1) Where does our unrealistic body image come from? Is it different for men vs. women?
Our ideas about the ideal body are contextual, linked to time and place. The media portrays certain images that are judged to be ideal given the context, which reinforces the ideal. I think it used to be that women seemed to have a more unattainable body ideal, while men were allowed to "get by" w/other attributes, but the tide seems to be turning, and the standards for men are becoming increasingly difficult to reach (see the new male mannequins w/27-inch waists!)
2) Why is comparison (with celebrities or people around us) so counterproductive?
Only a certain, small percentage of people have the genetics consistent with the current media ideal. That means that the rest of us, to varying degrees of success, and with varying degrees of negative physiological and psychological consequences, will be forever chasing the thin ideal. We're just not all mean to be or look the same. In just the same way that many of us are forced to accept our height or shoe size, it would be wonderful if we could do this with weight, exercising in a healthy way and eating a balanced diet, but not doing these things to contort our bodies to unrealistic proportions.
3) How can you figure out what your own "ideal" body is?
I usually say that your natural weight is how much you would weigh if, over time, you ate in a balanced way (eating nutritious foods AND responding to food cravings), were eating primarily out of physical, rather than emotional hunger, ate when you were hungry and stopped when you were full, exercised regularly, but not compulsively, and refrained from food restriction, bingeing, purging, use of diet pills, enemas, laxatives, or other compensatory strategies.
4) Any tips for correcting negative thinking when it comes to body image?
I think it's important to challenge the thoughts that suggest that body shape/size (or even appearance in general) determines happiness. I've worked with plenty of heavy, happy women, as well as plenty of women who are skinny and unhappy. We're conditioned by the media to place way too much emphasis on body image in terms of where we think it will get us in life.
5) Are body image issues on the rise in the US? if so, why?
I think we're seeing more issues among men, plus we continue to see eating disorder rates increasing, especially among younger and younger children. Media access is so available and immediate these days, and the images come to us through various forms. We now have people comparing themselves to their "friends" on Facebook. I've spoken with a number of women who avoid social events because they know that the pictures taken there will be posted on social media sites, which will stir up their body dissatisfaction.
6) How can our readers be more accepting of their bodies?
One of the best things I think people can do is learn about how the media distorts images to promote the ideal. The more we learn about cropping, airbrushing, etc., the more we realize that even the celebrities don't look like themselves. Also, see attached (article I wrote on radical body acceptance) for more recommendations.