Too Much of a Good Thing: Can Positive Self-Image Hurt Your Health?

Lots of us have friends or know women who are plus-sized and love it. They rock their curves and flaunt their bods in figure-conscious clothes. They eat what they want and don’t apologize for it. They don’t chastise themselves by saying things like, “I was so bad!” after indulging in a chocolate bar or skipping the gym for a day. This might even be you.

Here at NeverSayDiet, I’d think the prevailing thought when it comes to these women is, “You go, girl!” But what if the woman is legitimately overweight, not just “curvy” or “plus-sized-as-in-Size-12-so-not-really-plus-sized”? Say she’s 50 pounds overweight but still loves her physique, is uber-confident and happy and wouldn’t know a body image struggle If it smacked her in her ample behind? Do we want to encourage the woman who loves herself, is overweight and may actually be endangering her health?

A new study out of Temple University shows that, for these ladies, having an extremely high body image can lead to health problems. Researchers studied the body image perceptions of 81 underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese women in the North Philadelphia area and found that as their body mass index (BMI) increased, two-thirds of the women still felt they were at an ideal body size.

“So the question for doctors then becomes, ‘How can we effectively treat our overweight and obese patients, when they don’t feel they’re in harm’s way?’” said study researcher Marisa Rose, MD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences in the Temple University School of Medicine. “It stresses a need for culturally sensitive education for this population.”
 
All women had their height and weight measured and completed an anonymous survey to determine their self-perceived, current and ideal body sizes. Each woman was then shown an illustration of different-sized women that correlated with increasing BMIs, and were asked which size they felt they were at currently, and what their ideal would be.
 
What the researchers found: While most of the participants selected illustrations of women in the normal to overweight range, about 20 percent of the obese women selected an overweight or obese silhouette as their ideal body shape. 68% (15 out of 22) of overweight participants and 84% (26 out of 31) of obese women underestimated their current BMI.

Interestingly, African-American and Hispanic women had significantly underestimated their current body size, while the white women overestimated.
 
This last finding is worth discussion, I think. From the way it’s portrayed in TV, movies, and just plain everyday life, there’s definitely a pervasive feeling that African-American and Hispanic women are “allowed” to be heavier, and are in fact praised for their bigger bodies. I recently spoke at a Big 10 university about body image and a freshman woman, who was black, told me that she feels unattractive and hates her body because she’s “too thin.” Meanwhile, the rest of the audience was packed with white women who spoke of the pressure to constantly work out, to be crazy thin and have teeny tiny (but still curvy!) butts and washboard abs and hips and boobs but skinny, yoga-toned arms, preferably set off by a visible collarbone.
 
Have you felt or observed this cultural difference? Maybe you have a friend who’s Mexican and is always trying to enhance her booty. Or maybe you’re African-American and are sick and tired of your white girlfriend constantly complaining about how fat she is. Speak up! Also, feel free to weigh in on the “heavy women have better body images” theory.
PR I’m off to the All-Candy Expo, aka my personal nirvana. Will report back tomorrow!

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