If you’ve ever been to a dinky town carnival, you know there are two types of funhouse mirrors: the ones that stretch your proportions, leaving you suddenly lanky and Amazonian, and the ones that squish you down into a frumpy, lumpy, extra-wide version of yourself. If you could choose to look in just one for the rest of your life, we’re guessing you’d choose the one that makes you look like Gisele’s ugly (yet tall!) twin sister. But think about this: women with a negative body image—whether serious enough to be diagnosed or not—perpetually see themselves like the second mirror.
Unfortunately, it’s not only in your head; according to a new study published in PLoS ONE, having a distorted version of yourself unconsciously affects your physical actions, such as how you walk into a room.
Already aware of the psychological consequences of negative body image at any level, researchers from Utrecht University in the Netherlands wanted to learn if it affected women physically. They asked 39 women (19 with diagnosed eating disorders, 20 without) to walk through a series of door like openings. As the openings decreased in width, researchers were able to observe when the women began to rotate their shoulders.
What they found: while patients with eating disorders overestimated their size on a much more severe scale, healthy women were just as likely to unconsciously rotate their shoulders to “fit” through openings 25% wider than their actual shoulder width.
“Psychologically, the way people experience the size of their bodies is often unconsciously tied to their emotions,” says Nina Savelle-Rocklin, PsyD, a psychoanalyst and eating disorder specialist in Los Angeles. Negative body image is not limited to teenagers or females or even people with eating disorders. And whether or not you’re aware of the physical signals you’re sending, you can make an effort to mend the psychology behind them. “The good news is, you can find the truth by going beyond the mirror and looking inward, you can change your distorted view of yourself and feel good,” she says.
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Do you struggle with your weight? Find yourself giving in to your sweet tooth cravings? Here's a trick to help you...when you're eating out and feel like you have to order dessert, order only one with two forks, and split it with a friend.