Women’s body image based on others’ opinions, not weight

(Source: Ohio State University: Journal of Counseling Psychology)

Women’s appreciation of their bodies is only indirectly connected to their body mass index (BMI), a common health measure of weight relative to height, according to recent research.

The most powerful influence on women’s appreciation of their bodies is how they believe important others view them, the study suggests. On the flip side, the more women are able to focus on the inner workings of their body – or how their bodies function and feel – rather than how they appear to others, the more they will appreciate their own bodies.

And the more a woman appreciates her body, the more likely she is to eat intuitively – responding to physical feelings of hunger and fullness rather than emotions or the mere presence of food.

“Women who focus more on how their bodies function and less on how they appear to others are going to have a healthier, more positive body image and a tendency to eat according to their bodies’ needs rather than according to what society dictates,” said Tracy Tylka, associate professor ofpsychology at Ohio State University and senior author of the study.

Other studies have suggested that about 50 per cent of women appreciate their bodies. This work is geared toward examining how they arrive at their satisfaction with their bodies, and how they avoid any pitfalls that might interfere with their positive thinking.

Ultimately, the researchers say, it boils down to respect. If women are going to treat their bodies well – through nourishment, health screenings and exercise, for example – they first have to like their bodies.

“And it turns out we look to whether others accept our bodies to determine whether we appreciate them ourselves,” Tylka said. “It’s not our weight, but instead whether others in our social network appreciate us. That implies that people should be convinced to be less judgmental and to focus less on weight.”
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