Have you ever looked in the mirror and felt short and fat? You’re not the only one. In fact, many people tend to perceive their own bodies to be shorter and wider than they actually are.
In a recent study, British researchers determined that most people are very bad at assessing their own dimensions. In the mind’s eye, we almost always judge ourselves to be shorter and wider than we really are—even right down to our hands.
Dr. Matthew Longo and his colleagues at University College London asked a group of volunteers to put their left hand, palm down, under a board and then specify on the surface of the board the location of the covered hand’s knuckle’s and fingertips. The volunteers consistently imagined their hands to be two-thirds wider and one-third short than its actual size. Longo’s study on size perception was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.
While this study is great for anyone’s self image, it could be even more beneficial when addressing eating disorders. Says Longo of the study: “These findings may well be relevant to psychiatric conditions involving body image such as anorexia nervosa, as there may be a general bias towards perceiving the body to be wider than it is.”
Considering the volunteers studied were mentally healthy and still judged their own body size quite disproportionately, it is interesting to see how someone with anorexia or bulimia may view themselves.
Mia Holland, chair person of the counseling studies department at Capella University, explained that some counselors will ask anorexia patients to draw a life-size picture of themselves. The counselor will then have the patient lie down on the drawing while someone else traces their actual body size. The real v. perceived size can be astounding in patients with severe anorexia. “A size 4 might draw herself as a size 14,” Holland says.
When it comes to our body, we are always our worst critic. Whenever you’re having an off day, keep in mind that you probably look way better than you think.