Everyone is aware of the pressure put on women to look as perfect as possible, but even women who appear well-adjusted when it comes to weight are worried about getting fat. This is the conclusion arrived at by Brigham Young University neuroscientists after a small but revealing study.
The brains of 10 normal-weight women were scanned by MRI while they viewed images of other women of varying weights. As they looked at each picture, they were told “imagine someone is saying your body looks like hers.”
When the subjects saw pictures of overweight women, activity increased in their medial prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain believed to be linked to the assessment of one’s self-worth. This is what happens when anorexic and bulimic women view images of overweight women, though the activity is even greater.
The same test was performed on men viewing images of their own sex, but there was no change in medial prefrontal cortex activity when they thought of themselves being perceived as overweight.
The researchers don’t think this difference can be chalked up to biology. Instead, they blame the greater social pressure on women. Furthermore, they urge women to see these findings as a clear indication of the fine line between body-image anxieties and a full-scale eating disorder.
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