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Gender and Body Image

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Abstract

That gender has a considerable impact on people’s body image may seem obvious based on the considerable attention paid to women’s and men’s bodies in popular culture (Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999; Wolf, 1991).
Gender and body Image 1
Gender and Body Image
Rachel M. Calogero & J. Kevin Thompson
This manuscript represents an approximate version of the final chapter; however, it is not
based on a corrected proof so please do not quote verbatim.
The final version of this chapter can be found here:
Calogero, R.M., & Thompson, J.K. (in press). Gender and body image. In J.Chrisler &
D.McCreary (Eds.), Handbook of gender research in psychology. New York:
Springer.
Gender and body Image 2
Gender and Body Image
That gender has a considerable impact on people’s body image may seem obvious based
on the considerable attention paid to women’s and men’s bodies in popular culture (Thompson,
Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999; Wolf, 1991). Indeed, the different portrayals of
women’s and men’s bodies underscore the different lived experiences of women and men.
Gender differences in body image are among the most robust findings in the psychological
literature: Women and men feel, think, and behave differently with regard to their bodies
(Serdula et al., 1993; Thompson, 1996). Gender differences in body image should not be taken
lightly as they have been shown to account for a variety of psychological distresses and
disturbances in the lives of women and men (e.g., Thompson & Cafri, 2007; Thompson et al.,
1999). This is evident from research that indicates that body image significantly contributes to
adolescent suicidal ideation; it is a stronger predictor than other known risk factors such as
depression, hopelessness, and past suicidal behavior (Brausch & Muehlenkamp, 2007).
In order to understand gender differences in body image, it is first necessary to consider
what the differences actually are and how they manifest themselves in women and men.
Therefore, this chapter begins with a selective overview of the most robust gender differences in
the body image literature in relation to body perceptions, body feelings, body cognitions, and
body behaviors. Then, several different theoretical perspectives are offered to explain these
gender differences in body image: the tripartite model of sociocultural influence (Keery, van den
Berg, & Thompson, 2004), gender socialization (Eagly, 1987), and objectification theory
(Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). An integration of these perspectives provides a comprehensive
social psychological framework for understanding the multiple pathways by which people’s
Gender and body Image 3
body images are shaped. Finally, we identify gaps in the literature on gender and body image as
well as potential future research directions for scholars interested in the study of gender and body
image.
What is Body Image?
Body image is a multi-faceted construct that consists of self-perceptions, attitudes,
beliefs, feelings, and behaviors related to one’s body (Cash & Pruzinsky, 1990; Grogan, 1999,
2008; Thompson et al., 1999). Body image is often viewed as a fixed property that is rooted in
the minds of individual persons, but it is not fixed. Instead, a person’s body image constitutes a
dynamic relationship between the individual, the body, and the social environment. Recognition
of the multiple facets of body image has led to the development of multidimensional assessments
over the last several decades (Cash, 2004; Grogan, 1999; Shroff, Calogero, & Thompson, in
press; Thompson et al., 1999), some of which include body size estimation, body dissatisfaction,
appearance investment, body objectification, body ideal internalization, body image quality of
life, body appreciation, body responsiveness, drive for thinness, and drive for muscularity.
Our review of gender differences in body image relies on the extant terminology and
measurement tools to label the various dimensions that have been studied; however, it is
important to note that these variables are not definitive or exhaustive of the body image
construct. In addition, body image has been conceptualized and assessed almost exclusively in
terms of its negative dimensions, and therefore most of the gender differences described in the
following sections refers to those dimensions.
Gender and body Image 4
Gender and Body Perceptions
Body perceptions refer to what is seen or recognized about the body on a conscious level
(Thompson et al., 1999). Gender differences in the way that people perceive their bodies are
well-documented. In particular, there are three distinct ways of viewing the body that are
especially illustrative of the differences between women’s and men’s body images.
