Pics of Real Women May Be More Harmful Than Helpful

Tired of seeing size zero models on billboards, magazines and movie screens?A new website, “My Body Gallery,” aims to show you what real women look like.On the site, women upload photos of their bodies to “build a collection of photos that help more women see themselves more clearly.” They ask for a picture of your full body in any pose, and they allow you to cover your face with a black box or crop your head out of the image so that you won’t be recognized.

Women visiting the site can search the photos by height, weight, pant size, shirt size and body shape. (A search for the typical model’s dimensions does not bring up any results, but while a search for ‘size 0’ brings up mostly healthy women, it also includes some disturbing snapshots of severe anorexia.)

QUIZ: What’s your most beautiful body?

The goal, according to the website? “To help women objectively see what we look like and come to some acceptance that we are all beautiful.”

While we’d raise a glass to that goal, science suggests that a photo-sharing site may not be the best way to feel sexy in your own skin.“I love the motivation behind websites like these, but I worry about their impact,” says Renee Engeln-Maddox, professor of psychology and body image expert at Northwestern University.

Consider what you’re really doing when you use the site: You’re spending more time thinking about the size and shape of your body—sizing up your own in comparison to others (your brain’s natural reaction). And that’s where their mission backfires. “Paying a lot of attention to how your body compares to others is associated with less body satisfaction, not more,” says Engeln-Maddox.Women are no strangers to scrutinizing every last inch of our bodies. Not to mention that criticizing other women’s bodies gives baseball a run for it’s money as America’s national past-time (see: any tabloid magazine). All that focus on bodies may be blocking our beauty mojo.

QUIZ: Do You Fat Talk ? Find Out for a Better Body Image.

“When the cultural beauty ideal is so unattainable and so ever-present, seeing her body more objectively might not really help a woman feel beautiful at all,” says Engeln-Maddox.Instead, she encourages women to focus less on outer beauty and more on what’s inside.

“You have a good deal more control over the type of person you are, how you behave and how you treat others, than you ever will over the shape of your body,” she says.To feel (and look) gorgeous, focus on a hobby you love, work that inspires you or friendships that challenge and enrich you. It’s just a little mind trick but you’ll feel more beautiful in no time.

MORE: Get lost in your hobbies and find happiness

Engeln-Maddox offers this advice for truly accepting your beauty: “Step away from the body pictures! Seriously.”

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