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Your Body: Reality vs. Fantasy - What's Normal?

Written by Lauren Long

Speaking of norms, the average American woman is 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average model is 5 feet 11 inches tall and weighs 117 pounds, according to the nonprofit Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention, based in Seattle. As role models get thinner, the average woman becomes more dissatisfied with her appearance.

In the poll, 28 percent of the women said they had refused social invitations because of their appearance, and almost 10 percent reported that they avoid medical appointments because of their weight. "This is devastating to women's health," says Levy.

Women may feel depressed after thumbing through a fashion magazine full of rail-thin models, but it hasn't stopped millions of women from buying them. "People don't read them for reality; they read them for an escape," explains Rachael Combe, managing editor of Elle magazine.

How do women handle criticism about their bodies?
64 percent said self-criticism caused them the most distress
13 percent were disturbed by criticism from their spouses
7 percent were sensitive to criticism from their mothers

Women may be aware that the glossy images are in part "smoke and mirrors," but this knowledge does little to boost self-esteem. "You might know that something is a fantasy that no one can attain, but there is a disconnect between our intellect and our feelings. We know intellectually that it is not real, but our emotions and feelings say otherwise, and that deep part of us that is comparing ourselves with media images feels inferior," says Levy.

The lack of diversity in body types will not change so long as women demand the fantasy.

"To be honest, I don't see it changing any time soon, and it is because magazines do represent the fantasy and the ideal," says Combe. "The most perfect bodies and the most perfect faces are what our readers want."

What is the affect of women's negative feelings about their bodies?
62 percent consider themselves overweight
59 percent were dissatisfied with their overall weight
28 percent have refused social invitations because of their appearance
13 percent have remained in an unhealthy relationship because of it
Almost 10 percent avoid medical appointments because of their weight

Levy likens the situation to an abusive relationship between women and the culture.

"We are being terrible victims. We are like abused women who are so afraid to change that we invite more abuse," she says. "We have to see it for what it is. It makes us feel bad about ourselves. It puts us down, and we feed into it. And we allow it to do that."

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*Data from People magazine's telephone poll of 1,000 women.

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