9 Things You Should Know About Female Body Image Issues

Body image is the mental representation we create of what we think we look like; it may or may not bear a close relation to how others actually see us. Here are nine things you should know about female body image issues:

1. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty hired a criminal sketch artist to draw women as they see themselves and as others see them. The social experiment revealed that women’s perceptions of themselves were very different than how others view them.

2. According to the CDC, for women ages 20 years old and older, the average height for women in America is 5’3″ and weight is 166.2 pounds. For fashion models the average is 5’10” and 120 pounds.

3. By age 6, girls start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life.

4. The best-known contributor to the development of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa is body dissatisfaction. The median ages for onset of an eating disorder in adolescents is 12- to 13-years-old. In the United States, 20 million women suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life.

5. Only four percent of women globally consider themselves beautiful.*

6. A global survey found that two thirds of women strongly agree that “the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t ever achieve.”

7. Researchers have found that “fat talk”—a phenomena in which a person makes negative claims about their weight to others—is an expected norm among women and a way for them to appear more modest.

8. A study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders found that while “fat talk” tended to decrease with age, “old talk” often came in to replace it, and that both were reported by women who appeared to have a negative body image.

9. The only complete way to overcome the problem is to have our beliefs about body image transformed by the Holy Spirit. As Heather Davis Nelson says in the Journal of Biblical Counseling:

In pursuing worldly beauty, we strive to become this elusive image in place of who we really are. You and I are created in the image of the living God. Our purpose is to reflect His image to the world. But since the fall, we let the world inscribe its image on us. It is the very picture of sin and ultimately death. Instead of being transformed to God’s image, we conform to the world’s image. We are hopelessly stuck in a lifeless cycle, exchanging God for the creature as our object of worship. But God in His mercy rescued us!

In love, God sent Jesus Christ to take on the consequences of our idolatrous affair. He became sin so that we might become righteous. In Christ, God gives us freedom from sin’s power now and hope for its eradication in heaven. God makes you beautiful with the beauty of His Son, Jesus. It is in gazing at God’s image in Jesus Christ that you are transformed. Romans 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, (sisters) in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not be conformed any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”


*Update: The post originally quoted the 2004 study that found only two percent of women globally consider themselves beautiful. A follow-on study in 2010 found the percentage had increased to four percent.


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  • JohnM

    Why do women themselves persist in thinking that the typical fashion model’s emaciated build is ideal? It’s not what men think at all, as surveys have shown and almost any man will tell you.

    • Darren Blair

      It’s what the media *says* a woman should look like, and so people go and internalize it.

      For example, consider the sport of professional wrestling. You know how a lot of the guys on TV today are walking mounds of muscle? A lot of that’s for show; people think “visible muscles = strength”, and so a lot of organizations have begun pushing their guys accordingly.

      Thing is, back during the “classic” period of wrestling (up until the mid-1980s), a lot of your pro wrestlers tended to actually be husky bears of men who knew how to leverage their bulk in order to better grapple their opponents. For example, consider Karl Istaz, one of the most dominant athletes of his day: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Gotch . Some of your Mexican and Japanese outfits still have men who are built like this, as well as a few of your smaller American venues.

      In reality, if a person is *too* muscular, it means that they’ve likely done some damage to their bodies. Either they’ve put additional stress on their frames from an intense workout load, they’ve put additional stress on their bodies from having too much weight in muscle, they’ve starved and/or dehydrated themselves to get to a proper ideal weight, and/or have taken performance enhancers in order to bulk up. This is before the prospect of their being muscle-bound kicks in, meaning that they developed their muscles in the wrong fashion and so are now seeing their range of movement restricted.

      (Suffice to say that when I was taking weight training back during my undergrad, the coach was rather uptight about “proper” technique and the damage that could be done if a person focused on raw weight loss and appearance rather than safety and personal health.)

      And as far as supermodels go –

      I’m about 6 foot tall, and generally weigh in the neighborhood of 320 pounds. Even with my outstanding injuries, I can still push cars around like toys and can single-handedly dead-lift my 100+ pound Sunday bag (which is packed to capacity with books and scriptures) straight up from the ground.

      I either need someone who’s got some muscle on her or someone who’s got some meat on her; anyone as skeletal as the average supermodel is just far too fragile for someone like me.

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  • http://brettfish.wordpress.com brettfish

    ah this is so great – posted a similar article here – http://mashandpeace.wordpress.com/2013/04/17/wednesday-wed-day-episode-4-your-relationship-with-you – definitely not the whole story but a huge significant part of it… good job!

  • Tim

    More and more people should check out a therapy called ISTDP. I do agree that probably the only *complete* way to overcome these slavish burdens is through the work of the Holy Spirit, but this therapy really unmasks and gets to the heart of what is going on with body image issues and other kinds of neurotic things and can be an immense tool in the hands of the Spirit. I wish more Christian counselors would look into it.

  • jesse

    The DOVE video is fun and enlightening.

