The Relationship Between Body Dissatisfaction and Eating Disorder Among Exercisers

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sue-Yee Tan, Wan-Ping Yew

Body dissatisfaction is an important risk factor which contributes to eating disorder. This research aimed to identify the relationship between body dissatisfaction and eating disorder among exercisers. It was hypothesized that exercises with a higher level of body dissatisfaction tended to have eating disorder. In the present study, a total of 100 participants were recruited. The results showed a positive relationship between body dissatisfaction and eating disorder among the exercisers (x² (100) = 6.233, p>.005), thus the hypothesis was accepted. The limitations and implications were further discussed.
1.0 Background
The world has become increasingly more competitive, so much so, that people today compete not only in terms of amount of material assets amassed but also in terms of their psychical image. From a young age, we are exposed to dolls with beautiful faces and perfect body shapes, for example, the famous Barbie doll. Most of the girls have been obsessed with ‘her’ from their childhood. While playing with Barbie dolls, the idea of the ‘ideal woman’ was indirectly implemented into the minds of young girls; a girl who is tall with a slender body shape, small waist, fair skin, long blonde hair and big eyes was considered beautiful (Strickland, 2004). Gradually, Barbie dolls gave an impression to society of what is considered beautiful and precious. For instance, Cindy Jackson who was so influenced by Barbie dolls that she had been obsessed with the dolls since she was six years old. She claimed, ‘I looked at a Barbie doll when I was 6 and said ‘This is what I want to look like’. I think a lot of little 6-year-old girls or younger, even now are looking at that doll and thinking, 'I want to be her.' (Cindy Jackson, 48 years old on CBS news, 2009). In fact, the Barbie doll’s body proportion was unrealistic and not of the average shape compared to the healthy body shapes (Winterman, 2009). However, many people are still striving to achieve the unrealistic thin looks, which have contributed to life threatening disorders even at a young age. According to a study done by Dittmar, et al., 2006), children who were exposed to Barbie dolls at an early age, suffered detrimental effects to their body image, even at five to seven years old. The study has suggested that the ultrathin images have made their self-esteem decrease and it also increased body dissatisfaction at the early developmental stages. Hence, it is not surprising that at the early stages of life, young girls have already set the doll as their model which leads to the issue of body image problems. Child experts from University College London’s Institute of Child Health found that children from the age of six have been suffering from anorexia (Daily Mail, 2011).
Body image is not merely about physical appearances or attractiveness, instead it is a mental representation that people have created to guide their thinking on how they look; it might or might not correlate with how others perceive them (Psychology Today, n.d.). Dating back to the early 1940’s it was found that people with a lean body image were perceived by others as anxious, passive and introverted. By the late 1980’s, the perception had tremendously changed to a different perspective that lean body images were considered sexually appealing (Spillman & Everington, 1989). Moreover, the thin ideal has evolved over time, the desirable body shape had changed from a voluptuous body figure to today’s ideal body shape of an extreme thin body shape as evidenced by the body measurements of Playboy magazine’s models and Miss America’s pageant contestants between the years 1959 to 1978 (Garner et. al., 1980). However, many past researches have indicated that women have been comparing themselves to the ideal ‘model-like’ body shape that they desire which leads to negative consequences.
To date, body image has been treated as an important feature of boosting self-confidence and an assurance to lift up one’s personal value or self-worth. For example, “For the most part, what a woman observes in the mirror is what she uses as a measure of her worth as a human being” (Lerner et. al., 1973). In order to improve one’s body image, people would try to be slimmer or maintain the ideal body shape as the description of a beautiful and attractive woman only applies to those who are underweight and thin (Puhl & Boland, 2001; Leung et. al., 2001). In the study done by Puhl & Boland (2001), only underweight females were considered beautiful compared to those who were in the range of average weight and overweight.
Therefore, the trend to have an ideal ‘model-like’ body shape has correlated with eating disorders. Eating disorders are characterized by a consistent pattern of severe disturbance in eating behavior. It influences one’s emotional and physical problems that will lead to life-threatening consequences; it includes anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, extreme emotions, dysfunctional behaviors and attitudes that contain food and weight issues (National Eating Disorders Association, 2005).
In the past 40 years, occurrences of eating disorders have increased from year to year; adult women with anorexia nervosa are statistically shown to have increased from 0.5 percent to 1.0 percent and 1.0 percent to 2.0 percent for adult women who have been diagnosed with bulimia nervosa (Academy for Eating Disorders, n.d.). Individuals with eating disorders may either have less desire for foods or are uncontrolled in food intake and might just need smaller amounts of food or overeating to feel satisfied (National Institute of Mental Health, 2011). Furthermore, according to Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders approximately 24 million people of all ages have eating disorder in United State, among 200 people, 1 person will have suffered with an eating disorder. In addition, eating disorders have been recorded as having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, which is 4% for anorexia nervosa, 3.9% for bulimia nervosa and 5.2% for eating disorders not otherwise specified.
Besides that, there are no gender differences in being self-conscious about the way a person look. Even though body dissatisfaction is more common among females than males, it is important to comprehend that both genders are concerned about their body image.
Generally, females would desire the ‘ideal’ thin body shape and the males would desire to have a masculine look. According to Furnham et. al (2002), most women show high dissatisfaction with their bodies by desiring to be thinner and men show body dissatisfaction by hoping to be heavier or thinner, equally. According to Prevos (2005), studies have shown that women and men feel dissatisfaction regarding their current body shape. According to DMH in US (2006), about 10 to 15 percent of individuals who are diagnosed with bulimia and anorexia were male. Hence, this shows that the issue of body dissatisfaction is not merely limited to one gender.
Furthermore, many efforts such as dieting and excessive exercise have been undertaken by individuals in order to achieve the ‘ideal’ body shape. According to Cohen et. al (2009), a total of 43% of respondents were dissatisfied with their current body weight. One-fifth of all respondents had undergone counseling by physicians to lose weight, and more than half (54%) of all respondents had tried to lose weight in the study. For those who tried to lose weight in the study, about 79% dieted, 53% exercised, 37% used any form of American or Brazilian diet pills, 2% vomited and 4% had weight-reduction surgery such as gastric bypass or liposuction (Cohen et. al., 2009) to helped in weight reduction. In addition, according to Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, more than half the teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys employed several unhealthy weight control manners such as fasting, smoking cigarettes, taking laxatives, vomiting and skipping meals to avoid weight gain.
Often people have made judgments about their weight with unhealthy patterns and have feelings of dislike towards their body image. Low self-confidence and negative thoughts have indirectly encouraged women to mistreat themselves in an unhealthy way. The unrealistically, underweight body shape has becoming a long-term assignment to achieve even for those who are in the normal-weight category. Females aspire to be as skinny as possible or to be almost anorexic in size in search of the ‘perfect body’ to represent one’s worthiness and social status in society; the same goes for males who are over-concerned about their body image. Hence, the thin-culture has become a serious issue that might negatively influence a person’s life.
(to be continued)


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