Two alternative explanations of the body-image abnormality in anorexia nervosa patients are outlined: namely, the ‘abnormal sensitivity’ and ‘adaptational failure’ hypotheses. Evidence relating to these 2 conflicting hypotheses was obtained from body-perception measurements carried out on groups of pregnant women.
In the first study 40 pregnant women, at approximately 4 months' duration, were found to overestimate their bodily dimensions, albeit to a lesser extent than the previously tested group of anorexia nervosa patients (Slade & Russell, 1973a). When they were subdivided on the basis of a history of weight change over the previous 12 months, the ‘stable weight’ subgroup was found to overestimate significantly more than the ‘weight gain’ and ‘weight loss’ subgroups.
In a second study 16 of the original group of pregnant women were retested at approximately 8 months' duration. Although their weight and bodily dimensions had increased on retesting, their tendency to overestimate was found to be significantly reduced.
It was concluded that the phenomenon of body-image disorder is not specific to anorexia nervosa, extending not only to patients with obesity and to some normal women, but also to women during pregnancy. Moreover, the ‘abnormal sensitivity’ hypothesis was considered to fit these and other recently accumulated data better than the alternative ‘adaptational failure’ hypothesis. Some of the theoretical and clinical implications of these findings are discussed.