Body Image and Culture Essay

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Body image is a mental representation an individual creates, which could or could not bear any relation to how they are perceived by others. Because of this, body image is subject to all kinds of psychological distortion. How people feel about their bodies affects multiple aspects of one's psychology. Body image influences behavior and has vast implications for the economy as seen with the popularity of cosmetic surgery and an increase in the use of drugs designed to build muscles, a negative view of oneself can lead to depression, eating disorders, and body dysmorphic disorders. Recent psychological research shows the link between body image and mental health, allowing cognitive psychological treatments to be developed which has significantly led more people into understanding the issues surrounding body image. 

Behavioral, sociocultural, and social learning psychological explanations have played a key part in how psychological knowledge has contributed to the understanding of body image. According to the social learning theory, people learn behaviors through imitating a role model, which could mean the image that an individual has of their body could in part be determined by social experience. The media perpetuates the idea that models are getting rewarded because they are thin. This is a form of vicarious reinforcement, which allows this behavior to be imitated. This leads an individual to reevaluate their body image, suggesting psychology has deep roots in issues surrounding body image. According to research, children who complain about their body image often have mothers who complain about their body image too. A constant push to portray an ideal woman as being thin in the media has been shown to have a staggering effect on adolescents.  Social learning and developmental psychology also are important in understanding and addressing issues relating to body image. Children are more likely to get and internalize a role model, meaning their body image can be influenced and their perception changed. There has been research suggesting that magazines aimed at girls and young women tend to present traditional slim images of attractiveness, maintaining an ideal body image.  With the psychological knowledge, they concluded that the use of social media could potentially promote negative body image, and should be regulated. This also further supports the proposition that psychological knowledge can help us to understand and address issues related to body image. There has been evidence that suggests the media only reflects what is seen in culture, which contradicts the social construction and media influence. 

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There is more exposure to a thin ideal in media which influences the role models people internalize with. Behavioral, cultural, and social learning theories in psychology have helped psychologists further understand and address the issues concerning body image. Media pressures on women to have a specific shape and size are more common than the pressures on men. Research shows that models in the 2000s are thinner than 98 percent of women, and other psychologists argue that Images of thin women are seen everywhere in the media, and women's magazines contain more messages emphasizing physical attractiveness than men's magazines, exemplifying how sociocultural psychology is important in understanding aspects of issues associated with body image. The way people view themselves can be rooted in the role models they’ve internalized also suggesting social learning psychology plays a large part in addressing issues related to body image. Culture is also important, there has been a change in social pressure on men to look slender and muscular and dieting was not seen as gender appropriate for men until there was a cultural shift in 1960. Another study found that attitudes to body image tend to stay the same throughout people's lifespan suggesting there is a psychological basis in body image, and this further supports the proposition that psychological knowledge can help address issues surrounding body image.

Cognitively, research has shown that males showed evidence of increased 'schema activation'. The results supported the idea that a schema could be the process by which the media can increase body dissatisfaction. Other research has shown that participants exposed to 'ideal' images of men's bodies had more levels of muscle dissatisfaction than the control group. The cognitive explanation and approach blame the negative thoughts, claiming they are the cause of body image issues. This is supported by the psychological treatments for body image issues such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which works on challenging these thoughts, suggesting body image can be explained by cognitive psychology. 

Holistic and humanistic approaches also contribute to the understanding of body image. There are psychological factors that predict issues related to body image such as self-esteem. People who are low in self-esteem tend to be less satisfied with their bodies. Some research claims, that as women age, the relationship between self-esteem and issues with body image becomes less influential, and in men, 'fatness' dissatisfaction causes low self-esteem (Grogan). Therapy around this approach has been used in helping to increase self-esteem, further solidifying psychology's importance in addressing issues regarding body image. Psychological ideas such as low self-esteem, social learning through models of the thin ideal, and low self-efficacy predict issues with body image. Western cultures tend to find thinness attractive but poorer societies view it as a sign of malnutrition. However, biologists and biological psychologists suggest these body shape preferences derive from biology, not culture. They argue that these ideals are based on the fact that slenderness is healthier than being overweight. This contradicts the notion that there's a psychological basis, but to a lesser degree.

Overall, the proposition is supported by evidence from various experiments and research. Studies are often conducted in laboratories, meaning there is a lack of validity in most of these studies, but the studies can be replicated consistently, increasing their reliability. The Practical applications massively support this as seen with the multiple treatments and therapies used to treat issues with body image such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, where patients with body dysmorphic disorders and anorexia have their views challenged. Therapies that lift self-esteem have been implemented and a focus on psychological treatments is helping people understand body image is partially psychological. 

Psychological feminist approaches have been getting more attention, facilitating law changes in the way women role models are displayed, and role models in general which promote a more realistic figure, resulting in greater body images. Media influences are being regulated and fewer self-harm statistics could be expected, through psychological knowledge.  The overwhelming evidence suggests psychological knowledge and the prominence the subject has regarding the topic of body image, helped and facilitated further understanding and addressing issues regarding body image support this proposition. 

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Body Image and Culture Essay. (2024, April 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 25, 2024, from
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