University of Florida | GatorWell Health Promotion Services - Health Topic

Body Image and Eating Concerns


A mirror, scale, clothing size, and fashion advertisement…what do they all have in common? For many, these items have taken on a meaning far beyond a simple tool, number, or industry attempt to sell the latest trends. These items have the power to dictate how we feel about ourselves, set our mood, and even make or break our day. Explore below to learn about body image and how to encourage a culture of body acceptance for youself and others.

Body Image

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, body image is a person’s unique perception of their body-the assumptions, generalizations and memories you have about how you look; how you picture yourself in your mind. Body image also includes how you feel about your body (shape, height, weight) and how you feel in your body (sensations and control as you move about). When it comes to body image, one can have a positive perception or a negative perception of their body. Additionally, one's self-esteem has a strong impact on how they perceive their body.

A person with a positive body image perception are satisfied with their body. They see themselves as they truly are and celebrate the natural shape of their body. They recognize that one’s body shape has no baring their ability to be successful and compassionate contributors to their community. A person with a positive body image is accepting of and confident in their body.

A person with a negative body image perception is dissatisfied with their body. They have a somewhat distorted view of their body. Instead of looking at their body as an indomitable whole, they may scrutinize certain parts of their body (thighs, stomach, arms, etc.) and label those parts inadequate. They feel ashamed, discontent and self-conscious about various aspects of their body to a degree that causes anxiety. A person with a negative body image feels uncomfortable, disappointed and unhappy in their body.

From TV shows and movies to peers, teachers and parents, body dissatisfaction is promoted throughout our society. Living in a culture that glorifies thinness or masculinity as the ideal, the mass media images that influence those ideals and subsequent narrow social perceptions of beauty all play a role in cultivating widespread negative body image perceptions among people, starting at an early age. And unfortunately, negative body image is the best known contributor to the development of an eating disorder, a potentially fatal condition affecting one's emotional and physical health.

Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is an unhealthy relationship with food and weight that can have a severe impact on one’s health and is potentially life-threatening. There are three recognized forms of eating disorders:

There are also other specified feeding or eating disorders that can have a severe and negative impact on one's health but do not meet the criteria for one of the above recognized disorders.

How do UF Students feel about their bodies?

Many students, both women and men, struggle with feeling good about their appearance and bodies. How you view your body can affect your health, sense of wellbeing, enjoyment of life, and even your academic performance. Negative body image can also be a precursor to disordered eating - as many as 20% of college students experience disordered eating of some form.

In a 2013 survey of UF students:

  • 28% women and 14% of men reported that feeling fat frequently interferes with their enjoyment of everyday life.
  • 18% students worried about losing control over how much they eat.
  • 15% said that food dominates their life.

Think about those numbers across a campus the size if UF (>50,000) - that is a lot of lost enjoyment, worry and energy that could be used in so many other ways. Indeed, when one is preoccupied with what a perfect body is and how they can get it, they are spending less time actually enjoying their lives and being grateful for all their body is capable of helping them achieve in life. But, you can help turn this around for yourself and those you care about.

To create a culture of body acceptance, we must first accept the fact that the human body comes in a wide range of shapes and sizes and that there is no perfect body shape or size. As individuals we must reprogram the way we think about our bodies and the bodies of others. Then we must take it a step further by celebrating and finding beauty in the diversity in body shape and size among ourselves and others. Finally, we must promote a culture of body acceptance by demonstrating respect for our bodies and the bodies of others and by challenging narrow ideals of beauty in our everyday lives.

Next time you find yourself negatively scrutinizing your body:

  • Make positive comments about your body and the bodies of others. Challenge critical comments about your body. Whether they are coming from you, someone you know, or the latest beauty or fashion advertisement, question the messages that cause you to think negatively about yourself.
  • Create a list of all the things that you are thankful for that your body allows you to do. Add to it often. For instance, “I appreciate my body, because…”
  • Don’t let your weight or shape keep you from activities you enjoy. Participate in physical activity because it’s something you enjoy, not because you feel obligated to. Try an activity that you thought you’d never do like rock climbing at the local rock gym, kayaking at Lake Wauberg, or taking a relaxing yoga class.
  • Surround yourself with people who remind you of your inner strength and uniqueness. Don’t let the people around you bring you down or make you feel bad about your body. Make more time for people who accept you for who you are now.

Get Involved

The UF campus community is cultivating a powerful voice in support of body acceptance and a healthy ideal. GatorWell and other campus partners are working to offer educational and outreach events throughout the year in addition to events during national observances such as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in February.

If you have any suggestions or would like to help advance the body image programming at UF, please contact Natalie Rella.

Demonstrate and Advocate for body acceptance:

  • Inspire others by being confident in who you are and talking positively about yourself-preferably about the amazing things you do not just how amazing you look!
  • Take a stance against size discrimination-speak up when you hear or see it.
  • Speak out against the beauty ideal portrayed by the mediaRecognize that most images are airbrushed EXTENSIVELY. Engage in discussions about unrealistic images in the media and their impact on how we perceive ourselves.
  • Challenging critical comments about appearance or negative body talk among your friends. When your friend says, “Gawd, I look so fat in these jeans.” Or “I wish I were more ripped”, counter that negative talk with a body-positive affirmation.
  • Focus on the positive, non-body or weight oriented characteristics you value in your friends and others.

Get Involved

The UF campus community is cultivating a powerful voice in support of body acceptance and a healthy ideal. GatorWell and other campus partners are working to offer educational and outreach events throughout the year in addition to events during national observances such as National Eating Disorders Awareness Week in February.

If you have any suggestions or would like to help advance the body image programming at UF, please contact Natalie Rella.

Campus Resources

Celebrate EveryBODY

Celebrate EveryBODY

UF Body Acceptance

UF Body Acceptance

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