An Analytical Review of Body Image and Body Image Disturbance
Throughout life, but particularly in adolescence, there are numerous stressors placed on individuals. These stressors include family, friends and other societal pressures. In my experience, one major stressor during my adolescence was how I fit in amongst my peers in terms of my appearance. Body image, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as cited in Rhoten (2016, p. 1002), is “a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others”. On the other hand, body image disturbance can be defined as “severe emotional distress experienced by someone with a negative body image, which impairs their daily psychosocial functioning” (Cash, Phillips, Santos, & Hrabosky, 2004 as cited in Charles & Mclean 2017, p. 784). The concept of body image and body image disturbance has been well researched and there are a number of potential solutions for individuals facing issues with their body image issues. I have personal experience with body image disturbance and was able to use certain interventions to ameliorate my perception of self and lead a healthier lifestyle.
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As an adolescent, I was obsessed with my looks and how others perceived me. This obsession was further exacerbated by the fact that I was quite overweight and lacked in confidence. I was a large child, but I never considered myself to be overweight until I began comparing myself to my peers in high school. I gained a significant amount of weight in my first two years of high school likely due to increased freedom from my parents and from trying to fit in among my thin friends. There was a lot of pressure amongst my peers to be thin and to be attractive for the opposite sex. I felt ashamed by my body and was often upset about my inability to lose weight and become more attractive. I wanted to achieve the “ideal” body but did not understand how to get it and that perhaps due to my height and bone structure I may never be as thin as I would like to be. This led me to develop body image disturbance. I believe now that this experience is reflective of the concept of self-objectification (described as a model of body image disturbance) as discussed in Mills & Fuller-Tyszkiewicz (2016). The authors define self-objectification as a relatively stable individual difference or trait, characterized by habitual body-monitoring and self-evaluation (Mills & Fuller-Tyskiewicz 2016, Fredrickson & Roberts 1997, and Fredrickson et al. 1998). This concept is drawn from objectification theory, which proposes that women internalize their sexualization and objectification and begin to tie their self-worth to their appearance (Fredrickson & Roberts 1997 as cited in Buchanan et al. 2013). Furthermore, Mills & Fuller-Tyskiewicz (2016, p. 115) examined how the “thin ideal” is an unrealistic goal for most women, and that the constant evaluation of one’s body can “trigger feelings of dissatisfaction, shame and anxiety about one’s appearance”.
In other instances, I observed the constant comparison to others among my peers, which subsequently led me to do the same, which is a possible reason for the development of my body image disturbance. This experience of body image disturbance is supported by research conducted by Walters-Brown & Hall (2012) where the authors describe interactions with peers as an antecedent for body image disturbance due to social comparison. Social comparison was described as a risk for negative self-perception of body image (Walters-Brown & Hall, 2012).
In Rhoten (2016, p. 1005), the author describes “self-perception of a change in appearance and displeasure with [that] change” as one of the defining attributes of body image disturbance. At age 15, I weighed my heaviest at 240 pounds. This realization was devastating to me. I lacked understanding about healthy eating and a healthy mindset despite efforts by my parents to educate me, so I soothed my soul with mindless food items like bagels and cookies. The combination of weight gain and difficulty in the commitment to eating healthy food items increased my anxiety and dropped my self-confidence dramatically. I now understand that this experience can be defined by another one of Rhoten’s (2016, p. 1006) defining attributes of body image disturbance with “psychological distress regarding changes in appearance and/or function”.
I was fortunate to attend a weight-loss camp in the summer of 2013 that changed my life dramatically. Through the combination of exercise, healthy eating, mindfulness and therapeutic interventions, I was able to ameliorate my body image perception and put myself on a path to healing and a healthier lifestyle. Upon reflection, I am proud to say that I have maintained my commitment to bettering myself through the use of exercise, and I also see a therapist to help cope with numerous issues, body image included.
