Are Women Wired To Hate Our Bodies?

New research shows even thin, happy women fear being called "fat."

According to this fascinating new study, I’m afraid the answer may be yes.

Brigham Young University researchers conducted an experiment with relatively thin, fit women and men, judged to be seemingly free from distorted body image. That is, until the experts spied their brain activity via MRI technology. When the women were shown photos of overweight women and asked, "How would you feel if somebody said you looked like that?"”, their medial prefrontal cortex - the brain's self-reflection center – lit up in a way similar to (but not as severe as) it does in diagnosed anorexic and bulimic women. Brain activity in this area suggests extreme unhappiness or even self-loathing.

"These women have no history of eating disorders and project an attitude that they don't care about body image," said Mark Allen, a BYU neuroscientist who led the study. "Yet under the surface is an anxiety about getting fat and the centrality of body image to self…Although these women's brain activity doesn't look like full-blown eating disorders, they are much closer to it than men are."

In fact, when the male control group was presented with pics of heavy men, there was no significant change in brain activity.

What does this evidence tell us? That body hatred is the norm? Bulimia is the new black – everyone looks thinner and prettier in it? Basically, even the precious few women among us who actually embrace their bodies and don’t spend hours of their days obsessing over calories and fat bulges can’t escape the biological destiny of self-loathing. Can no one escape the loaded gun of genetics and environment? It appears that the trigger gets pulled whether we like it or not.

It would be interesting to see what these study results mean for the recent boom in plus-sized models. If female consumers’ default reaction, when looking at an overweight woman, is to feel badly about themselves, does that make us more or less likely to purchase the lingerie being modeled,  more or less likely to pay attention to the message being delivered? This recent Arizona State University study showed that while exposure to models of any size made plus-sized consumers feel badly, seeing images of plus-sized models specifically made normal-weight women feel like garbage.

Allen did point out that the differences observed between the genders is likely not attributable to biological differences, but rather symptomatic of the extraordinary social pressure felt by women to be thin.

When I read that last line, my mind flashed to the premiere of The Hills on MTV last night, a show I am not proud to admit I purposefully tuned into. You don’t need to be a reality TV junkie to know who Heidi Montag is – her extreme plastic surgery has been dissected and displayed (much at her request) all over the media. In last night’s episode, Montag revealed her new face and body to her mother for the first time in an intense and very real conversation. Her mom, Darlene, cried upon greeting her now-alien daughter, and at one point asked, as bluntly but compassionately as possible, if her daughter’s goal was to look like Barbie. Heidi smiled – as much as she could smile, considering her jaw was still locked from surgery and her face was swollen and Botoxed – and replied, “I do want to look like Barbie.”

I wonder what her medial prefrontal cortex looks like.

Do you think women are hard-wired to hate their bodies? Chime in below!

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