Breaking down barriers of body image disorders

Nancy Hall

In an effort to curb body image problems, Joshua Hrabosky ’01 is bringing his show on the road.

Hrabosky spoke to a packed Mancheski Executive Seminar Room last Friday, sharing his research in a presentation entitled “Understanding, Assessing, and Treating Body Image Disturbances.”

He began by speaking of the common misconception of body image problems. “Body image has always been associated with eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia – but not it is starting to stand on its own,” Hrabosky said.

The key to understanding body image is to realize that it is multidimensional, incorporating attitudinal, perceptual and behavioral characteristics. If these dimensions are not all met, then there may not necessarily be a problem.

“Just because I may be dissatisfied [in my appearance], that does not mean that I have a problem,” Hrabosky stated. One of the major factors behind body image disturbances is how invested a person is in their appearance.

He spoke of the compensatory and coping strategies often exhibited by people suffering from body image problems. These people may use avoidance by steering clear of mirrors, social activities and other people. They can use checking, which involves constantly looking in the mirror or seeking reassurance from other people. Another strategy is appearance fixing, such as using large amounts of makeup or having surgery to cover up what is perceived to be a defect.

There are a number of body image disturbances that are recognized by psychology professionals. These include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, obesity and body dysmorphic disorder.

Body image disturbances stem from cultural socialization, interpersonal experiences, physical characteristics and personality attributes. Hrabosky said that many people who suffer from such disorders engage in mental activity that promotes the negative thinking that developed through the aforementioned features.

This mental activity can include (among many other things) what Hrabosky terms “all-or-nothing” thinking, where a person believes they are either extremely beautiful or hideous without a middle ground and personal comparisons to other people, a physical ideal or media figures.

Hrabosky noted that while most of the previous research and discussion has focused on women, men are also at risk for body image disturbances. While most women with such a problem desire thinness, men will often look to be bulkier and more muscular. Hrabosky mentioned that this is most likely a result of the growing media portrayal of masculinity through muscularity.

There are treatment methods to alleviate people of body image disturbances, and Hrabosky listed several that are currently being used by psychology professionals. Among these methods are self-monitoring exercises, the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, interpersonal psychotherapy and motivational treatment.

Hrabosky graduated from Quinnipiac as a psychology major and English minor. Since leaving Hamden, he has gone on to pursue his master’s degree and is preparing to present his doctoral dissertation. He is currently working at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass., which is associated with Harvard University.