Years of women being taught to develop a positive body image may actually be hurting them. A recent study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology surveyed 81 Philadelphia-area women who fell along all points on the body mass index scale. Conducted by Marisa Rose at the Temple University School of Medicine, the study found that, as the women's body mass index increased, two-thirds of them said they still believed they were at an ideal body size. When asked to pick out an ideal body shape from a series of silhouettes, 20 percent of the women categorized as obese chose an overweight or obese model.
This study points to the body-image confusion that has surfaced over and against Western culture's unhealthy emphasis on thinness as the ultimate feminine asset (e.g., the recent gossip about Jessica Simpson's pants size). The debate pits those who advocate health against those who preach unwavering self-acceptance, isolating the two as mutually exclusive. And Christian women often face an added, more complicated dimension as thinness becomes associated with moral purity.
As any woman who struggles with weight issues can well attest, finding a balance between loving yourself and changing bad habits can be psychological turmoil. I grew up bombarded by images of impossible thinness in ads and on TV, but at every turn - at school, at home, and at church - these standards were countered by messages of self-acceptance, even celebration. "We should be happy and proud to be who we are," I was told. "Don't let anyone make you feel bad about the way you look!" I internalized the messages all too well; for me, as I suspect it is for many others, the cycle of food addiction is deeply emotional and linked to my most essential understanding ...1
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