Body image is a complex construct that consists, fundamentally, of three dimensions: perceptive ,cognitive-affective and behavioral . A basic definition of the body image could equate to the mental image or internal photograph of our own body, both its general appearance and each of its parts, that people have in our minds. However, this simile includes only the first of the dimensions of the construct listed a moment ago: that is, the perceptive. The body image is much more than the mental photography itself that we harbor in our consciousness : also the thoughts and emotions that this image arouses, and which are often difficult to dissociate from it, are part of the body image. The behaviors derived from these cognitions and affects make up the last component. All these cognitive-behavioral phenomena in relation to consciousness and the experience of one’s own body can be, globally speaking, positive or negative for the person; they will rarely be truly neutral, especially in a culture such as ours, which gives supreme importance to the image and the body. Body perception can lead to feelings of anxiety, pride, sadness, satisfaction, etc. , and the cognitive-affective fact can lead to adaptive or maladaptive behaviors, beneficial or harmful to the individual. In this sense, for some authors, body image is the way one perceives, imagines, feels and acts with respect to their own body. In other words, we could say that it is the relationship that a person has with his body.
In neurological terms, the body image can be defined as the representation of the different parts of the body that are housed in the somatosensory and motor areas of our cerebral cortex. The representation of each of the body parts in the cortex is not proportional to the size of the body segment in question, but there are important variations depending on, for example, sensitivity. The area of the somatosensory cortex dedicated to the lips or the clitoris, for example, is much larger than the area dedicated to the back.Also the degree of development or the functionality of a certain part of the body in a certain person can condition variations, such as the muscles of the lower extremities in soccer players or the fingers of the hands in professional pianists.
The body image is not something static, stable or much less inherent in the person. Current psychological studies estimate that body image begins to form at an early age , and does so in different ways depending on gender, ethnicity, sexuality and the degree of (dis) ability, among other variables. By the age of two years, most children are able to recognize their own image in a mirror, which can be considered that there is already, by then, a first approach to one’s own body image. However, the body image includes the mental representation of specific parts of the body whose visualization does not necessarily require a reflective surface, such as the distal parts of the extremities or the abdomen. Body image is a fluid and dynamic construct that changes throughout the evolutionary development of people, mainly during childhood, adolescence and early youth , coinciding with: a) The period of major objective changes in somatic parameters (growth, puberty, etc.), which favors greater cognitive attention in the body, and b) Psychoevolutive stages of basic self and personality formation, moments in which the effects of external influences are maximum (being sad examples of this the devastating consequences of oppressive discourses of aesthetic violence on preadolescent and adolescent girls in terms of the development of eating disorders, for example).
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However, the body image of a person can vary throughout his life, either spontaneously in response to evolutionary cognitive-affective changes or as a response to more or less specific external interventions. Examples of external interventions potentially modifying the body image may be the non-formal interventions of the media promoting body-shaming [shame of the body], in its connivance with the aesthetic order dictated by the big lobbies of the control industry body (diet, exercise, fashion, beauty remedies, etc.).However, it can also be preventive and psychotherapeutic interventions designed to improve body image and build healthier relationships with one’s body. Psychology has demonstrated the effectiveness of certain cognitive-behavioral interventions for the positive modification of body image , which has also been maintained in the long term. In addition, but body image not only changes throughout life, but often experience variations within short time scales, sometimes even ultradiana (several times in a single day). People often report feeling thinner or lighter after a few hours of fasting, such as in the morning when getting up; on the contrary, the fact of eating more than usual, of not exercising if one is used to it, or comparing it with social models (real or presented and purified by the media, according to Latour’s translation and purification concepts  ) has shown power to modify the body image in the short term.
The importance of the concept of body image lies in its great relevance in self-esteem and in the genesis of problematic, very disabling and generating great suffering, of the relationship with the body and with food. This does not only include disorders of eating behavior, such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa, or other nosological entities such as body dysmorphic disorder, but a much broader and more prevalent range of psychological problems that cause great discomfort in the population and that have in common feelings of displeasure towards the own body and alterations in the emotional relation with the food and with the own body.
In this sense, the behavioral component has great relevance because it constitutes the visible part of the body image, and also because these behaviors are what often maintain the (in) body satisfaction. It is what in psychology is called the theory of self-fulfilling prophecy. We will understand it right away with an example. If a person thinks that his body is horrible and therefore avoids the social situations in which someone can repair him, he will significantly restrict the number of potential occasions in which he could make contact with other people who express an alternative judgment about his body. , and therefore the probabilities of confrontation of your initial hypothesis will decrease. Let’s say the case of a complexed girl because her body has a population size and morphology normal (say, at the 60th percentile of the normality curve  ), and not exceptionally reduced, as some fashions dictate. For this reason, she usually dresses in the least striking way possible (even when she likes colors a lot) so that her body goes unnoticed, almost always rejects invitations to leave – much more if they come from the sex that attracts her – because when she is in the company of other people, they feel that they observe and judge their body negatively, and avoid any sexual contact at all costs. Let’s see what consequences these behaviors can have. By not wearing the colorful dresses she would like, she restricts the possibility of other people making her notice that she feels good , and she continues to think – by default – that she feels bad. By not going out with friends, she can reinforce her cognitive interpretation that she is rejected and feels alone because of her physical appearance, when in reality she has not even given other people the opportunity to meet her. By rejecting sexual contact, it reinforces negative conceptions about your body, such as why it is not sexually attractive , that it is not suitable for sexual pleasure or that it can not be a source of pleasure for another person. Access to the full sexual potential of his body, which is probably among the most important bodily functionalities for selfdevelopment, and self-censorship his own right to pleasure is restricted. The paradox is that, to his own eyes and society, this person will be confirming some of the stereotypes that weigh on women not thin : they are bitter, they do not have good aesthetic taste for clothing and accessories, which are not good or many friends, who are not sexually attractive and who often do not find a partner. The ideological system is guardian of itself.
