Body image peer pressure?

Celebrity reporting and around-the-clock coverage of those who are famous is a double-edged sword: it makes celebs seem more accessible, but also often serves to skew our perception of reality.

There is no better example of this than an anecdote from just the other day. I work in an environment largely made up of women—some of which very recently had children. A morning show the other day showed Beyonce’s slim post-baby body and touted the music star for getting back her “svelte” figure just ten weeks after having her daughter.

Instantly, the new moms around me started comparing their bodies to Beyonce’s and fell just short of beating themselves up about the fact that they too are not being touted for their “svelte” bodies some months after having a child.

It’s arguably and understandably hard to gain perspective, myself very much included, to the reality that mega-stars and “normal people” don’t have the same resources. We were so caught up in our self-critiques that we almost missed the part of the segment where they discussed how Beyonce got back to fighting shape. The singer reportedly had her trainer move in with her and is working out with her twice a day. She is also reportedly on a strict diet of protein shakes, egg whites, pineapple chunks and ice water.

It basically boils down to this: very few people can afford to go to those lengths to get in, or back in, shape. While it is absolutely commendable that fitness and health is a priority for such stars, as it should be for all of us, it should not come to the behest of our sense of what is realistic for us.

To its most dramatic degree, having an intense fixation on others’ physical and health successes and your relative drawbacks, could have serious repercussions, including body dysmorphic disorder—a mental disorder where you are fixated on a real, or imagined, personal physical flaw. Other eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia can also manifest themselves.

The London School of Economics and Political Science this month published a study that found that anorexia is a socially transmitted disease. After running an “economic analysis” on around 3,000 young women across Europe, the school found that peer group pressure has the most significant influence on self-image.

It also found that the development of anorexia appeared just as the autumn/winter season was winding up with Paris Fashion Week—largely featuring pin-thin models. The research by the school’s economist Dr Joan Costa-Font and Professor Mireia Jofre-Bonet of City University, showed that it is becoming increasingly apparent that standards of physical appearance are important and powerful motivators of human behavior, especially regarding health and food.

“We found evidence that social pressure, through peer shape, is a determinant in explaining anorexia nervosa and a distorted self-perception of one’s own body,” Costa-Font said, according to Reuters new agency.

“The distorted self-perception of women with food disorders and the importance or the peer effects may prompt governments to take action to influence role models and compensate for social pressure on women driving the trade-off between ideal weight and health,” Costa-Font said.

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