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Build a Better Body Image -- No Dieting Required

6 ways to boost your body image and feel better about all of you.

Body Image and the Media continued...

Before that, she says, most Fijians preferred a fuller figure, and eating disorders were almost unheard of on the island.  But by 1998, she says that girls who watched these shows at least three times a week were 50% more likely to have a distorted body image.

Ironically, Martz points out, many of the images women use to judge themselves aren't even real -- from the airbrushed bodies of lingerie models to digitally enhanced publicity photos of anchorwomen. 

Psychologist and weight management expert Abby Aronowitz, PhD, says that while the media do have an effect on how women see themselves, far more dangerous are the product promises behind some of these glamorous campaigns.

"Companies use perfect bodies to point up our own body image dissatisfaction in order to sell us products to change that dissatisfaction. But when the diet doesn't work, or the cream wears off or the lingerie doesn't give you the bust line of your dreams, you feel like you have failed -- and that's when our self-esteem really plummets," says Aronowitz, author of Your Final Diet.

Women and Body Image: The Culture Phenomenon

Given the fact that media messages are aimed at men as well women, why are women seemingly so much more susceptible?  For many, the answer harkens back to evolution -- or at least to our days in the baby stroller.

"Some would say women are hardwired to put more emphasis on their looks, that in terms of evolution, the value of attractiveness was programmed into women's DNA, necessary to help them get a mate, and ultimately, the protection that union provided," says Martz. 

Fast-forward a few thousand years, and May points out that from our days in the stroller, little boys are valued for their strength and intelligence, while girls are doted on for their looks.

"It's not uncommon for people to compliment a baby boy by saying 'He's so strong, so smart,' while they compliment a baby girl by saying 'She's so cute, so adorable.'  That kind of thinking becomes ingrained in our heads," says May.

That said, many experts agree that nothing in our culture or history can hurt a woman's self-worth as much as something many of us do in front of the mirror every day -- negative self-talk.

"Self-denigration is the most damaging thing we can do to our self-esteem because it is so personal," says Aronowitz. "With rejection of the body, a sense of identity and worth is vehemently attacked." 

And, she says, women don't just denigrate themselves privately. It's also a group sport. 

"What I think women don't realize is that when they turn to their best friend and say 'My cellulite is really gross' they are also saying 'Your cellulite is really gross.' So putting themselves down is not only insulting personally, it's also insulting to other women," says Aronowitz.

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