Is Your Body Image Genetic?


How do you react to the expression, “you can never be too rich or too thin?”  For some women, this could not be truer.  For others, it is ridiculous.  A recent study conducted by researchers at Michigan State University suggests that your reaction to this statement may be partly genetic.

It is undeniable that a large percentage of American women are obsessed with their weight and being thin, even as the overweight and obesity rates in the U.S. continue to rise.  In the past, this has been largely blamed on unrealistic portrayals of the ideal female body on television, in movies, in magazines and in advertisements.  But why do some women react so differently to this exposure than others?  A study published online in the October 3rd edition of “The Journal of Eating Disorders”, suggests that it may be at least partially due to their genes.  In the study, the term “thin-ideal internalization” is used to measure the extent to which someone identifies with the ideal of thinness and attractiveness in our culture.  Someone with a high level of thin-ideal internalization longs to look like the super thin models and actresses they see in magazines, the movies and television.  Someone with a low level of thin-ideal internalization is less affected by the exposure to these types of images.

In this study, Michigan State Researchers used survey responses from a large study of twins in Michigan.  A total of 343 female twins ages 12 to 22 completed surveys answering questions about how strongly they wanted to look like the women they saw on television, in magazines and in advertisements.  The more they aspired to these looks, the higher their thin-ideal internalization.  The researchers then compared how the identical and fraternal twin pairs answered the questions.  They found that the more similar the genes, the more similar the answers.

Certainly this study is not conclusive.  A lot more research is needed to conclude that there is a genetic link and to isolate the gene or genes involved.  However, it does bring up some interesting points, particularly in the area of women’s body images and the propensity for eating disorders.  It is widely known today that many women are struggling with overweight and obesity. These problems cannot only be harmful to self-esteem but can also lead to dangerous complications such as Type II Diabetes and heart disease.  If you are currently unhappy with your weight, talk to your doctor today about positive lifestyle changes you can make to increase your health and improve your body image.

Posted on the Behalf of a Marietta OBGYN Practice.