We live in a world that puts a ton of pressure on people to look a certain way. Magazines, television and even social media like Instagram are crafting an alternate reality that many people do not belong to. Those who fail looking a certain way are marginalised and this is particularly true for overweight people.

Body image issues and obesity have long been linked to anxiety and social isolation. A new study also suggests that even people who simply perceive themselves as being overweight are vulnerable to serious psychological disorders like depression.

Perceiving Oneself as Overweight Can Cause Depression

The study has found out that it doesn’t really matter whether a person is really overweight or if they perceive their body as being less than ideal. Perceived overweight increases the risk of depressive symptoms and suicidality beyond objective weight status, researchers concluded and published their findings in Clinical Psychology Review.

Analysis was carried out among different subgroups of individuals and the results were always consistent.

It’s easy to understand why perceiving oneself as overweight contributes to mental health problem.

Being overweight has long been stigmatised in society.

Weight stigmatisation starts at an early age in the educational system. Studies suggest that even pre-school children have negative attitudes towards their overweight peers.

Overweight students are more likely to become the victims of bullying and college acceptance rates among them are lower than among the students who are perceived to have a normal weight.

From that point forward, stigmatisation continues in nearly every aspect of life. Overweight individuals are even being judged by their medical care providers. Negative attitudes towards overweight patients have been reported among both physicians and nurses. Dieticians and psychologists seem to share the same biases.

The stigma predominantly stems from social perceptions about the causes of obesity. Many people think that overweight individuals are lazy and lacking in motivation. Research shows that many think self-control is sufficient to lose weight and get to an ideal body shape. Most people do not factor in psychological conditions that lead to overeating, medical problems and the fact that overweight individuals are frowned upon even when they attempt to lose weight (for example, by going to the gym).

Thus, weight stigma perpetuates the obesity epidemic. It contributes to social isolation, many overweight individuals being unwilling to seek medical assistance or to attempt working out. All of these factors come together to have a profound negative effect on the mental health of these people.

An Impossible Ideal, a High Risk of Failure

Image editing and celebrities with perfectly sculpted bodies contribute to an even more serious problem than the obesity epidemic itself.

Psychiatrists and psychologists in Singapore are dealing more often than ever with teenagers and young adults who find themselves incapable of overcoming body image issues and eating disorders.

Studies show that many women believe that their body is two third bigger than it actually is. Women are more sensitive to the appearance of their bodies, hence the effect is much more pronounced among them.

Men aren’t immune to self-perception distortion either.

According to the US National Centre for Health Statistics, 25.3 per cent of the men who have a healthy weight think that they’re overweight. The same is true for 47.9 per cent of women. Those in the 40 to 59 age group are most vulnerable – 27.6 per cent of the men and 56.5 per cent of the women perceive themselves as overweight. In the 20 to 39 age group, the distribution is 24.8 per cent for men and 49.5 per cent for women.

Thus, being overweight is not a prerequisite for experiencing anguish. It looks like half of all women who have normal bodies perceive themselves as being too heavy, which makes them vulnerable to the stigmatisation that overweight individuals experience.

Negative Talk about Weight = Body Image Issues and Depression

According to research published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research, negative talk about weight is one of the primary contributors to body image issues and depression.

Engaging in frequent conversations about one’s own body or what an ideal body is can result in very low self-esteem and high levels of depression. The findings in the study were irrelevant of the gender of participants or their body mass index (BMI). The more they were exposed to talks about diet, exercise and concerns about somebody being overweight, the more psychologically vulnerable they became.

In addition, researchers found out that engaging in such conversations contributed to a vicious cycle.

The more dissatisfied a person is with their appurtenance, the more they’re likely to engage in negative talk about weight. Such conversations bring down self-esteem even further, making it impossible for a person to get out of the loop.

Over time, depression levels increased as people perceived themselves to be seriously pressured to become thin.

Society connects thinness to attractiveness and attractiveness is linked to success. Thus, it’s easy to see why people who don’t belong to the category (or who simply think that they don’t belong to the category) could start feeling dissatisfied, isolated and even depressed.

Nearly 90 per cent of media and publications feature articles about unhealthy weight loss, US studies suggest. At the same time, 98 per cent of celebrity or model images published in print media or online are photoshopped. These messages are false and damaging, making even “normal” people feel inadequate and contributing to body image issues.

If you’re feeling unhappy about your appearance, anxious or depressed, you need to speak to a professional as soon as possible. Getting therapy in Singapore can help you regain your life and understand how you’ve become the victim of media manipulation.

The Adelphi Psych Medicine Clinic mental health professionals have the experience and the background to help people from all ages and walks of life. We adopt a holistic approach towards depression treatment to give you the coping tools and ensure long term recovery. Contact us today to schedule an appointment or have your most pressing questions about body image answered.