Fragmented vs. Functional
There is evidence to indicate that men and women differ in how they evaluate and talk
about their bodies (Halliwell & Dittmar, 2003). A clear pattern has been documented whereby
men tend to evaluate and talk about their bodies as whole and functional entities (e.g., Look how
fast I can run), whereas women tend to evaluate and talk about their bodies as a collection of
different and distinct parts (e.g., I hate the size of my thighs). These different conceptualizations
of the body reflect a difference in the nature of women’s and men’s body awareness and the
target of their body focus (Franzoi, 1995; Franzoi, Kessenich, & Sugrue, 1989; Fredrickson &
Roberts, 1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996). In general, it appears that girls and women come to
take more fragmented, compartmentalized views of their bodies, whereas boys come to take
more functional, holistic views of their bodies.
Third-Person vs. First-Person
In a similar vein, there is evidence to indicate that men and women differ in the degree to
which they view their bodies from a third-person (i.e., her or his body) vs. first-person (i.e., my
body) perspective (Eck, 2003; McKinley & Hyde, 1996). Research indicates that women take an
external observational standpoint on their bodies more often than men do (Calogero & Watson,
in press; Miller, Murphy, & Buss, 1981). A recent study demonstrated that adolescent girls (aged
11 to 13) report significantly more third-person perspective-taking on their bodies than
Gender and body Image 5
adolescent boys do, and these gender differences appear at an earlier age than gender differences
in rumination and depression (Grabe, Hyde, & Lindberg, 2007).
Overestimate vs. Underestimate
There is fairly good consensus that in Westernized societies women overestimate the size
of their bodies to a significantly greater degree than men do (Thompson et al., 1999), whereas
men underestimate the size of their bodies to a significantly greater degree than women do (Betz,
Mintz, & Speakmon, 1994). Grover, Keel, and Mitchell (2003) found that normal weight women
were more likely than normal weight men to be critical about their weights and to report being
heavier than their actual weight even though the actual weights (based on BMI) between the men
and women were not significantly different. Indeed, McCreary (2002) found that almost one-
third of women aged 20 to 64 years perceived themselves to be heavier than they really were,
whereas almost 50% of overweight men perceived themselves to be average weight, and 19% of
average weight men perceived themselves to be underweight. In other reports, between 28% and
68% of average weight adolescent boys and men believed that they were underweight and
desired to gain weight and muscle mass (McCreary & Sasse, 2000). Moreover, Tiggemann
(2005) found that adolescent girls who were not overweight, but perceived themselves as
overweight or felt dissatisfied with their current weight, reported lower self-esteem over a 2-year
period.
Some research with non-Western cultures also demonstrates these effects. For example,
Japanese women show a greater overestimation of their body relative to their actual measured
values and a significantly greater desire to lose weight than Japanese men do (Kagawa et al.,
2007). A sample of young Samoan men living on a remote island in the South Pacific were able
to accurately estimate their actual body size, but chose an ideal body size that was approximately
Gender and body Image 6
6.5 to 11 lbs (3 to 5 kg) leaner and approximately 17 to 24 lbs (8 to 11 kg) more muscular than
their actual body size, which is similar to the pattern of body image disparities found for
American and European men (Lipinski & Pope, 2002). Other research has shown that, on
average, college-aged Nigerian students report being more satisfied than dissatisfied with their
body parts, although weight and muscle development were still the primary sites of
dissatisfaction. In addition, compared to Nigerian men, Nigerian women reported greater
satisfaction with most body parts including their ears, body weight, chest size, size and
appearance of sex organs, and even muscularity (Balogun, Okonofua, & Balogun, 1992).
Gender and Body Feelings
Body feelings refer to how people feel about their bodies, or the affective dimension of
body image (Thompson et al., 1999). Gender differences in body feelings are also well-
documented. In particular, three types of body-related feelings are highlighted here: body
dissatisfaction, body shame, and appearance anxiety.
