Weight status and the perception of body image in men
Rick M Gardner
Department of Psychology, University of Colorado Denver, Denver, CO, USA
Abstract: Understanding the role of body size in relation to the accuracy of body image perception in men is an important topic because of the implications for avoiding and treating obesity, and it may serve as a potential diagnostic criterion for eating disorders. The early research on this topic produced mixed findings. About one-half of the early studies showed that obese men overestimated their body size, with the remaining half providing accurate estimates. Later, improvements in research technology and methodology provided a clearer indication of the role of weight status in body image perception. Research in our laboratory has also produced diverse findings, including that obese subjects sometimes overestimate their body size. However, when examining our findings across several studies, obese subjects had about the same level of accuracy in estimating their body size as normal-weight subjects. Studies in our laboratory also permitted the separation of sensory and nonsensory factors in body image perception. In all but one instance, no differences were found overall between the ability of obese and normal-weight subjects to detect overall changes in body size. Importantly, however, obese subjects are better at detecting changes in their body size when the image is distorted to be too thin as compared to too wide. Both obese and normal-weight men require about a 3%–7% change in the width of their body size in order to detect the change reliably. Correlations between a range of body mass index values and body size estimation accuracy indicated no relationship between these variables. Numerous studies in other laboratories asked men to place their body size into discrete categorizes, ranging from thin to obese. Researchers found that overweight and obese men underestimate their weight status, and that men are less accurate in their categorizations than are women. Cultural influences have been found to be important, with body size underestimations occurring in cultures where a larger body is found to be desirable. Methodological issues are reviewed with recommendations for future studies.
Keywords: body size, men, weight status, body image, body perception, literature review
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