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Women's Obsession with Looks Is Costly.

"How do I look?" Even if the answer is "Great," just asking the question can have a harmful effect on a woman's emotional health and mental performance, according to a University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, study. Social psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson maintains that the common obsession with appearing young, thin, and beautiful isn't harmless. The "psychological costs of raising girls in a culture that persistently objectifies the female body" socialize women to adopt a third-person perspective on their bodies.

This perspective is more common among women than men, according to the findings by Fredrickson and other researchers from Duke University, Durham, N.C., and Colorado College, Colorado Springs. It produces a strong feeling of shame about their bodies and results in a peculiar pattern of restrained eating that may be linked with full-blown eating disorders.

Just asking yourself how you look, constantly checking your appearance in mirrors, adjusting a strap, or tugging on a skirt uses mental resources that are, by consequence, unavailable for challenging mental tasks, she maintains. This tendency to view one's body from the outside inregarding physical attractiveness, sex appeal, measurements, and weight as more central to physical identity than health, strength, energy level, coordination, or fitness--may have harmful effects beyond diminished mental performance, increased feelings of shame and anxiety, and the development of eating disorders. Other consequences might be the high prevalence of depression and sexual dysfunction among women.

While waiting for society to change, women can do a few things to minimize this tendency to objectify themselves and to discourage its development in their daughters. Try to focus on how you feel, not how you look, Fredrickson suggests. Wear clothes that are comfortable and functional, rather than focusing attention on your appearance, eliciting looks and remarks from others, or requiring constant self-monitoring.
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Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 1998
Words:297
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