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You may look more like Gwyneth than you think

Linda Carroll writes: Do you look in the mirror and see a short stubby person staring back at you?

Not to worry. It’s possible that your brain is playing tricks on you and you’re actually as tall and svelte as Gwyneth Paltrow.

OK, maybe that’s a stretch.

Still, British researchers have determined that most people are very bad at assessing their own dimensions. In the mind’s eye, we almost always see shorter and stubbier -- right down to the size and shape of our hands.

To determine how skewed people’s perceptions might be, Dr. Matthew Longo and colleagues from University College London rounded up a group of volunteers and asked them to put their left hand, palm down, under a board and then to indicate on the surface of the board the location of the covered hand’s knuckles and fingertips. With amazing consistency, people imagined a hand that was two-thirds wider and one-third shorter than their actual hand, according to Longo’s study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


As it turns out, you don’t know the back of your hand as well as the saying may imply.

And while this knowledge might improve even Paltrow’s self-image, it could be much more helpful to people with eating disorders.

“These findings may well be relevant to psychiatric conditionsinvolving body image such as anorexia nervosa, as there may be a general bias towards perceiving the body to be wider than it is,” Longo says.

What’s surprising about the new research is that it comes from healthy people, says Mia Holland, chair person of the counseling studies department at Capella University.

Counselors will sometimes ask anorexic patients to draw a life-size picture of themselves, Holland says. Then the counselor will ask the person to lie down on the drawing while someone else inscribes a tracing of the person on the same paper. In those with severe anorexia, the difference can be stunning.

“A size 4 might draw herself as a size 14,” Holland says. “When the patient looks at the drawings it can be a real shocker.”

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