In Peter Paul Rubens’ 1608 painting, Venus At Her Toilet, the voluptuous goddess Venus enjoys peaceful contentment gazing at herself in the mirror. We must learn to do the same, for our own sakes.
Scientific studies about body image in 2013 continue to confirm that body image has a real impact on health. Negative body image is linked with chronic inflammation, while positive body image is linked with health-protecting behavior, including safer sex. Empowerment and body appreciation talk encourage positive body image, while protecting against eating disorders and depression.
AOC is devlving deeply into the topic of body image, self image and women’s health in a three-part series that updates our previous writing.
Negative body image is strongly linked with poor health
A disturbing study, Impact of negative cognitions about body image on inflammatory status in relation to health, published October 2013 in Psychology & Health, established a link between body image dissatisfaction and inflammation indicators.
Inflammation in this context is not acute inflammation, which is how the body responds to damage in order to heal. The study investigated chronic and systemic inflammation, which is when the normal healing mechanism is broken, and the body is in a constant state of low-level inflammation— it is acting as if it’s under attack all the time. This condition is linked with chronic and metabolic disorders such as allergies, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and so on. Healthy lifestyles with balanced diets, adequate exercise, proper rest, and moderate stress encourage the body’s functions to work properly. Unhealthy lifestyles with junk food, inadequate exercise, dysfunctional rest, and too much stress disrupt normal bodily functions such as the inflammation response.
Anxiety about body image is a form of stress, so it is not too surprising to learn that it is connected to poor health. What is disturbing is just how much of a risk factor it actually is. The study’s results showed that body image dissatisfaction “uniquely predicted inflammation biomarkers”. This means that body image dissatisfaction is a significant risk factor in inflammation, even after accounting for other risk factors such as body mass index, and waist-to-hip ratio. So, even if you have a healthy BMI and small waist-to-hip ratio, if you also have negative body image, then your risk level for inflammation is just as high as someone who has an unhealthy BMI and large waist-to-hip ratio.
The good news is that this also works in reverse: positive body image works wonders for health.
Positive body image promotes healthy, self-nurturing behavior