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Women's Weight Concerns and Body Image

Body image, or how you feel about the way you look, affects girls and women at all ages and in all aspects of life. If body image is positive, it improves confidence, performance, and success. If body image is negative, it can lead to low self-esteem, shaky confidence, and eating disorders causing poor health and poor performance. Maintaining a positive body image can be very challenging for many reasons.

Society plays a large role in girls' and women's unhealthy obsession with body image and weight concerns. Being female automatically subjects you to pressures to be thin and beautiful, thin and fit, or thin and successful. Athletic girls and women are also subject to athletic or performance pressures to be thin, especially those who are involved in activities such as skating, dance, and diving that are judged and require thin physiques. These problems usually start early in life and can be difficult to overcome. Most girls and women have struggled with weight concerns and body image problems at some time in their life.

Weight management can be a very difficult balancing act, because a desire to be as thin as possible combined with poor body image can lead to bizarre eating and exercise habits. Many active and athletic women struggle to achieve healthy yet nutritional lifestyles. Even elite athletes can tend to limit themselves from certain food groups, missing out on healthy fats, carbohydrates, and other essential nutrients. To have healthy eating habits, girls and women must develop an understanding of what their nutritional needs are and develop a realistic awareness and expectation of body shape. They need to understand that not everyone can be a size 6, and that this size is healthy for only a very small percentage of women. Striving for a healthy, well-muscled physique that performs at its best is the ideal goal. Fortunately, the popularity of women athletes such as Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Leila Ali, Jenny Thompson, Summer Sanders, Gaby Reece, and Lisa Leslie has made a strong, well-muscled female physique desirable. These women understand the strength and beauty of muscles and are role models for young girls. Their popularity is a tremendous breakthrough for girls and women.

Struggling with Weight and Body Image
Body Image
Body image is a term used to describe how you see your body. It is a state of mind that can affect confidence, not only in regard to how you look, but also how you feel about yourself, which can affect your physical and mental health. Unfortunately, many women have poor body image; even those who have beautiful, thin, fit bodies can look in a mirror and criticize themselves for their imperfections (that are often out of proportion to how they look) rather than their strengths. In contrast, women who have positive body image are confident in knowing that, no matter what the weight on the scale, they are fit, strong, healthy, and beautiful.

To have a positive body image you must realize that the women on TV, in magazines, and in movies spend their entire life and savings on their looks. Some images are not even real, and have been altered by computers or airbrushed to hide natural imperfections. Many models and actresses have had plastic surgery, are buried beneath tons of makeup, are shot with flattering camera angles, and wear only clothes that look good on them. Some models and actresses admit that they often don't look like their photos in real life!

Also, many female movie stars and fashion models live unhealthy lives; many smoke or take pills to control their weight, eat restrictive diets, and have abusive exercise schedules. Most do not have any significant muscle and would perform terribly as athletes. A recent study found that one-fourth of Miss America contestants have a Body Mass Index less than 18—far below healthy weight limits. These women do not represent ideals of fitness or health.


From The Active Woman's Health and Fitness Handbook by Nadya Swedan. Copyright © 2003 by Nadya Swedan. Used by arrangement with Perigee, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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