Body Dissatisfaction
Body dissatisfaction represents the most important global measure of distress because it
captures the essence of one’s subjective evaluation of the body on a continuum from satisfaction
to dissatisfaction (Thompson et al., 1999). One of the most consistent findings in the body image
literature is that women are significantly more dissatisfied with their bodies than men are from
adolescence through adulthood (Grogan, 1999; Paxton et al., 1991; Thompson et al., 1999), and
this gap between women and men in body dissatisfaction has increased over time (Feingold &
Mazella, 1998; Phares, Steinberg, & Thompson, 2004). Reports indicate that approximately one-
half of all American girls and college women make global negative evaluations of their bodies
(Bearman, Presnell, Martinez, & Stice, 2006; Thompson et al., 1999). These gender differences
Gender and body Image 7
in body dissatisfaction have been observed in young children as well. For example, girls aged 7
to 11 years reported significantly more body dissatisfaction than did boys aged 11 to 18 years
(Vincent & McCabe, 2000). In fact, boys are more likely than girls to show a decrease in body
dissatisfaction during early adolescence (Bearman et al., 2006). This phenomenon is not
confined to the U.S. A cross-cultural comparison of Argentinean and Swedish adolescents
revealed no significant differences in body satisfaction between the two countries, however the
girls from both countries displayed more body dissatisfaction than the boys did (Holmqvist,
Lunde, & Frisen, 2007). According to a recent survey of 3,300 girls and women across 10
countries, 90 % of women aged 15 to 64 are dissatisfied with at least one aspect of their physical
appearance; body weight ranked the highest (Etcoff, Orbach, Scott, & D’Agostino, 2005).
Despite these noted gender differences, body dissatisfaction among men has been on the
rise over the past three decades (Thompson & Cafri, 2007). Some research has reported that a
remarkable 95% of men experience some degree of body dissatisfaction (Mishkind, Rodin,
Silberstein, & Striegle-Moore, 1986). In addition, given the emphasis on appearance within the
gay subculture, considerable research has shown that gay boys/men constitute a particularly
vulnerable group to body dissatisfaction, and report higher levels of body dissatisfaction
compared to heterosexual men (Beren, Hayden, Wifley, & Grilo, 1996; Boroughs & Thompson,
2002; French, Story, Remafedi, Resnick, & Blum, 1996; Martins et al., 2007; Morrison,
Morrison, & Sager, 2004; Smolak et al., 2005; Yelland & Tiggemann, 2003). Contrary to
findings for women, men’s body dissatisfaction involves both ends of the weight continuum.
Researchers have found that men who are above or below an acceptable range in their Body
Mass Index scores (BMI) tend to be especially dissatisfied with their physical appearance
(Drewnowski & Yee, 1987; Muth & Cash, 1997). In addition, it is important to note that a recent
Gender and body Image 8
cross-sectional study of children between ages 8 and 11 demonstrated no gender differences on
body dissatisfaction, importance placed on weight, strategies to lose weight, or the perceived
pressure associated with losing weight (Ricciardelli, McCabe, Holt, & Finemore, 2003).
However, boys were more likely than girls to desire a larger body size, place a greater
importance on muscles, utilize muscle gain strategies, and perceive a greater pressure to increase
their muscles.
Body Shame
Body shame refers to the negative feelings that occur when people evaluate themselves
against internalized cultural ideals for appearance and find that they fall short of these ideals
(Lewis, 1992; McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Silberstein, Striegel-Moore, & Rodin, 1987). According
to Bartky (1990, p. 86):
Shame is the distressed apprehension of the self as inadequate or diminished: it requires if
not an actual audience before whom my deficiencies are paraded, then an internalized
audience with the capacity to judge me, hence internalized standards of judgment.
Further, shame requires the recognition that I am, in some important sense, as I am seen
to be. (p. 86).
Considerable evidence indicates that women feel significantly more shame about their
bodies than men do (Calogero, Boroughs, & Thompson, 2007; Groesz et al., 2002; McKinley,
1998). In particular, research with North American, British, and Australian women has
consistently demonstrated that women who highly value attributes such as weight and physical
attractiveness report more body shame than women who do not highly value these attributes
(Calogero & Thompson, in press; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998; Tiggemann & Kuring, 2004;
Tiggemann & Slater, 2001; Tylka & Hill, 2004). Researchers have shown that when appearance
Gender and body Image 9
is made especially salient (e.g., trying on a swimsuit in front of a mirror), women report
significantly more body shame than men do (Fredrickson et al., 1998). Although both men and
women reported feeling more self-conscious in situations where their bodies were on display,
men reported feeling more ‘shy’ and ‘silly,’ whereas women reported feeling more ‘disgust’ and
‘anger’ (Frederick, Peplau, & Lever, 2006; Fredrickson et al., 1998). Hebl, King, and Lin (2004)
also found that women reported more body shame than men did, although this did not vary as a
function of type of clothing. Moreover, there were no differences in body shame between Asian
American, European American, and Hispanic individuals; however African American
individuals reported lower levels of body shame compared to participants from other ethnic
backgrounds, and African American women and men reported similar levels of body shame.
