The Fight Against Eating Disorders: Factors That Promote a Positive Body Image in Women

For women surrounded by images of Victoria Secret models and Sports Illustrated swimsuit goddesses, the pressure to not feel okay about your own physical appearance is intense. And, in case we think the whole body image issue is being over-analyzed, consider British superstar singer Adele who recently out-sold Michael Jackson’s prior record sales mark. The singer has broken just about every imaginable high-water mark and can be considered nothing less than a smashing success…….unless you listen to fashion designers, one of whom referred to the maven as ‘a little too fat.’Ours is a culture that insists that no matter what your female achievement in life, it is incomplete unless you are also thin and beautiful. So how can young women today escape the pressure to be picture perfect which leads so many into life-threatening eating disorders?

Recently a study was carried out through the University of Arizona which sought to find out what factors contribute to a women’s healthy and resilient self-image. That study polled over 300 college freshmen females from two separate universities to find out what the answers might be. The questionnaire used by the research team was set up according to a theoretical model which suggests that family support is key to a woman’s ability to accept herself and her appearance.

The study revealed five core elements which contributed to a woman’s ability to live contentedly in her own skin. Those elements were:

  • Women with high levels of family support
  • Women who received very little pressure from either family or friends to be supermodel thin
  • Women with a positive sense of their own physical ability and appearance
  • Women with skills to capably manage stress
  • Women who themselves rejected the Superwoman concept or ideal

The results of the study may prove insightful when designing prevention programs for avoiding eating disorders. As with so many other healthy mind-sets, much begins with a loving home life where people are valued for themselves apart from performance or appearance. Women who learn to sift through the competing input of life– some of which will tell them that they are wonderful and some of which will tell them they are failing – will be well prepared to handle the widely varying feedback they encounter about what it means to be a beautiful woman. Lastly, learning skills for dealing with stress should definitely be an integral part of preparing young women to deal with the drumbeat message that to be successful a woman must look like a runway waif.

Singer Adele, a woman definitely comfortable with her own abilities and appearance, was able to respond to body image pressures with a public statement about her intention to NOT pursue an idealized starlet image. Let’s encourage more young women to follow her example rather than succumb to disordered eating in search of significance.

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