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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/24/2011

Why do women hate their bodies so much?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

I just read an unsettling article in Glamour that said 97 percent of 300 young women surveyed by the magazine reported having multiple negative thoughts about their own bodies in a given day. The average number was 13; many women said they had as many as 35, 50 or 100 such thoughts per day.

So I'm sitting here thinking mean thoughts about my thighs and wondering, why do we do this to ourselves?

Well, there are all kinds of reasons we get started: unrealistic societal norms, impossible standards set for the appearance of the female form, stray but crushing comments from our mothers' mouths, and, most of all, accumulated bad habit. The psychologist who helped design and interpret the survey points out that most of the negative thoughts we aim at our bodies have more to do with other unpleasant circumstances in our lives -- our frustrating jobs and unfulfilling relationships -- than with the fat on our backsides.

Most of those things are not going to get fixed overnight. But, the article suggests, that doesn't mean we should surrender to a lifetime of hating our bodies. We can all break the cycle of self-criticism, pretty much the same way we break any bad habit. The article offers tips for doing this, some of them gleaned from the 3 percent of women surveyed who managed not to berate their bodies all day long. My favorite? When you feel a negative body-thought rising, imagine a big STOP sign and do just that -- STOP.

Another tip that resonates most with me is to appreciate your body for the things it can do. Mine gave birth to two beautiful children. I should be thanking it every day for that accomplishment alone. Alas, I spend more time fussing over the flap of flab on my belly that dates from my last childbirth.

I'm going to try to change my ways, if for no other reason than to do justice to the folks around me who think I'm beautiful just the way I am. It suddenly seems unfair for me to discount their opinions so wantonly. So the next time my husband or my friend Jorie tells me I'm beautiful, I'm going to give their good judgment the credit it's due.

I hope you'll follow suit. (And, hey, fellows: I know a lot of you are down on your bodies, too. You're welcome to join us in working to reverse that.) Please, let me know how things go for you.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | February 24, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Life's Big Questions, Me Minus 10, Nutrition and Fitness, Psychology, Weight loss, Women's Health  
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You're kidding, right? Since I can remember, I've been told via people I know, strangers, the media, the WORLD that, because I am not thin, I am considered undesirable, trash, lazy, unclean, smelly, and ostracized. Until people stop judging others on their looks, this will persist. Fashion industry refuses to create clothes for women who aren't below a size 8. Fat people are the butt of jokes relentlessly. Prejudice against people of size is the last acceptable prejudice.

Posted by: sigmagrrl | February 24, 2011 12:21 PM | Report abuse

Over 100 thoughts? Six or eight an hour, every waking hour? Or is it one hundred in a row? Who has time for that? Reminds me of the studies that say men think about sex so many times a day that you wonder how they get dressed and feed themselves, much less get any work done.

And what counts? Do I "hate my body" if I notice with mild annoyance that the humidity has given me the frizzies and my hair is sticking out all over the place?

Posted by: di89 | February 24, 2011 2:52 PM | Report abuse

This is a monumental societal finding. Women are constantly concerned with their bodies, and men are constantly concerned with womens bodies too.

As I understand it, fewer than 10% of people are concerned with mens bodies.

Posted by: kamdog | February 24, 2011 8:07 PM | Report abuse

In ancient times, women were confined to their homes and husbands and they probably didn't worry too much about their bodies. Most women in modern era workplace are concerned on how their male colleagues view them and thus become very conscious of their bodies. Media doesn't help them either.

Posted by: jgj123 | February 24, 2011 8:45 PM | Report abuse

I think a lot of it has to do with the way clothing styles have gone, too. If you look back to, say, the 50's, the clothes had structure and hid a lot of flaws. If you had a bit of tummy flab or whatnot, an a-line skirt would cover it. A woven blouse covers a lot.

The styles nowadays really only look good on people who are very, very slim. I am 5'5" and 120lbs, hardly overweight, but I am constantly battling to find clothes that fit me well and don't look awful. Most people over the age of 30 don't look good in low-rise jeans (and plenty under 30, as well). But that's all manufacturers make now.

Posted by: floof | February 24, 2011 8:52 PM | Report abuse

While perfection is not going to happen for most of us...

We shouldn't deny that:

o Being a Healthy weight is a good thing.

o Being aware of what a Healthy body "feels" like is a good thing.

o A balanced well adjusted person, doesn't use food as a substitute for other things in their lives.

o So while we may not be a perfect weight, we should not dismiss those who do maintain a healthy life style and make concern about their weight part of that life style.

o Alot of health research proves that maintaining a healthy weight contributes to the reduction of most diseases and medical problems.

o A person's weight is a health concern for their own sake, not a matter of pleasing someone elses judgements about our bodies.

Posted by: talketwo22 | February 24, 2011 10:51 PM | Report abuse

TakeTwo, what you're not understanding is that 97% of women are not overweight! Many of the women in this study *are* at a healthy weight, and still hate their bodies.

Furthermore, "perfection" doesn't necessarily have to do with being the right weight (the study didn't say anything about people feeling too fat). Any woman who has ever felt bad about the size of her breasts (too big or too small), her height, her vericose veins, the loose skin leftover from her pregnancy, etc. falls into this category.

