Warped body image

Americans have a warped sense of body image.

I think few would disagree with that.

But exactly how warped?

Linda Bradley, a Washington State University professor in Pullman, recently asked the students in her “multicultural perspectives on the body and dress” class to physically describe their ideal man or woman.

Here’s the class response: The ideal woman should be 5 feet, 10 inches to 6 feet tall, weigh 110 to 115 pounds and be a size 0 or 2.

“That’s pretty much what models look like,” Bradley said in a news release.

Ten years ago, the ideal woman was a size 4. Twenty years ago, she was a size 8. And 50 years ago – thanks to Marilyn Monroe – she was a size 12.

“So the ideals are getting harder and harder to reach,” Bradley said.

Today’s ideal man hasn’t changed much in the last 5,000 years: tall, broad shoulders, narrow waist, firm pecs and six-pack abs.

Images of Greek pottery or sculpture look like today’s Calvin Klein ads, Bradley said.

Take those ideals and compare them with what the actual average woman looks like: She’s 5 feet, 4 inches tall, weighs 145 pounds and is a size 14.

So what gives?

Between the ideal and reality are “multibillion-dollar businesses messing with our heads and making us dissatisfied with our bodies,” Bradley said.

These unrealistic, out-of-reach ideals are contributing to hosts of body image and health issues like obesity, eating disorders and extreme exercise regimens.

Bradley plans to look at another issue and segment of the population: those who have undergone bariatric, or weight loss, surgery.

She will head a new multidisciplinary project to explore how people who have had weight-loss surgery deal with body image and what impacts the surgery may have for their families.

“A great deal of research has confirmed the positive physiological impacts of bariatric surgery; less has been conducted on the psychosocial aspects of changes in patients following the surgery,” Bradley explained. “There is evidence in the literature to indicate that in the post-operative period, people may find improvements in many areas, such as body image, but that there can be varied impacts on family relationships, particularly with regard to spouses and children.”

Let’s hope Bradley shares her findings with those students who are looking for supermodel girlfriends and Greek god boyfriends.

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