By Danielle Larson
Having an interest in body image since graduate school, Saint Mary’s University psychology professor Dr. Elizabeth Seebach has performed multiple studies on perceptual body image.
During a Nov. 28 presentation Seebach explained that body image is “that picture we have in our heads” of ourselves. She then discussed body esteem and explained that esteem had to do with the way we feel about our bodies. She said it was “the emotional part.” Lastly, she explained perceptual body image and how it is the image of our body that we form in our minds. Seebach wanted to study perceptual body image, and see whether or not it matched reality.
During the presentation she elaborated on some of the studies she has compiled. One study was done to find out what people think of their own body image, how they view others’ bodies, and how they want their body image to be.
For this test she took a photo and distorted it so the person in the picture was 15 to 20 percent skinnier. Then she distorted it so the person in the picture appeared 15 to 20 percent larger. If she distorted the photo to 15 percent smaller she would then make it 20 percent larger or vice versa. She did this to avoid balance between pictures.
She then laid the photos out on a line and at one end she had the photo of the skinnier image and at the other end she put the photo of the larger image. The participant in the study then had to mark on the line where they think they fall appearance wise. Next they had to mark where they believe other people think they fall on the line. Lastly, they had to mark where they wanted to fall on the line for body appearance.
Another study she had done involved women with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, obese women, and “normal” women (normal being considered as those who have no concerns about their body image). Seebach studied the participants’ perceptions of themselves, how they view themselves to pictures of 30 other women, and how they viewed themselves compared to a photo of themselves.
The study showed that anorexics overestimate their own size, and also overestimated other women’s sizes. Bulimics overestimated their own size, but were very accurate with other women’s sizes. Obese participants overestimated themselves and other women’s sizes, and normal participants estimated sizes that were fairly accurate in both cases.
Other studies Seebach has performed looked at the effects of pregnancy on body image, what part of the body participants are most focused on, whether kids recognize obesity or not, what their perception is of obesity, and what physicians’ perceptions are of obesity.