Fathers’ Body Images: Territory to be Explored

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
May/June 2007 Volume 18, Number 3
©2007 Gürze Books

Thus far, much more is known about the body image perceptions of mothers of patients with eating disorders than is known about how patients’ fathers perceive their own bodies.

Researchers at the University of Schleswig-Holstein, Lübeck, Germany, used a computer program called the somatomorphic matrix (see box), which allows modeling of perceived and desired body images of patients and their relatives. The program runs on a laptop computer, and subjects select their desired body image.

Forty-two father-daughter pairs rated their own body images and, in addition, the fathers rated the body images of their daughters. Twenty-seven patients had anorexia nervosa (AN) and 15 had bulimia nervosa (BN). Selected images were compared with the subjects’ anthropometric body data, including body fat and muscularity. The data from the fathers and daughters were then examined. Differences between both diagnostic groups were compared and associations between the fathers’ and the daughters’ body image perceptions were evaluated.

A correlation with bulimic patients

As Dr. D. Benninghoven and the other researchers recently reported, patients with AN overestimated their bodies on the body fat dimension portion of the test (Eat Weight Disord 2007; 12:12). Patients with BN wished to have bodies with less fat. Fathers of both groups of patients perceived their own bodies correctly but wished to have less body fat and to be more muscular. The desire for a change in body fat expressed by AN patients was highly correlated with their fathers’ body mass index (BMI). Among the BN patients, the wish for a change in body fat correlated with their fathers’ distorted body images and desire for a more muscular body.

Thus, the body images of patients with eating disorders and their fathers are related, particularly among patients with BN. The authors suggest that fathers’ body images should be included in family therapy with patients with BN.

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