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

Eating Disorders Sociological Factors

Eating disorders do not discriminate. The risk factors range from ideographic to cultural levels and do not bear boundaries where age or gender are concerned (Wal, Gibbons, & Grazioso; 2008). As stated in their article “The sociocultural model of eating disorder development: Application to a Guatemalan sample” Wal, Gibbons, and Grazioso state “Risk factors at the cultural level include rapid economic development, industrialization, urbanization, and modernization.” The study goes on to mention accompanying societal changes such as loosening gender roles, exposure to the cultural practices of other groups and varying societal norms. In fact, one of the predominant statements made widely throughout eating disorder research is the exposure to “Western” ideals around thinness.

Research supports significant changes from the mid-1990’s to the recent decade around body image, disordered eating, and diagnosable eating disorders. The numbers support a rise in reports among African American and other minority groups of women, (Starr & Kreipe, 2014; Gilbert, 2011; Comer, 2016 pg. 295) something that is not surprising when considering the Western societies views on diet, exercise, and the vision of health and wellness. Men, who, on paper, may only account for up to 10 percent of the documented cases of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, have societal pressures as well, and with their gender identity ranging from that of an effeminate male to what they view as a strong dominate or athletic man, those statistics along with additional disordered eating patterns are probably higher.

In the media source this week “The perfect image” produced by Griffith, J. in 2012, we learned that the prevalence of eating disorders among elite athletes is reported by NEDA (National Eating Disorder Association) to effect on average 42% of the females and 33% of the males. Although the cause is stated as unclear, it seems that with the early age in which these participants are encouraged by coaches, peers, and parents to diet as a means to improve would impose upon one with low self-esteem and body image issues, psychological habits toward the need for perfectionism. Couple this with gender-socialization experiences, sexual objectification, and self-objectification as in McKinley and Hyde’s, (1996) objectified body consciousness where the body is viewed by the self as they believe an outside observer would feel shameful if the “standard” as they imagine it is not met, and hold strong beliefs that with sufficient effort they can control through action their appearance (Jackson and Chen, 2015) it is no wonder that these numbers continue to grow.

The vulnerability to develop an eating disorder across gender, ethnicity, culture, and where substance use disorders are prevalent, is not as shocking when we look at the “who” is modeling “what” is attractive, and what is “cool.” Even the curvy Kardashian family will focus in on a body part they can control, the waistline, where corsets and other extreme measures have been thoughted. Most their show centers around fashion, beauty, exercise, diet, overindulgence, extreme swings, and even shame when struggling to meet goals, as has been the brothers’ primary “role” on the show. Jordan Sparks a recent vocal reality show winner dropped an extreme amount of weight and received high recognition for “becoming so beautiful.” Something that years before we witnessed Kelly Clarkson “achieve,” only her battle was not as “successful” in that she gave up the fight to fit into the mold. The list of public figures morphing in front of our eyes and the eyes of our youth is very long, but we should not lose site of our involvement with the perception of beauty and perfectionism.

The fact is that the risk factors predate the beginning of disordered eating and “predict the emergence of clinically significant eating disorders” (NEDA, 2016). The risk factors for any/all eating disorders are stated by NEDA to begin with body dissatisfaction, negative affect, thin-ideal internalization, diet, and family social support deficits. Other risk factors that may hold lower numbers in studies but are as equally important to be mindful of are low self-esteem, social problems such as social withdrawal, maladaptive coping skills, solitary eating, and negative comments about eating (NEDA, 2016).

Our culture of men and women alike is diverse. Further, it glorifies “thinness” and “muscularity” as the “perfect body” and places a person’s physical shape, weight, or overall appearance to be of primary value, not the inner qualities and strengths. Those with a history of being teased or ridiculed for their size or weight will develop troubled inner personal relationships, have difficulty expressing their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and opinions because they believe they are inadequate and lack control in their life. The adverse effects of the disordered eating behaviors of dieting and fasting due to body dissatisfaction or body dysmorphia imposed through social pressures and thin-ideal internalization do not see race, color, gender, or age; just societal norms and desires.

Even with all the evidence around the development of eating disorders pointing to sociocultural perspectives, the ability to develop a comprehensive sociocultural risk factor model, in my opinion, is not possible, without the integration of the biological, behavioral and cognitive modalities. In other words, “biopsychosocial theories state that abnormality results from the interaction of genetic, biological, developmental, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social, cultural, and societal influences” (Comer, 2016; pg 73). In fact, the complexities of eating disorder conditions involve aspects from all levels. Therefore, focusing solely on the external forces that drive the internal processing of what is forming the maladaptive behavior would be incomplete.



Comer, R. J. (2016). Fundamentals of abnormal psychology (8th ed.). New York, NY: Worth

Jackson, T., & Chen, H. (2015). Features of objectified body consciousness and sociocultural perspectives as risk factors for disordered eating among late-adolescent women and men.  Journal of Counseling Psychology,62(4),741–752. Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.

Griffith, J. (Producer). (2012). The perfect image [Video file]. Retrieved from

NEDA (National eating disorders association) Factors that may contribute to eating disorders. Retrieved from

Jillon S. Vander Wal, Judith L. Gibbons, & Maria del Pilar Grazioso (2008). The sociocultural model of eating disorder development: Application to a Guatemalan sample. Retrieved from

Published by Tricia Parido