However, as with body dissatisfaction, men’s body shame appears to be on the rise.
Recent research with Australian men (Tiggemann & Kuring, 2004) and British men (Calogero,
in press) indicates that men who highly value attributes such as strength and physical
coordination report more body shame than men who do not highly value these attributes. These
findings are consistent with an increased focus on muscularity as the cultural appearance ideal
for men (Cafri et al., 2005; McCreary & Sasse, 2000; Thompson & Cafri, 2007), which may
render ‘strength’ an important and observable appearance attribute to which they may fall short.
Also as seen with body dissatisfaction, sexual orientation is a critical factor to consider in the
study of men’s body shame. Given the emphasis on appearance within the gay subculture, gay
men may be more likely than heterosexual men to experience body shame in their day-to-day
experience. For example, compared to heterosexual men, gay men report feeling markedly more
shame about their bodies when their bodies are on display (i.e., wearing a swimsuit vs. a
sweater), although it should be noted that heterosexual men are not completely immune to the
Gender and body Image 10
experience of body shame (Martins, Tiggemann, & Kirkbride, 2007). It is important to note that
these differences in men’s body shame were found using measures of body shame that are
frequently employed in the study of women’s body shame, which typically highlight the role of
weight/shape in women’s body shame. Thus, even weight/shape-based measures of body shame
have been shown to illuminate differences in men’s experiences of body shame.
Appearance Anxiety
Appearance anxiety refers to the worry and concern people express about their bodies
being on display and available for evaluation by others (Dion et al., 1990). Again, as noted with
body shame, the narrow and unrealistic nature of feminine beauty ideals may produce more
anxiety for women than for men about how their actual appearance matches these ideals. In
addition, the normative evaluation and scrutiny of women’s bodies across social contexts is out
of women’s control, which may increase appearance anxiety. Indeed, there is evidence that
women experience significantly more anxiety about the appearance of their bodies than men do
(Dion, Dion, & Keelan, 1990; Tiggemann & Kuring, 2004).
It is particularly important to point out that women’s appearance anxiety is not about
‘vanity,’ but also includes concerns about safety and threats to the self because of the greater
potential for women to experience sexual victimization and sexually motivated bodily harm
(Brownmiller, 1975). When asked to describe what they do on any given day to maintain their
personal safety, women list multiple strategies (e.g., checking backseat of car, keeping keys
between fingers, pretending to talk on cell phone), whereas men list very few strategies for
ensuring their personal safety on a daily basis (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Thus, maintaining
a chronic vigilance about both physical appearance and physical safety creates many more
Gender and body Image 11
opportunities for women than men to experience anxiety. In this way, women’s subjective
experience of their bodies is markedly different from men’s.
However, there is variability in men’s appearance anxiety as well, especially when they
report negative evaluations of their upper body strength and muscularity (Davis, Brewer, &
Weinstein, 1993). Indeed, although girls reported higher social physique anxiety than boys, drive
for muscularity was directly related to social physique anxiety only for boys, whereas only an
indirect relationship between these variables, via body comparisons, was observed for girls
(McCreary & Saucier, 2009). This association between high drive for muscularity and high
social physique anxiety has been demonstrated in heterosexual and homosexual men (Duggan &
McCreary, 2004). In addition, men who suffer from muscle dysmorphia, a subtype of body
dysmorphic disorder that specifically involves one’s physique, report feeling constant anxiety
about their appearance (Olivardia, Pope, & Hudson, 2000; Pope, Gruber, Choi, Olivardia, &
Phillips, 1997).