Posted by: floof | February 25, 2011 7:27 AM | Report abuse

Did anyone ask the girls how many POSITIVE thoughts about themselves and/or their bodies they had? If so, what was the count?

My point is a girl may have 13 negative thoughts (these things happen) but maybe she also had 50 positive thoughts about her body, her future, her social situation, her friends, etc or may be she only had one positive thought. Depending on that, I could view the 13 differently.

Simply having negative thoughts is not enough of an indicator, nor is the count of thoughts, as someone pointed out with men and their thoughts about sex.

Posted by: slackermom | February 25, 2011 8:16 AM | Report abuse

Glamour does this study frequently, so I'm not sure where you have been. Why don't they call on fashion/women's mags SUCH AS ITSELF to show real women - including actual plus size (not size 10) - and how they are beautiful? Its a start, albeit a small one.

Posted by: sarah54 | February 25, 2011 9:03 AM | Report abuse

Women are women, men are men. Just because the majority of women want to act/look/be like men but cannot, makes them unhappy with their bodies. You cannot improve on perfection.

Posted by: joeblotnik49 | February 25, 2011 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Maybe fashion magazine are to blame for some of this but I think it is also true that at least some of the negative thoughts about our bodies is that most of us (including me) know that our bodies are seriously overweight and out of shape but instead of getting serious about improving our fitness level, we are waiting for some magic solution to come along and fix them -- and in the meantime every time that we catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror or window, or every time we run out of breath climbing the stairs, we are reminded that we are overweight and out of shape. Which leads to . . . negative thoughts about our bodies!

Posted by: NHalpern | February 25, 2011 10:02 AM | Report abuse

Just before I read this, I (seriously) had a negative conversation with myself about my 'fat' stomach. I wear a size four... That was from our society's obsession with the super thin and was silly. However, I have to agree NHalpern, we have a obesity epidemic in this country. I don't think the negative thoughts are entirely the problem, magazines and tv shows that endlessly tout those magic solutions are a factor as well. Calories in vs calories expended, it all comes down to that

Posted by: kawilson69 | February 25, 2011 10:41 AM | Report abuse

"Most women in modern era workplace are concerned on how their male colleagues view them and thus become very conscious of their bodies."

Really? I disagree. I think about how men outside the workplace (i.e., men I have dated or might like to date) view me, but I most definitely have never wanted my colleagues to think about my body. And I just won't believe that I'm so unusual in that regard.

There may be something to your larger point about women being outside the home more, but I just don't see male colleagues as being the focus of female body image concerns.

Posted by: Janine1 | February 25, 2011 11:02 AM | Report abuse

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and healthy is relative.

First Point. If I don't like the way you look, I'm not going to associate with you based on looks. If that's the only relationship we have, then there's no association.

Second Point. As your satisfaction with your looks decreases, your motivation to do something about it increases.

Third Point. It requires a very high level of motivation to actually cause someone to take action to do something about it.

Fourth Point. It requires an higher level of motivation to sustain an action than to start it.

Posted by: mhoust | February 25, 2011 11:04 AM | Report abuse

The women who worry so much about their bodies have girlfriends that do the same. They have not changed their world view since they were sixteen. Too bad they could not have been made vampires at that age and stayed that way forever.
What you accomplish is a lot more important than how much you weigh when you do it.
Which is not to say that you should not wear a hair style and color, makeup, and clothes that make you look as good as you can - today.

Posted by: leslieswearingen | February 25, 2011 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I cannot remember the last time I had a positive thought about my body. I negative self talk 100 percent of the time. While it's sort of a habit, it's also true that my body is unacceptably unattractive to 99 percent of Americans. At 55yo, 5-8 and 165 pounds=PIG. Granted, I'm a pig that waddles through 1/2 marathons, but at a very slow pace. Even if I come up with a "good thought" I immediately erase with a bad one. "I can run 13 miles. But so slowly."

Part of it is my entrenched unshakable belief that self-esteem=conceit=vanity=selfish. The latter 3 are high crimes in this society.

I will NEVER get to a "love my body" state. If I could just get to a "hate my body less" state, I guess that would be progress. I won't even look at myself in a mirror anymore.

Gee, some folks body snark Michelle Obama for goodness sakes.

Posted by: khachiya1 | February 25, 2011 11:55 AM | Report abuse

I am a 34 almost 35 year old woman and have a loving husband who tells me I am beautiful all the time as does my 19 year old daughter. Before I had my daughter I was a size 0-3. I am now a size 10 sometimes a 12 and I LOVE my body. It allowed me to give birth to my three beautiful children. It has yet to keep me from doing all that I would like to do and any stretch marks, freckles, wrinkles are part of my life story. As the old saying goes "Those who matter dont mind and those who mind dont matter" so I really think people (men and women) should stop hating their body so much and just be grateful they can do all they can. Think of the flaws as a mark of the life you have lived instead of flaws!!

Posted by: Jessica1976 | February 25, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

I can't say that I never have bad thoughts about my body, but I think I do generally have good self-esteem. When I do think something negative, it usually is connected to me being unhappy about something else in my life.
But it wasn't easy to get there. I went through a really rough period where I was constantly thinking negative thoughts about myself. I just decided to stop it one day.

Posted by: DCinND | February 25, 2011 5:57 PM | Report abuse

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