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The importance of body image in the global self-assessment is called body image investment[inversion of / in body image]; In studies carried out with a healthy population, it has been found that between a quarter and a third of personal self-esteem corresponds to body image . With respect to eating disorders and dysmorphic disorder, for a long time it was considered that the perceptive distortion that exists in these patients (that is, the inability to perceive the dimensions of the body correctly, usually overestimating its actual measurements) it was the main component and therefore it should be the cornerstone of psychotherapy. Currently it is known that body dissatisfaction is a much more important variable , and preventive or therapeutic interventions that are based on the modification of the body image and its affective component (dissatisfaction) have been shown to be effective in solving these problems, both by classical approaches as in some innovative ones in the form of technology, ecological intervention or dramaturgy.
These findings have supported the need to also consider situations not strictly defined in psychopathology manuals, but causing great discomfort and very prevalent in the population, as psychological problems that can be addressed psychologically and socially. This is what is known under the umbrella term of problems related to weight and food , or problems related to body image . This way of proceeding is in line with those of us who believe that dimensional systems, based on normality spectra and their extremes, are more useful than categorial systems, based on definitions of rigid pathological categories based on the enumeration of criteria, to study normality and psychological and biomedical pathology.Problems related to body image, in a broad sense, are also tax prevention, since they can be a gateway to disorders such as anorexia, bulimia or dysmorphic disorder.
Many people think that it is possible or even easy to modify the body weight or silhouette through dietary, sports, aesthetic interventions, etc. Such is the power of advertising and the mass media, that these beliefs are maintained despite the direct, daily and tangible experience, available to virtually any citizen – whether in their own flesh or from someone they know or a friend – who evidence that in the vast majority of cases, diets, exercise plans, creams, etc. Well they do not work, they do not have a lasting effect, they can sometimes even be harmful in the long term.Metabolic studies, however, have shown that approximately eighty percent of the factors that control weight (as well as height or other anthropometric parameters) are genetic, with which the real possibilities of printing large changes on the body are scarce. It is no surprise that this is so, since weight maintenance is based on highly sophisticated metabolic pathways that have evolved to ensure weight homeostasis under changing environmental conditions, especially in adverse or famine conditions.
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The objective difficulties to modify the body, which are often avoided while exaggerating the potential of diets, gyms, liposuction and creams, are a key element in the corporate framework of the beauty and fashion business. The engine of a business that sometimes seems perpetual is based on creating a perennial dissatisfaction, so that endless frustration maintains the behavior of search and consumption of solutions that manage to make up the supposed defects of the body. In line with this, interventions to improve body image that are based on modifying the body have not shown any efficacy in controlled studies.In contrast, interventions aimed at modifying the psychological components of body image (perceptual, cognitive-emotional, and behavioral) are, to date, the only ones that have shown promising and lasting results. Changing body image, therefore, does not imply changing the body, but normalizing and sanitizing the relationship with it, which is a source of empowerment in the sociopolitical plane.
 Bruno Latour uses the concepts of translation[translation] and purification [purification] in his work on the construction of modernity, in the form of true facts , through cultural heritage. Although his work is beyond the scope of this article, I refer the readers to the consultation (Latour, 1993). For her part, the Swedish researcher and former professor at the Linköpings Universitet, Wera Grahn, has elaborated interesting intersectional interpretations based on Latour’s work, in which she discusses the systems of sex / gender, ethnicity, (dis) ability, sexuality and ageism , among others. Some of them can be consulted in English (Grahn, 2011).
 The normality curve or Gaussian bell, by the German mathematician Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855), expresses on the abscissa axis the quantitative variable that is to be considered in increasing order (for example, the weight, the size, or the intelligence quotient), and in the orderly ones the proportion of individuals that present the characteristic in a certain measure in the population. Most of the variables follow a normal distribution, with low proportions of the population located in the left and right extremes (people with very low or very high values in the magnitude considered) and a large majority of the population located in the central area. (people who present intermediate, moderate values, in the considered magnitude). Most people have a medium size and intelligence: a population minority has an exceptionally low or high size, or is exceptionally little or very intelligent.
Note: This article is based on the chapter recently published and referenced as: Tasa-Vinyals, E. (2017). The subjective mirror: What is body image ?. In: Raich, RM [Ed.]. The tyranny of the body. Why do not I look like I am? . Barcelona: Siglantana. It can be purchased here .