Bulimia and body-image

It is worth reading this paper on self-perception among people with eating disorders.

It goes right at the idea that eating-disordered patients have a distorted body image by asking them to rate the attractiveness of their bodies. The experimenters then assembled a panel of peers (picked at random) to give a rating to photographs of the eating-disordered patients’ body (the heads and faces of the patients were blocked-out).

Here’s the result:

Consensual validation of the harsh body appraisals of eating symptomatic subjects was found.

Essentially, the patients with eating disorders judged their own bodies harshly, and the panels reviewing their photos tended to agree with the harsh judgement.

But since the experimenters were doing careful work, they also had people without eating disorders assess their own naked appearance, and then showed photos of those normal bodies to the panel.

Interestingly, the normal controls were the ones that showed a biased body image; they rated themselves far more attractive than other people rated them.

So, people without eating disorders think their bodies look pretty good; but the panel of peers tends to disagree.

These data suggest that the real problem in eating disorders is not a distorted body image but a lack of a distorted body image, that is, the lack of a selfserving body-image bias.

Yes, it does. But the data also suggests something a little harsher, and something that potentially affects all of us who do not suffer from an eating disorder: your grasp of how others judge your physical attractiveness is probably weak at best, and their judgements of your appearance are almost certainly harsher than you think warranted.

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