There are a number of effective interventions for individuals experiencing body image disturbance. One intervention to ameliorate negative body image issues is the use of aerobic and/or strength exercise training. In a study conducted by Ginis et al. (2014), the researchers sought to compare the effects of aerobic-training versus strength training on body image among young women who had previous body image disturbances. The results from the study indicated that both types of exercise improved satisfaction in body image perception in measures of affective, cognitive, and subjective satisfaction (Ginis et al., 2014). Another intervention that has been proven to be effective in treating body image disturbance, particularly in individuals with disordered eating habits, is the use of cognitive-behavioural body image interventions (Bhatnagar, Wisniewski, Solomon & Heinberg 2013). This study involved an eight-session CBT group for individuals with eating disorders and aimed to use techniques that address symptoms of attitudinal and behavioural body image disturbances, psychoeducation, goal-setting, breathing, muscle relaxation, desensitization to body image triggers, cognitive restructuring, and relapse prevention techniques (Bhatnagar, Wisniewski, Solomon & Heinberg 2013).
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The concept of body image is a complex and multifaceted topic that is discussed in a number of different ways. In research, there are a number of studies that examine the concept of body image disturbance and disordered eating and how they play into each other (Bhatnagar et. al 2013). After reading studies on this topic, I see how essential it is to assess an individual’s body image perception to evaluate how it is affecting other aspects of their life and how it has contributed to other issues such as “negative self-perception, negative emotional states, and unhealthy body-related behaviours” (Walters-Brown & Hall, 2012, p. 553). It is also important to note that although many girls and women experience body image disturbance, so do boys and men, with homosexual men in particular (Nguyen & Margo 2015, Buchanan et al. 2013). It is critical to include an assessment on body image perception for both genders as it may contribute to other disorders.
This analysis on body image and body image disturbance was critical in enhancing my knowledge on a concept I had a negative experience with firsthand. The research conducted will contribute to my understanding and remind me to integrate body image perception into my assessments of patients. It is difficult to escape judgment and comparison of others in the world we live in due to constant portrayals of the “ideal” body type in media and in society. It is comforting to know there are effective and manageable treatments available for this difficult and incredibly personal issue.
- Bhatnagar, K. A. C., Wisniewski, L., Solomon, M. & Heinberg, L. (2013). Effectiveness and feasibility of a cognitive-behavioural group intervention for body image disturbance in women with eating disorders. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69 (1), 1-13. Doi: 10.1002/jclp.21909
- Buchanan, N. T., Bluestein, B. M., Nappa, A. C., Woods, K. C., Depatie, M. M. (2013). Exploring gender differences in body image, eating pathology, and sexual harassment. Body Image, 10 (3), 352-360. Doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2013.03.004
- Charles, C. A. D. & Mclean, S-K. (2017). Body image disturbance and skin bleaching. British Journal of Psychology, 108 (4), 783-796. Doi: 10.1111/bjop.12241
- Martin Ginis, K. A., Strong, H. A., Arent, S. M., Bray, S. R. & Bassett-Gunter, R. L. (2014). The effects of aerobic-versus strength-training on body image among young women with pre-existing body image concerns. Body Image, 11 (3), 219-227. Doi: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.02.004
- Mills, J. & Fuller-Tuszkiewicz, M. (2016). Fat talk and body image disturbance: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 41 (1), 114-129. Doi: 10.1177/0361684316675317
- Nguyen, G.T. & Margo, K.L. (2015). Male body image and weight-related disorders. JAMA, 313 (8). 856. Doi: 10.1001/jama.2015.424
- Rhoten, A. B. (2016). Body image disturbance in adults treated for cancer – a concept analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 72(5), 1001-1011. doi:10.1111/jan.12892
- Walters-Brown, B. & Hall, M. J. (2012). Women’s body image: implications for mental health nursing interventions. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 33, 553-559. Doi: 10.3109/01612840.2012.663459
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