    But please remember that DOVE is owned by the same company as AXE, which is one of the biggest contributors to the problem. They are just selling soap

  • Sam

    The Dove video just proves, I guess, that One Direction was right all along

  • E

    Woah, ha, I didn’t realize this was a religious thing until number 9 randomly popped up. But I do like the psychological aspects of this study.

  • MD

    Without disagreeing at all with the main premise of the article, let me point out from a medical professional perspective that obesity is a serious and worsening problem in America, and so using an average American woman’s height of 5’3″ and weight of 166.2 lb to define healthy or desirable (which the author admittedly did not do) would be quite flawed. A woman with these measurements would have a body mass index of 29.4 kg/m2, which would give her a medical diagnosis of being overweight and nearly obese. Obesity has been associated with a litany of problems, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep disorders, and cancer. To be fair, the fashion model average of 5’10” and 120 lb would give her a medical diagnosis of being underweight.

    • http://ocgeeker.wordpress.com Mike

      MD: Agreed! “Healthy” should be the goal.

  • http://faithlifewomen.com/2013/04/all-glory-to-him Ann Metcalf

    I just wrote about my personal expereince with an eating disorder and how the Gospel changed my life. You can read it here:


    • Steph

      Thanks for sharing this Ann, I just scrolled through your blog post and am excited to read it.

  • http://redeemedfromthepit.blogspot.com/ Marie Notcheva
  • http://redeemedfromthepit.blogspot.com/ Marie Notcheva

    I agree and as a biblical counselor have also noticed the tendency for women to go from “fat talk” to “old talk”. When a woman is secure in her identity in Christ, this heart-issue fades in importance.

    Marie Notcheva
    “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders”

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  • Ryan Davis

    I think this issue is relevant for both sexes. While it’s not as wide-spread and far-reaching for men, I do believe there are plenty of men in our society that struggle with body image issues as well.

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  • http://HeatherNelson.wordpress.com Heather Davis Nelson

    What an honor to be quoted in such an important article! My maiden name is used here – I’m now Heather Nelson, a biblical counselor in southeastern Virginia and a blogger at Hidden Glory (www.heathernelson.wordpress.com).

  • http://www.google.com/ig?hl=en joanne

    I don’t like the Dove advert. For this reason:-

    The premise of the video is that women are their own worst enemies, who focus on and emphasize their own worst physical qualities.It promotes the idea That fatness And bigness equal ugliness.

    A lot of these women’s journeys are about learning that parts of their face aren’t as big as they thought. From big jaws to big foreheads to fat faces, much of their relief and excitement is centered around finding out that parts of their face aren’t that big. Because, you know, everything about you should be petite, including your face, because, that’s like prettier or whatever.

    One of the first things we learn about the way another woman saw Florence, the thin, blond focus of the video, is that “she was thin, so you could see her cheekbones, and she had a nice, thin chin.” So ladies, if you’re watching this at home, people probably see you as thinner than you think!!! How great is that?!!!

    Immediately following that storyline, we hear Kela, another blue-eyed blond who could potentially be as much as a size 10 (!) saying about the image based on her description of herself, “She looks closed off and fatter. Sadder too. The second one [where she looks thinner] looks more open, friendly, and happy.”

    So the message is very clear — you’re not as big or as fat as you think. Or, rather, fat and big are still really bad, but you’re not that, so don’t worry.

  • David Volsky

    This is an article that points out how the Dove ad falls short in teaching us about beauty.


    And why is it assumed that a little nose is ideal or that blond hair and blue eyes are the gold standard for beauty? I don’t view them that way. I appreciate what makes each person unique, particularly so-called physical flaws. I’m not just saying that. That is truly what I value.

  • Steph

    The Dove example here is interesting but of course it falls short as it is secular and does nothing to address true IDENTITY, but I think they were just using it as one example here.

    I’m have to say also that surprised to see so many men and so few women commenting here…this kind of article is what needs to be passed around female circles and be up for discussion amongst women, so we can see the ridiculousness of what we do to ourselves, and how much we need to encourage each other in the quest to see our BEAUTY through how CHRIST sees us.

  • Aspen Toledo

    The media has a tremendous effect on the people who view it. Many people do not realize that our beliefs are influenced from what is supposed to be entertainment. The idea of what an attractive person is has become reshaped to something that is dangerous to health, which is not surprising considering what we are exposed to via the television, music videos, video games, and more. Women and men are frequently comparing themselves to model figures because it is what society deems acceptable and attractive. With that being said, people are going to do whatever it takes to get there. This can lead to eating disorders, plastic surgery, and extremely low self esteem. In the documentary, Thin, one of girls admits, “I remember at one point, years ago, thinking, this is the one thing I want so bad, I just want to be thin. So if it takes dying to get there, so be it, at least I’ll get there” (Thin). It shows that people strive to get this body image they want to be happy with, but they do not realize it is an unrealistic goal. Every body has a different physique and is not going to look like the model in the magazine. Women and men are subjected to look a certain way because of the media and it can really cause self esteem problems and health issues.

