A New York Times reporter recently wrote this sentence: “Like most--heck, all--of the women I know, my relationship to food, to my weight, to my body is…complicated.” That relationship is now visible in our brains.
When anorexic and bulimic women see images of overweight women, an area of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex, lights up in a functional MRI. This region is associated with identity and self-reflection.
Researchers [Tyler Owens, Mark Allen and Diane Spangler, Personality and Individual Differences, http://bit.ly/aCnszw] at Brigham Young University studied women who seemed to have no major body image issues, based on a standard psychological assessment. This group was supposed to be the healthy controls. The scientists showed the apparently healthy women images of both overweight and thin female bodies. And their medial prefrontal cortex lit up, particularly at images of overweight women.
When a group of men looked at images of overweight men, there was no medial prefrontal cortex activity. So apparently women, unlike men, see photos of heavy women and think “me too.” The authors say that this finding may mean that even apparently healthy women have, under the surface, issues related to food, weight and body image.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]