New research provides evidence that how women judge the transition from normal to overweight in other women’s bodies is linked to perceptions of their own body size and body dissatisfaction. The results were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
“There are laboratory studies showing that other people’s assessment of body size can be altered by retraining, which is relevant to eating disorders,” said lead researcher Katri Cornelissen, master lectures at Northumbria University in Newcastle.
“It opened up a larger question with what is the relationship between your own body attitudes, the size you perceive of your own body, and the size you perceive of the bodies of others. In particular, if it is true that if you tend to overestimate your own body size, is there also a tendency to overestimate the body size of others and is this also linked to body dissatisfaction.
In the new study, 129 women provided demographic information as well as their height and weight (which was used to calculate their BMI) before measuring symptoms of eating disorders, body dissatisfaction, depression and mood. ‘self esteem.
Participants then viewed a series of photorealistic computer-generated images of a female body whose BMI ranged from 12.5 (underweight) to 44.5 (obese). They were asked to “find the best match for your own body size/shape” and “find where the woman just goes from normal height to overweight, in your opinion.” All participants performed both assessment tasks, but the order of the tasks was randomized. They also performed a distraction task between the two assessment sessions “to minimize any carryover between the two types of body size judgment.”
Researchers found that participants real body size (their calculated BMI) was not related to their judgment of the position of the “normal/overweight” boundary. But the size of the participants perceived themselves were linked to their judgments on the “normal/overweight” limit.
The results demonstrate that “the misperception of one’s own body size and that of others is not limited to people with eating disorders and is common to everyone,” Cornelissen told PsyPost.
The researchers found that women with higher levels of body dissatisfaction tended to report the “normal/overweight” boundary as being at a lower BMI compared to women with less body dissatisfaction. Women who overestimated their own body size, on the other hand, tended to indicate that the “normal/overweight” boundary was at a higher BMI.
“There are two competing influences that affect your judgment of someone else’s body size,” Cornelissen explained. “The first is that the more emotional distress you feel about your own body, the smaller a person’s body size must be for you to describe them as overweight. Second, the more you overestimate your own body size, the smaller the body size of someone else must be high for you to describe her as overweight.
“In other words, there are two opposing influences that we can identify (the perception factor and the attitudes and feelings you have about your own body) that impact on the extent to which someone another is perceived as overweight.”
Future research could determine if the findings extend to other cultures and non-adults. Participants were recruited from the UK, Poland, Norway and the Czech Republic, and they ranged in age from 18 to 53. “There are obvious caveats: to what extent the same phenomenon is the same or different in children and whether the same phenomenon occurs in non-Western cultures,” Cornelissen said.
“Extensive research has shown that the perceptions and attitudes you have about your own body are strongly influenced by a) the extent to which you internalize cultural information about ideal body shape and size, and b) the how well you compare to your peers It is highly likely that these two influences play an important role in the effects identified in the current study and will need to be explicitly measured in the future.
Despite the caveats, “the results are of clinical significance,” Cornelissen explained. “In people with eating disorders, untreated body dissatisfaction (the difference between how tall you are and how tall you think you are) is a risk factor for relapse. Therefore, the current study may help establish the rationale for additional new treatments to alleviate body image dissatisfaction beyond the usual treatments.
The study, “The Effect of Concerns About One’s Own Body on Judgments of Other Women’s Body Size”, was authored by Katri K. Cornelissen, Lise Gulli Brokjøb, Jiří Gumančík, Ellis Lowdon, Kristofor McCarty, Kamila R. Irvine, Martin J. Tovée, and Piers Louis Cornelissen.