How A Couple Minutes Can Hurt Your Body Image

A New Study on Perception Calls For a Body Image Reset

Did you know that your perception of your body size can be altered in as little as two minutes?

Neither did I.

My mind was just blown by a recent study I read which examined the effect of exposure to different body sizes on self-perception (you can read about this Macquarie University study here).

In the first segment of the study, subjects were presented with images of bodies that had been digitally distorted to look thinner or larger than the true size of the people in the photos. Subjects were also shown similarly distorted images of their own bodies.

The effects were surprising and profound.

In both experiments, the subjects reported perceiving their own bodies as “abnormally fat” after they were shown images that had been contracted to look thinner. In other words, "being exposed to images of skinny people doesn't just make you feel bad about your own body size, which has been known for a while, it actually affects the perceptual mechanisms in your brain and makes you think you are bigger . . . than you really are,” said a co-author of the study.

And, even though the subjects were considered psychologically healthy individuals, their self-perception could be altered in as little as two minutes of exposure to the distorted images.  

This new evidence speaks volumes to how susceptible we may be to media images manipulating our self-image.  

It's no mystery that the average woman presented in the media is exponentially thinner than the average woman (the average model wears a size 00 to 0, while the average U.S. woman is between a 12 to 14). Not only that, media images are many times altered (photoshopped, "facetuned," what have you) to make the women depicted look even thinner than they are.

This new study suggests that exposure to these impossible creatures can make us perceive altered, ultra-thin body types as the new “normal."  

We then see our own unaltered bodies as “abnormal.”  

In as little as two minutes.

Just spend a couple minutes looking at certain magazines or social media accounts, and it’s like you’re looking at yourself through a distorted funhouse mirror.

If this is possible after only two minutes, think of the effect of a lifetime of exposure to distorted media images. 

Everything we think of as normal is really just the result of a lifetime of exposure and stimulation. 

Crazy, huh?

I propose we use the month of August to hit the "reset" button.

For the next 30 days, I challenge you to clear your life of images that may negatively influence your self-perception (to the extent this is within your control, of course). You know what that means...

Put the magazine down.

I know, I know. Those glossy pages. The cute outfit ideas. The fun little perfume samples. They catch your eye on the way out of the supermarket or at an airport convenience store.

I used to buy fashion or fitness magazines “just for fun.” But, trust me, the effect was not so fun... (more on that another time). Knowing what I know now, I would rather sit through a transcontinental flight twiddling my thumbs instead of subjecting myself to the crap in most magazines.

Read a book instead. And furthermore...

Chill out with the social media scrolling.

If you follow accounts that constantly offer up unrealistic images (I'm looking at you, "fitspo"), or users whose posts make your inner critic start yelling "why don’t my abs look like that?" or "I need to start eating zucchini strings instead of pasta," it is time to say goodbye (at least for now). 

Here are a handful of Instagram accounts that I follow instead. These body positive accounts will leave you feeling inspired rather than inadequate.

Replace your exposure to distorted, unrealistic images with positive messages of self-love for the rest of this month, and I bet you’ll feel a little more at peace in your own beautiful body by September.  

If you want to take your body confidence to the next level, sign up for my mini-course: Three Steps To Spark Body Confidence and Ditch Your Inner Mean Girl. It’s totally free and will teach you real, actionable steps to transform your relationship with your body. Click here to enroll.