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David Baxter

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Feeling Fat Thinking Thin
ByJay Dixit, Psychology Today
Nov/Dec 2000 Issue

Why do women feel OK about their bodies until other women show up?

People like believing they're above average. Most people feel they're smarter, funnier, and more attractive than the next person. Unfortunately, this same tendency does not exist among young women when comparing body weight.

In a study by psychologist Catherine Sanderson, of Amherst College, college women tend to believe that they exercised less and weighed more than the average person. Her study also found that this misperception increases over time, as college seniors seem much more likely than freshwomen to misjudge the weight and habits of others.

According to Sanderson, the trend goes something like this: "Jane," the average college freshwoman, first arrives at school weighing 130 pounds. When asked, she estimates that other students weigh approximately 130 pounds?and she's right. Years pass, and Jane observes other women eating less, bragging about rigorous exercise regimens, and skipping meals. By her senior year, Jane has put on a few pounds. Weighing in at 135, she estimates that the average female student weighs 125 pounds. This time, she's wrong. The average student weighs what she does?yet Jane doesn't see it.

It's a dangerous trend, Sanderson says, because, "the more women perceived themselves as being different, the more symptoms they showed of anorexia and bulimia." However, after explaining the misperception to women who reported primarily comparing themselves to other campus women, she found that they adopted a more accurate outlook. "Letting women know they're wrong could really help," she says.
 

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