Does Perception Influences Body Image?

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is – infinite” ~William Blake, English artist and poet, 1757-1827

A few days before this blog was written, I posted a picture of Tara Lynn, a plus-size, French model, in a motivation poster gag and shared it with close friends who understood my humor.

Within minutes, I was bombarded with judgment and criticism from people whom I don’t know about how unhealthy she represents or how unattractive she is. The post was not intended to be professional nor is it associated with fitness or health. It was a personal share with friends. To top it off, when I asked a “personal trainer”, who made such comments, that I’m 5′ 6” and weigh 185 lbs with a BMI of 30, am I obese?, he replied:

“Nick, you’re close to being considered clinically obese, yes. I didn’t make the scale, I just went to college, got a degree in fitness and am certified through NSCA and NASM and make a living in the fitness field. It’s not always nice to hear, but it’s the truth.”

Judging someone by BMI alone is like judging someone by their skin color. Discrimination is the same.

A degree in fitness, a certification from NSCA and one from NASM–and that automatically make someone an expert? A professional?

Obviously, someone’s myopic perception of me based on ONE factor is like looking at my face and automatically assume that I know some ancient Chinese wisdom, like building a wall that you can see from outer space. Is this what is being taught in exercise science courses in college and personal training certifications? Have they kept up with current research and ideas like other sciences, like engineering and biology? Why is exercise industry is still stuck in the Richard Simmons era? If new fitness professionals are being milled out of these types of education, I can see why our industry is slow to evolve compared to other professions. Is this the type of “personal trainers” we need in this industry?

And by what reasons motivated this person to judge me  or anybody?

Let’s delve into a bit of history.

For thousands of years in the many cultures, women with full-figures were admired and valued. It was perceived as excellent fertility, health, and sign of motherhood.

Venus of Willendorf, Stone Age figurine.

In the Chinese culture, the Budai–or colloquially the “Laughing Buddha” (not to be confused with Guatama Buddha)–is a representation of contentment with possible association with poverty, as portrayed by his bare feet and bag that he carries (hence the name “Budai” (布袋) meaning “cloth sack”).

These icons symbolize an idea or representation that was valued at that culture in that time period. No judgment or criticism should be made based on one’s opinions and perception if one do not attempt to understand and accept others.

Only in the last one hundred years or so, the slim figure was considered as more attractive and a sign of health. How did we get this way? One explanation is the rise of media, particular in film, photography, and prints. An article from the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) can explain this in graphic detail. Click on Marilyn for the link. I do not wish to rehash what was already well-described.

What about guys? Do they (we) have the same problem as women do? Yes, although a bit differently. Back in the 1960s and early 1980s, rugged appearance, hairy chests and average-sized physique were considered attractive and more masculine. Consider Burt and Indy.

With the evolution of Rambo, the Terminator, Van Damme, and entertainment wrestling, the current, “ideal” image of the male physique leans toward this.

We can see that perception based on what society influences and how we interpret information can affect what we value and perceive as healthy or ideal. There is no right or wrong; it’s just people tend to compare themselves with others and want to be like others rather than be themselves. A close friend of mine once said, “No matter what ideal body image we get, we will never be truly happy unless we love ourselves first–including our body, image, and our being.

Part 2 looks at how perception affects our view of exercise.

P.S. I had to double check to see if I truly am clinically obese.

7 Responses to “Does Perception Influences Body Image?”
  1. What I see is the presentation of “perfection” deviating increasingly from what is typical. In other words, what we are “supposed” to look like, as presented in the media, is becoming further and further away from what the typical Joe or Jane actually looks like on the viewing couch – or in the mall.

    After all, the whole goal of the media (if you’re a cynic like me) is to keep people in a semi-comatose state of misery so they’ll be unhappy with themselves and need to buy more. IT’s been shown in study after study that the more miserable people are, the more they’ll spend and the greater into debt they will go, by buying consumer items in an attempt to become someone / something else.

    What is healthy / a healthy weight? Who knows exactly, but certainly less than what we are at our current average. But that said, being super-muscular / ripped probably isn’t the healthiest option either, not if you’re looking at longevity and general health aspects. I *do* know that there is a lot of data implying that smaller / lighter people live longer on average – a bummer for me (I’m nearly 6 feet tall). Go figure.

    Thanks for the great post.

  2. I love that curvy woman pic and it is so true. Also the BMI is a load of BS if you carry any amount of lean muscle then you will be considered obese. It says im overweight but last time i did hydrostatic weighing I was 8..2 percent. Get your bodyfat done. But i do believe a lot of people use the not realistic body image to have argument to be lazy and not give it there all and it holds them back from reaching their full potential.

    I am a personal trainer myself and I make sure I look in better shape then most so I put a lot of hours into it because I don’t feel comfortable saying anything about fitness if I don’t have a physique that is better than the average gym guy.

  3. Hi astronaut. Thanks for commenting and you’re welcome!. The purpose of sales in any field is to evoke emotions, for better or for worse. Many times we could ask ourselves questions, such as “Do I need this?” or “How can this invest my finances or my health if I purchase this?”

    At 6 feet tall yourself, you may be an outlier in the statistics. Cheers!

  4. Hi KOFitness. Unfortunately, schools and certifications still teach the BMI and exercise science is still years behind compared to other professions, like biology, physics, and engineering. We are taught what is rather than what may be. We read stuff, but we don’t question it. That’s why we have professionals like Paul Chek, Gray Cook, Gary Gray, and a few others who question and challenge the existing system so that we can do our job better in servicing our clients and/or patients.

    Thanks for commenting. Cheers!

  5. Kali says:

    I love how fat women call their fat “Curves”. It’s fat get over it. And as a thin person I take offense to the comparison of an 18 year old boy. If that makes them feel better about themselves, fine. But my husband says “If I wanted to marry a woman who is the size of a cow, I’d marry a cow” : D

    • Kali says:

      One more thing… I believe fat women were valued a long time ago because of the mere fact that food was hard to come buy.. fat woman=lots of food=wealth. Simple as that.

      Now the opposite is true.. thin woman=lots of gym=ability to afford a gym/time/better food

  6. Kali says:

    err I meant *by*

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