Saturday, April 05, 2014

In which Medusa proved the body- image theorists wrong.

So all this while, when Medusa had been asked whether she is concerned about women’s body images for her research, she had noncommittally nodded her head, thinking body image to be some sort of a subjective category of how people think of their bodies.

But she was wrong, oh so wrong. Did she know that it is not subjective at all, it is good and true science, calculable and quantifiable at the same time? No she did not.

There are several other things that she found out, in trying to understand this nebulous ‘body image’:
1.   Body image, an important concern in experimental psychology, assumes that a person (and since all the experiments in this context are always carried out on women, here, a woman) should be able to perceive her body objectively and more or less accurately as she would some inanimate object.
(Because bodies are just that- inanimate objects)
2.    Accurate perception means perception in terms of metres, centimetres, inches etc. So basically, if one can look at a book and say that this is six inches long, one should be able to say that her calf is twenty inches wide.
(So, those people who can not objectively perceive lengths etc., can not have a body image?)
3.    ‘Body image’ is usually suffixed with disturbance or problem- it is diagnosable and therefore treatable by a change in individual attitude.
(Yes of course.)
4.    There are complex experiments carried out to diagnose body image disturbance and build generalisations around them. These experiments include: having a woman measure the approximate width of her thigh/ shin/ stomach along with the lengths of a slant of light gradually reducing. Looking at distorted mirrors, or feeling up oneself in front an observer, constitute this very scientific and highly complicated experiment.
(Not something one can easily understand.)
And there’s more, researchers have concluded that there are certain indices of body image dissatisfaction that can tell the experimented-on subject exactly how unhappy she is with her body.
They are:
∞Body image perception index:  perceived size (multiplied by) 100 / real size.
(So, if one thinks one’s waist is 36 inches while in reality it is only 34 inches, then one should be able to calculate exactly how dissatisfied she is.)
∞Body parts satisfaction scale,
∞Body image avoidance questionnaire, etc.

Hence, one could potentially have a negative or a positive body image perception rating, but in this case, both negative and positive would be negative, right? PLUS,  these highly sophisticated researchers have also concluded that almost all women suffer from body image disturbance- in terms of overestimation (i.e. they think they are bigger than they are). Some overestimate the size of certain sections of their bodies, some do so as a whole.

And this is where Medusa was confused. Because to her, the limits of her body are not necessarily limited, bounded by definite boundaries. It varies from day to day, week to week, mostly unnoticed by her. What she does know, however, is this:

If there is a stool or a chair with legs on the floor that she has to pass by, she WILL stub her toe in it.

If there is a door that she has to go through, she WILL graze her arm or her elbow on its side. And kindly note, not on both the sides, this is not about her thinking herself to be thinner than she is, instead, this is about not knowing where she ends and “inanimate” objects start. The liminal state of her hair is another case in point- its ends get caught in her bag, other bodies on her bed find themselves entangled with it, she herself pulls it on occasions, not knowing it to be her hair. She therefore walks about in the world, in an often painful haze of stubs, pricks, pulls, grazes and shoves- trying to navigate between bodies and beings.

If the body image scientists were right, then, Medusa would have thought herself to be bigger than she is, and would have always managed an area of space between the limits of her body and that of another- the spatial version of her body image perception rating: surely something the scientists could scientifically come up with?

The absence of which, coupled with the fact that Medusa DOES NOT THINK SHE IS ANY THINNER, ever (!!!!!), one must conclude, the scientists, despite their scientific experiments, must have been wrong after all.


  1. I wonder why these body image perception experiments are carried out only on women. Men too are equally dissatisfied with specific body sure, they are. Or is the dissatisfaction index in case of men is not high enough to be pathologically disturbing? Is there any thesis on that?

    Since these experiments seem to be rather complicated, do people really agree to participate in the research? I mean, for example, how do researchers identify a possible/potential subject who “needs” to be experimented upon, or taken as a “case-study”? Or, do women willingly visit clinics to get themselves experimented upon in order to allay their depression? Or are they recommended by psychoanalysts or counsellors who feel that they are in dire need of “treatment”?

  2. Kaustav, the body image experiments were initially carried out with women diagnosed with an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia, along with a control group, usually, 'normal' women, i.e. no diagnosed disorders- mostly female undergraduate students at a psychology course that the researcher may have been associated with. But the "findings" of these researches apparently pointed at gross body image disturbance even among women with not diagnosed eating disorders. Increasingly, populist science magazines like Psychology Today carried out readership surveys to diagnose body image disturbance, and the trend has been taken up by a lot of women's magazines in the West as well. Hence, though the laboratory oriented approach continues to go on in experimental psychology, so does the more popular questionnaire approach- albeit the truth claims of their findings reign supreme.

    1. Thanks for the, why don't you begin surveying men who are too obsessed with their body? :) Or such thesis is already available?