Sally Singer Horwatt, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist 

1800 Town Center Drive

Suite 216

Reston VA 20190-3238

Self-Image and Health

Wednesday, October 20, 1999

This article is one of a series of radio spots 
prepared by Sally Singer Horwatt, Ph.D. for 
WAGE 1200 AM RADIO

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In order to help us control how others evaluate us, we all practice what psychologists call "self-presentation" or "impression management". The impressions others form of us have implications for our friendships, social lives, job success, romantic involvements and even our self-evaluation and mood. But self-presentation motives are sometimes so strong that they lead people to engage in impression-creating behaviors that are dangerous to themselves and others…. you know, crazy.

Mark Leary and his associates detail some of this craziness in the November 1994 issue of Health Psychology published by the American Psychological Association.

Some examples: Less than 20% of the sexuall active college students surveyed in one study reported using condoms regularly. Why? Image! Some are embarrassed to buy them! Furthermore, it seems many women fear admitting to themseles or a potential partner that they intended to have sex! Men say they are afraid using a condom will lead partners to think they have a sexually transmitted disease! 

Similarly, because tanned people are judged more positively than untanned people, many of us are likely to engage in behavior that puts us at risk for skin cancer.

Direct evidence for the role of self-presentational factors in eating is provided by the finding that females ate less when eating with a socially desirable male than with a less desirable man or woman.

The use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs depends in part on the belief that such behavior is condoned by one's reference groups. The stigmatization of smoking in the U.S. during the past 25 years has been credited with the steadiy decreasing number of adult smokers. Steadily decreasing even though tobacco remains legal and is more addictive than marijuana…

So, if we want people to be healthy, we have to get people to see that not using a condom will make a bad impression, connoting the person is an irresponsible, insecure boob. We should stress the wrinkled, leathery look of skin that has been rendered to the rind by the sun. We should stress the stench of tobacco on the clothes and breath….the lifeless smile and stringy hair of the excessively skinny people and the unpleasant personality of the steroid user. 

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