body_image_new.jpgIt's easy to believe that you are your own boss when it comes to appreciating and loving your body, but a study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology shows that the opposite is true: it seems women base their body image on how others think of them. Instead of looking at their body mass index (BMI), which measures a person's weight in relation to height, women's appreciation of their bodies depends on how much others value them.

"It's not our weight, but instead whether others in our social network appreciate us," Tracy Tylka, associate professor of psychology at the Ohio State University and lead author of the study is quoted as saying. "That implies that people should be convinced to be less judgmental and to focus less on weight."

The researchers surveyed 801 women from ages 18 to 65 and asked them about how they thought their close friends, the media, and they themselves perceived their bodies. Besides the main findings above, they discovered that "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," says Tylka.

This means that a woman with low BMI can have a poor body image if the people around her don't like her appearance, and a heavier woman can be perfectly happy with her body if her loved ones accept her for who she is.

The study also discovered that heavier women aged 26 to 65 were more likely to think others wouldn't accept them if they weighed more, as well as being more prone to ignoring their bodies' hunger cues. "This could mean that people who are heavier feel [pressured] by others to lose weight, so they go on a diet, taking them away from paying attention to those internal cues," Tylka explains. "Perhaps, over time, women who are heavier start to mistrust their bodies, including when they are truly hungry and full."

Tylka says this is a reflection of how much society needs to change when it comes to perceiving weight. "We are in charge of our attitudes, ultimately," she is quoted as saying. "We don't want to send a message that the only thing that matters is that others accept our bodies. But others' opinions do have an impact. And we need as a society to stop judging people based on their appearance and weight."


Want to read about more studies related to weight issues? Check these out on FN:

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(Photo by vic xia via Flickr Creative Commons)
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