Remember How to Look Good Naked? It was a short-lived show on Lifetime that I couldn’t tell you much about, save for one part, which I never forgot. Host Carson Kressley would ask a woman to look at a lineup of women, all of different sizes, and point to which body looked the most like hers. SURPRISE! She would always pick someone far larger than she actually was. In hindsight the premise was pretty gross (those poor lined-up women!), but the wobbly self-perception did strike a chord.
According to a new study in Medical News Today, there might be a reason women are less effective at judging their own bodies and more susceptible to eating disorders than men. As in, more than just fucked up societal standards. The scientists behind the study, which was published in the medical journal Cerebral Cortex, set out to explore something more biological: why, neurologically, women tend to overestimate the size of their bodies (which has been proven in previous studies).
Doctors and scientists have been interested in eating disorders for a while, which makes sense when you consider the growing portion of our population that is suffering. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), that number is around 30 million in America. That’s roughly 10% of the population! And 20 million of that 30 are female.
Are you surprised by that split? I’m not; expectations on women’s bodies are ridiculous. We talk about this all the time.
The actual study sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. The 32 participants, none of whom had histories with eating disorders, were required to wear a virtual reality headset that would make their own bodies appear one of two ways: slim or obese. Then researchers watched how their brains responded.
“When participants looked at their ‘obese’ bodies,” reports Medical News Today, “the team identified a direct link between activity in the area of the brain associated with body perception — the parietal lobe — and activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the brain region related to the processing of subjective emotions, such as fear and anger. What is more, the researchers found that such brain activity was more prominent in women than men, suggesting that ‘owning’ an obese body is likely to lead to higher body dissatisfaction in women.”
In short: The way we as women perceive our bodies is more closely connected to our subjective emotions than it is for men. Does this sound familiar to you? It does for me. I think about this more than I’d care to admit, and it’s both comforting and disappointing to see there are societal and now maybe biological explanations as to why. Do you struggle to see yourself clearly? Do you spend time wishing you could?
Photo via iStock.