“I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am,” wrote Charles Cooley, a prominent American sociologist and the author of “Human Nature and the Social Order,” in 1902. Cooley coined the term “Looking Glass Self.” And his hypothesis – that we see ourselves through others’ eyes – has increasingly serious ramifications for the way we think about our identity, our self-worth, and even our health.
When my daughter travelled to Egypt a couple of years ago, she noticed that the women there were shapely and womanly. My daughter is of slender build, and seeing these well-built curvaceous women made her feel uncomfortably skinny. However, when she returned home and glimpsed North American magazines with their over-thin women, she was shocked to realize how easily she saw herself as overweight when looking in the mirror. Yet, her weight had not changed. This experience taught her there is a mental component to what we observe in the mirror, and it can be easily influenced according to the environment and the cultural norms that surround us.
To complicate the problem of how we see ourselves, the American Medical Association has now declared that excess weight, based on a person’s BMI (body mass index), is a disease. Although the Canadian Medical Association has not yet recognized obesity in this way, there is much discussion about it. A debate and motion about it is expected in its August 2013 assembly.
While the motive might be well intentioned – i.e., to make it possible for overweight patients to draw on public funds for treatment – there will certainly be unintended consequences…Continue Reading