As the media continues to show both men and women images of perfection, more and more people feel uncomfortable in their own skin. For women, this statement is especially true, and an estimated 20 million women have an eating disorder. Women are also twice as likely as men to have an anxiety disorder. A new study from the journal Body Image shows that women who have social physique anxiety (anxiety about how people will perceive their body) are more likely to engage in body checking behaviors and are more likely to be socially and psychologically impaired because of it. Body checking behaviors include:

  • Looking at your reflection
  • Smelling yourself
  • Checking your nails
  • Fixing your hair

These are all natural things to do, but those with Social Physique Anxiety do these on an excessive basis. This study emphasizes the need for women to seek help if their anxieties about their bodies cause shifts in their social lives and how they treat their bodies.

About the Study

Researchers recruited an ethnically diverse sample of 567 women for this study, with the average age of participants being 20 years old. They were asked to complete several self-reporting questionnaires, which were used as measures in this study. Questionnaires included:

  • Body Checking Quiestionnaire: A 23-item assessment that measured the body checking behaviors characteristic of women
  • Body Checking Cognition Scale: A 19-item scale of common cognitions underlying body checking behaviors
  • Clinical Impairment Assessment: A 16-item measure of the psychological impairment associated with eating disorders
  • Eating Disorder Examination Questionnaire: A 21-item assessment of eating disorder symptoms over the past month.
  • Social Appearance Anxiety Scale: A 16-item assessment which measures the anxiety of being negatively assessed by others.
  • Social Physique Anxiety Scale: A 12-item scale of the degree of anxiousness people experience when other people evaluate their physique.

What Researchers Found

Based on the information gathered from these questionnaires, researchers found that eating pathology predicts body checking cognitions, body checking behavior, and social physique anxiety concerns, meaning that eating disorders predict obsessive body checking and social physique anxiety. Women who feared negative social evaluation of their bodies also reported increased amount of body checking behaviors.

What it Means for Women and Anxiety Treatment

Body image issues are very common among women, as is anxiety. If aggravated, these issues can lead to social avoidance and an extreme physical response, like excessive exercise. This study emphasizes the need for women to seek help for anxiety and body image issues. If left alone, these fears of judgment might become uncontrollable and lead to problems that impair daily life. Seeking help could stop problems at the source and lead to self-acceptance and happiness of how you look.

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Emily K. White, Cortney S. Warren. The influence of social anxiety on the body checking behaviors of female college students. Body Image, September 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.07.008

Date of original publication: