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Taking off the Uniform: Body Image Among Female Veterans

Saturday, March 25, 2017: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Del Fuego (Green Valley Ranch)

Background: This program presents the results of body image workshops offered to female veterans within North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System. Issues of development of body image at various points in the lives of these veterans were examined. Veterans were presented with images from previous entries in the "Imagine Me" contest.

Objectives: 1. Following this presentation, participants will be able to identify the common medical and psychological co-morbidities associated with body image disturbances experienced by female Veterans. 2. Following this presentation, participants will be able to identify three factors influencing body image development prior to military service. 3. Following this presentation, participants will be able to identify ways military experiences impact development of body image and acceptance among female Veterans.

This presentation describes an exploratory study of body image issues among female Veterans.

I. Introduction to the unique sociocultural influences affecting female Veterans

II. Previous research on body image

III. Description of the exploratory study of body image with female Veterans

IV. Implications for further research and study

V. Conclusion and questions

Body image dissatisfaction is largely unexamined among female Veterans, a rapidly growing population of over 2 million that endorses poorer health and greater occurrence of chronic mental health conditions than female civilians. Female Veterans are more vulnerable to disordered eating and suffer higher rates of depression and anxiety disorders than male counterparts. They also show greater utilization of health care resources. Therefore, researchers and clinicians are seeking to better understand this population’s vulnerabilities. In our presentation, we make the case that studying body image in female Veterans is of the utmost importance. Cross sectional and longitudinal research connects body dissatisfaction with negative emotional, relational, and medical outcomes. For example, body dissatisfaction predicts the onset and worsening of depression and suicide attempts. We argue that improving female Veterans’ body image may reduce risk to psychiatric conditions and improve overall health. We also describe a brief therapeutic study designed to explore body image issues among female Veterans and develop research questions. Female service members are exposed to unique sociocultural influences, and undergo bodily-focused experiences such as completing boot camp, upholding weight/ fitness requirements, and wearing a uniform. The impact of military experiences and subsequent reintegration into civilian culture upon female body image deserves examination. In our therapeutic study, female Veterans were invited to participate in a 2 hour body image workshop. This workshop included didactic and experiential components. First, they were asked to identify their emotional responses to their bodies using a feelings wheel. They were encouraged to share information with one another about their development of body image at different points in their lives. They were invited to discuss military experiences that positively or negatively impacted body image. They were invited to describe body image in the context of transitioning to civilian life. Participants were then invited to respond to previous Image Me entry images. Lastly, these Veterans were asked again to choose feeling words to identify their emotional responses to their bodies. Results of this investigation are limited in scope but provide directions for further research and study.
Primary Presenter:
Martha B. Womack, PhD

Dr. Womack is a staff psychologist with the North Florida/South Georgia VA health system. She works primarily with female veterans through the women's primary health care clinic in Jacksonville, FL. She has worked extensively with issues associated with treatment of trauma, addictions, and eating disorders for over 25 years. She is an EMDRIA certified therapist in the practice of EMDR. Her work includes psychotherapy with individuals, couples, and groups.

Elizabeth P. Dizney, PsyD

Dr. Dizney is the previous clinical director for the University of Florida Eating Disorder Recovery Center. She currently works full-time as a staff psychologist in the Women's Clinic at the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System. During her career as a licensed psychologist, she has specialized in the treatment of individuals in inpatient, outpatient, forensic, and residential settings. She has significant experience providing psychological care to adolescents and adults. Her primary approach is to assist patients in regaining control of their lives and strengthening their ability to handle distress without losing control and acting destructively.

and Sarah Patton, PsyD

Dr. Patton is a staff psychologist for the North Florida/South Georgia VA. She has published body image research in the Journal of Developmental Psychology. She completed her doctoral training at Baylor University, followed by a trauma-focused internship at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She also completed two trauma-focused postdoctoral fellowships in child and adult psychology at UC Davis Medical School and the North Florida/South Georgia VA. Her clinical interests include attachment, body image, and complex trauma.

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