It is not a surprise to most people that health studies point to
popular culture as a perpetrator of body image which has
corresponded to the self image and well being of women AND men.
What may surprise you is that this is not a new phenomenon.
Is the rail thin appearance of runway and magazine models a new
obsession which has started young girls and women on a path
towards starvation, malnutrition and disorders such as anorexia
The western world created a popular culture of ‘you can never be
to thin’ as early as the 20’s when flapper styles caused women to
starve and over exercise their bodies to attain the flat chested,
androgynous look that was popular at that time.
The fuller figure did make a comeback during the depression, but
quickly reverted in the 60’s with thinness being equated with
Studies on self image indicate that women tend to consider
themselves heavier than they really are. This distorted body
image is linked to unhealthy dietary practices like anorexia and
Although distorted body image affects men and women of all age
ranges, it is middle and upper class women who are most commonly
affected in thinking they are too heavy and need to loose weight.
Girls as young as nine are following the paths set down by
mothers, sisters and others.
On the other hand, men with body image problems often feel they
are too thin and use of steroids by youths trying to build muscle
mass shows that they are also adversely affected by media
portrayals of the body.
Bad self image is learned. This can be clearly illustrated by a
study conducted by WHO with Canadian students. The study showed
that the confidence of children dropped dramatically through the
pre-teen years. The percentage of 11 year old boys and girls who
felt confident all of the time was 47% and 35% respectively. By
age 15 the percentage dropped to 30% for boys and a disappointing
14% for girls.
What are we teaching our children?
In a quote from Health Canada based on a research program for
VITALITY the following report was made: “Slimness in western
cultures is associated not only with success and sophistication,
but with character virtues. Conversely, obesity is the opposite
of all these things and, particularly in the case of women, is
associated with failure and a collapse of self-discipline.”
Self image is tied to several factors, only one of which is body
image. Self image is part of self awareness and starts early in
childhood, even before speech. As we become adults many tie their
self image to such factors as job success, relationships and
abilities. Body image – if a person has a negative view of
themselves physically – can be one of the most dramatic
Health Canada’s findings show that although self image may be
subject to change throughout our life, our “fundamental sense of
feeling worthy or unworthy (self-esteem) remains relatively
stable”. This means that it is while children are still young
that the most impact is made on their future self image. Creating
a safe, nurturing and loving environment can be the greatest
protection against negative body image and low self-esteem.
The information contained in this article is for educational purposes
only and is not intended to medically diagnose, treat or cure any
disease. Consult a health care practitioner before beginning any
health care program.