    Thin. Dir. Lauren Greenfield. HBO, 2006. Documentary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthonymgrubb Anthony Grubb

    I appreciate things that are true and excellent and *sincere*, but I don’t put “sappy and dishonest” work in the same category. To me, this “Dove Real Beauty Sketches” is far from any definition of sincere. Sorry, but just because the woman was crying at the end doesn’t make it sincere. In almost every picture, I found that the woman describing herself gave a truer picture of herself than her partner who was compassionately describing her to the man doing the sketches. Now, the parody of this work (“Dove Real Beauty Sketches – Men”) is not *exactly* sincere, either, but taking into account it is a parody and/or a form of satire with a little poetic license afforded it, I actually find it much more “genuine” than the original. The dude crying at the end proves it to me! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8Jiwo3u6Vo

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  • Ruth

    Another thing that would be helpful to mention about “female body image issues” (particularly since this article is written by men, and seems to be directed mostly to an audience of men) is that women are very aware of men’s attachment to media and pornography. As you did mention in your article, the media presents an almost unachievable “perfect” female body.

    Yet even a godly woman, when constantly reminded that Christian men around her are indulging in pornography and are saturated with media that presents an unrealistic body image, can feel discouraged about her own body. Perhaps partially realizing she doesn’t match up with the “ideal,” but also realizing that if she strives to achieve a godly inner beauty but doesn’t reach that external ideal, her beauty won’t be appreciated by her husband.

    Ultimately, you’re completely correct that a woman must find her identity completely in Christ and not be looking one bit to human opinion to find her worth. But having a husband or Christian male friends who commit their eyes to purity and their hearts to honoring God…this will truly help Christian women in their efforts to break free of a negative cultural influence that weighs heavy on them! Having the support of Christian sisters and brothers, who are living in true honesty of heart and not just in pretense, is a tremendous help to a woman trying to delight in who God has made her and not cave to cultural pressure.

  • Hannah Lewis

    It’s also important to remember that the church often contributes to the problem by blaming women for men’s lust problems. They turn women’s bodies into things of shame and sin that are hurting others. So they tell them to cover them up and hide their curves and breasts and legs and blah blah blah. I’ve heard of churches that actually offer scarves to women who come in wearing sleeveless dresses or shirts, so they can cover their shoulders. How is that supposed to make a woman feel about her body!? In the world, their body is too ugly and not good enough, and in the church, their body is too shameful and sinful.

  • Ruth

    Men, if you’re interested in reading some great tips on how you can help women in your life struggling with body image, check out this website: http://www.beautyredefined.net/how-men-help-fight-our-body-image-battles/

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  • Summer

    The reason for the increase in satisfaction of women from 2004 to 2010? I’m sure it’s because of the greater availability and acceptibility of Botox and fillers and plastic surgery! Look at how many big names in Christianity somehow look better even though they continue to age! ( Beth Moore, Kay Arthur, etc…). They strive to be thin and beautiful and extravagantly well-dressed. What message are they sending to the masses? So sad that they do this to keep up their “marketability” and feed their vanity. I love their Bible studies but feel discouraged that they look like the world in so many ways. They send mixed messages.

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  • http://www.whysugar.net Marilyn

    Many of us women struggle with this.

  • Joseph Brandenburg

    The body image thing really scares me, and I have seen how it affects the people I see at school everyday. It seems like there’s more body-alteration than ever now, and tighter, more revealing clothing. Almost everyone watches what they eat closely. It makes me sad to see people harming themselves because they can’t look good. And it makes me mad when people look at the body as a sex object, and that the human body is inherently lewd.

    So, I have a question: How can Christian artists help people have good body-images? One of the biggest features in art history is the human figure- idealizing the figure, demonstrating its grace and beauty, and at times even idolizing it. Obviously idolatry is bad but I don’t think there’s any reason to question that people, and other natural things, are God’s beautiful creations.

    I guess what I am trying to ask is this: why do our standards of beauty hurt people? Obviously they are unrealistic standards, but, are they necessarily bad? Is there any way to try to depict a beautiful person (in art or otherwise) without contributing to bad self-image and things like that?

    I guess we can choose to paint people how we see them, but I think there’s more to it than that. Is their an objective foundation for human beauty? Or any beauty? Should the artist strive to make people look like garden of Eden perfect people or fallen and sinful? Is it OK to do both?

    And finally, is there any way out? Can we be free to just show and look at the images that come naturally to us, or is our intuition bad? I mean, can we trust our internal beliefs about beauty or is there a correct way of seeing things- God’s vision of beauty. Is there an objective, true standard, or do we just have to run around blindly, hoping God will bless us with good aesthetics?

    Anyways, thanks in advance for replies (if I get any). I appreciate any help. I want to do good things and say good things in the future. I want the art (or whatever it is) that I make to glorify God and help his people.

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