Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Perceptions and body image

I've been thinking about body image and perceptions lately. We all know that many of us who have/had eating disorders more or less have a skewed perception of ourselves. Much of the time we can't see how others perceive us. Someone may say we are thin when we think/feel the complete opposite. Or maybe not even think fat but that we need to lose weight, etc.

I've often wondered how/if our perceptions of what is thin/fat has changed compared to other people who have not had eating disorders. Is our definition different? Do we tend to think that someone is too thin whom others would consider "normal?" Or someone whose definition of fat we consider "normal?" Are we just more sensitive to the rest of the general population biased by our own experiences?

In a recent BBC article, it said that adults (Britons) misjudge weight problems. According to the article, just over half (53%) were overweight or obese with only 75% identifying themselves as overweight. This was opposed to 1999 when 43% were classified as overweight or obese and 81% identified themselves that way.

One of the researchers in this article made a few interesting points in that the idea of "normal" for what is considered overweight may have changed. Another factor was that the media often showed those who had very high BMI, thus making people think only if they reached this size were they overweight. Hmm, does this all sound familiar but switch overweight to "thin" and high BMI to "very low BMI?"

I guess I'm just wondering what other people's thoughts are about their perceptions of themselves and other people in terms of body image. For me, I do think having dealt with eating disorders has changed my definitions of the various spectrum of sizes of people. I know I'm more sensitive to any type of body image talk whether it be someone who is too skinny to someone who is obese.

However, yet, at the same time, I can also see the viewpoint of healthcare professionals, though they have unfortunately exaggerated the "epidemic." My opinion is that this would not have been considered had the BMI guidelines remained the same. This article in the Washington Post discussed the possible repercussions when the changes were first made to lower the overweight threshold from 27.8 to 25. I guess I wonder what would have happened if things had been left alone. Would we really be talking about this "obesity epidemic?" And again, how would that have changed how we perceived what is thin/normal/overweight?


Steph said...

I've always wondered about this too. I think having an eating disordered past definitely contributes to different definitions of size; what is REALLY "too thin", or "normal", etc.
For some reason Kristen Johnston keeps coming to mind- from her losing 60 pounds to "feeling great" and healthy, despite looking completely malnourished now.
But anyway, you bring up some really good points here. :)

kb said...

I know that I try to fight the idea that "losing weight is good", at least personally. As much as I want to lose weight irrationally, I fight that impulse and work to stay well within a normal range. There are a lot of women I know who tote the attitude of "any weight loss is a good thing", and I certainly try to combat that idea, and it is because of my past and present.
- Kristina

Tiptoe said...

Steph, glad to hear I'm not the only one who thinks about this. I think things are always relative to our experiences, especially with these types of illnesses.

Kristina, it's great that you try to keep a healthy perspective (even when the ED may be raging loud) in not wanting to lose weight. I can imagine that can be difficult sometimes when there are other influences around you. Keep hanging in there.