The myth fu­elling eat­ing dis­or­ders

Friday - - Society -

In real life Bar­bie would be 179cm and 50kg. Her Body Mass In­dex (BMI) would be 16.2, just above the level that theWorld Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion deems as se­verely thin (a healthy BMI is be­tween 20 and 25). Her neck would be twice as long as an av­er­age woman’s but much thin­ner – so much so in fact that she would be un­able to sup­port the weight of her head. She would also have a 40cm waist, which would be nar­rower than her head.

Her ab­dom­i­nal cav­ity would be so re­stricted she would have only enough room in it for around half a nor­mal-sized adult liver and a few cen­time­tres of in­testines. Her di­ges­tive sys­tem would be un­able to func­tion.

Her wrists would be too thin to sup­port heavy weights, so she would be un­able to carry any­thing heav­ier than a few kilo­grams, and her legs would be much longer than av­er­age but with a greatly re­duced thigh cir­cum­fer­ence. With tiny an­kles, child’s size-three feet and a mas­sively dis­pro­por­tion­ate top-to-bot­tom weight dis­tri­bu­tion, the real-life Bar­bie would have to crawl to the nail salon!

Bar­bie’s beauty is a myth that some ar­gue can give young girls un­re­al­is­tic ideas about what beauty is and lead to the type of in­se­cu­ri­ties in later life that fuel eat­ing dis­or­ders.

Our love/hate re­la­tion­ship with beauty is noth­ing new. While we ap­pre­ci­ate it on a deep level, it also drives us to dis­trac­tion. One of the beauty myths is that as we age we be­come less beau­ti­ful. And be­cause of this, the anti-age­ing in­dus­try, backed by sci­en­tific re­search go­ing back decades, is big busi­ness.

But de­spite all the prod­ucts aimed at mak­ing us more beau­ti­ful, it ap­pears that how oth­ers per­ceive us in terms of beauty may not be that im­por­tant for con­fi­dence af­ter all, as stud­ies have shown that we have a ten­dency to see our­selves through rose-tinted glasses.

Ni­cholas Ep­ley of the Univer­sity of Chicago and ErinWhitchurch of the Univer­sity of Vir­ginia con­ducted a se­ries of stud­ies that showed we see our­selves as bet­ter look­ing than we Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe are said to have a waist mea­sure­ment ex­actly 70 per cent of their hip cir­cum­fer­ence ac­tu­ally are. The re­searchers took pic­tures of study par­tic­i­pants and doc­tored them to cre­ate more and less at­trac­tive ver­sions. Par­tic­i­pants were told that they’d be pre­sented with a se­ries of im­ages in­clud­ing their orig­i­nal pic­ture and mod­i­fied im­ages. They were then asked to iden­tify the un­mod­i­fied pic­ture, but the sub­jects tended to se­lect an at­trac­tively en­hanced pic­ture.

The study also showed that peo­ple dis­play this bias for them­selves but not for strangers. The same pro­ce­dure was ap­plied to a pic­ture of a stranger, who the study par­tic­i­pants met three weeks ear­lier dur­ing an un­re­lated study. This time par­tic­i­pants tended to se­lect the un­mod­i­fied pic­ture of the stranger.

This in­flated opin­ion of our own phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance is a man­i­fes­ta­tion of what psy­chol­o­gists call ‘self-en­hance­ment’. It is be­lieved we de­velop this trait to boost con­fi­dence, which in turn plays a role in so­cial sta­tus. Con­fi­dent peo­ple are seen as bet­ter lead­ers and also bet­ter mates.

Sci­ence has also proved that beauty is ul­ti­mately only skin deep. In an ex­per­i­ment, re­searchers showed two lots of peo­ple the same pho­to­graph of a man but at­trib­uted dif­fer­ent val­ues to him.

In one group the man in the photo was as­signed pos­i­tive char­ac­ter de­scrip­tions, such as ‘friendly’, ‘nice’ and ‘wel­com­ing’, and in the other neg­a­tive at­tributes such as ‘mean’ and ‘of­fen­sive’.

Sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that the in­for­ma­tion given about the per­son­al­ity of the per­son af­fected how at­trac­tive those look­ing at the pic­ture found him. Al­though the face was the same, the per­ceived beauty of the per­son changed as a re­sult of the in­for­ma­tion given about them.

So while we may be bi­ased to­wards beauty, we are not al­ways de­ceived by looks. Per­haps beauty re­ally is in the eye of the be­holder.

Kate Moss and

In real-life terms, Bar­bie would never be able to walk up­right

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