability to function socially or within a relationship (Donatelle, 2017).

You may now be wondering; how does someone find themselves in this place of extreme body dissatisfaction?  Family influences is one area that we can look to for examples as “sociocultural pressures emanating from the family promote body image and eating disturbance” (Fairburn & Brownell, 2002). This often looks like pressure to lose weight, criticism pertaining to body size, and idealizing slender frames. Parental controls such as a restrictive diet, regimented exercise, and negative comments about how one chooses to dress are frequently noted. But primarily it is the direct modeling of the parents own dieting practices, body image, and actual body type that influences adolescents disordered eating habits, the internalization of a thin-ideal, and negative body image (Fairburn & Brownell, 2002). Which makes sense as most children strive for and desire to please their parents by living up to what they perceive to be their parental expectations to be.

There is also the obvious involvement that contributes to body image that comes from peer influences through the desire to fit in, cease teasing or bullying, or meet weight requirements for extracurricular activities such as gymnastics or wrestling (Donatelle, 2017). In these situations, it is quite frequent to see a noticeable decrease in body dissatisfaction and disordered eating habits such as binge eating, restricting, or purging (Faiburn & Brownell, 2002). These behaviors are sighted as a typical cause or contributor to the onset of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

Finally, another contributing factor is that of perceived medical and health care discrimination. Individuals may feel that their medical provider considers them to be lacking self-control, being overindulgent, or lazy based on the perceived willful cause of obesity. They may avoid engaging in medical services all together when they feel they are being treated as unintelligent, with prejudice, not worth the time to counsel, and out of feelings of embarrassment (Fairburn & Brownell, 2002). It is important to note that this type of discrimination is not all patient perception. Research shows that physicians do in fact “report low rates of discussion of weight issues with their patients” (Fairburn & Brownell, 2002) and nurses have reported being reluctant to touch obese persons due to finding them to be repulsive (Fairburn & Brownell, 2002).

The important thing to consider here is how one’s body image can impact their overall health and wellness. Bulimia nervosa, which is described as “binge eating followed by inappropriate purging measures” (Donatelle, 2017. Pp 324) causes inflammation in the throat, neck, and jaw. The esophagus is severely irritated by the backflow of stomach acid and has a propensity to rupture. Additionally, the individual’s electrolytes will plummet, anemia will set in, and their blood pressure may become dangerously low. With binge-eating disorder the individual is most likely driven by a suffering emotional state that is exacerbated by the onset of obesity due to the act of overeating when they are not actually hungry and feeling depressed.  And anorexia nervosa, a complex disorder that derives from the thin-ideal however is intensified by underlying issues such as past traumatic experiences (physical and/or sexual abuse), obsessive-compulsive disorders and low self-esteem. These factors can cause further psychiatric problems with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. It is recommended that medical and emotional guidance is sought if any of the subject matter contained in this article plagues you or someone you know.



Donatelle, R. J. (2017). Health: The basics: Mastering health edition (12th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pearson. Chapter 10.

Fairburn, C. and Brownell, K. (2002). Eating Disorders and Obesity. A Comprehensive Handbook. (2nd ed.). The Guilford Press. New York, NY.

Published by Tricia Parido

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