Gender and Body Cognitions
Body cognitions refer to the beliefs and attitudes people have about their bodies, which
affect how appearance-related information is processed. Until recently, the general consensus
was that girls and women have more negative thoughts and beliefs about their bodies than boys
and men do (Thompson et al., 1999); however, these patterns appear to be changing such that
boys and men are now reporting negative beliefs and thoughts about their bodies.
Body Schematicity
Schemas are cognitive frameworks that organize our knowledge about people, places,
things, and our selves, which, in turn, help us to process and interpret new information (Markus,
Hamill, & Sentis, 1987). Body schemas, then, represent the particular knowledge people have
Gender and body Image 12
developed about their physical appearance, which, in turn, affects the way they process
information about their appearance. For example, the more often a person has been labeled as
‘fat,’ the more likely it is that the person will automatically and quickly think of herself as fat in
response to a variety of situations. In this case, the person would be described as schematic for
‘fatness’ or ‘weight-schematic,’ whereas a person without these characteristics would be
described as aschematic for ‘fatness’ or ‘weight-aschematic.’ Markus et al. (1987) found that
weight-schematic individuals were faster to associate heavy than thin silhouettes with the self,
whereas weight-aschematic individuals showed no difference in judgment time between the two
types of silhouettes. However, the weight-schematic and weight-aschematic groups did not differ
in how quickly they responded to the words ‘fat’ and ‘thin,’ which suggests that, at least among
American college women, it may not be possible to be completely aschematic for body weight.
On the one hand, although both men and women can be weight-schematic, some research
suggests that weight is more often a defining quality of women’s identity than men’s identity
(Grover et al., 2003), and women are more psychologically invested in their appearance than
men are (e.g., Cash & Hicks, 1990; Muth & Cash, 1997). For example, Grover et al. found that
women’s explicit and implicit weight identities were consistent, such that the heavier they
reported themselves to be in their explicit self-reports, the more likely they were to associate
themselves with being “heavy” in their implicit self-reports, where implicit measures represent a
person’s nonconscious beliefs about themselves and others. In contrast, men’s explicit and
implicit weight identities were not consistent, such that men were more likely to associate
themselves with being “light” in their implicit self-reports regardless of whether they identified
themselves as “light” or “heavy” in their explicit self-reports.
Gender and body Image 13
On the other hand, some research suggests that muscularity is a defining quality of
identity more often for men than for women (Gray & Ginsburg, 2007; McCreary & Sasse, 2000;
Pope, Phillips, & Olivardia, 2000), with one study indicating that 91% of college men desired a
more muscular frame and none of the men wanted to be less muscular (Jacobi & Cash, 1994).
Thus, instead of a focus on weight, it is a muscular focus that may lead boys and men to view
themselves as smaller and lighter, which would foster a desire to gain weight and muscle mass to
increase their body size. Moreover, the fact that a small body size has been linked to suicide
ideation and attempted suicide among men (Carpenter, Hasin, Allison, & Faith, 2000) suggests
that women are not necessarily more psychologically invested in their appearance than men.
Body-Ideal Internalization
Beauty ideals represent culturally prescribed attributes of the human face and body that
define the standards for physical attractiveness within a culture. According to Zones (2000), at
any given time and place, there are fairly ‘uniform and widely understood models of how
particular groups of individuals “should” look’ (p. 87). These ideals represent accepted, yet
virtually unattainable, goals of bodily perfection that women and men strive to achieve. The
cultural beauty ideals prescribed for women and men emphasize the importance of pursuing
distinctly different appearance attributes: thinness or muscularity. The internalization of these
cultural standards for appearance indicates that the person is aware of the standard and believes
that meeting this standard is important.
Westernized feminine beauty ideals have almost always promoted the attainment of
physically incompatible body attributes. Between the 19
th
and 21
st
century, women have tried to
have a thin waist but large hips, to be full-figured but thin, to have small breasts but curvy hips
and waist, and, today, to have sizable breasts and muscle, but no obvious body fat (Calogero et
Gender and body Image 14
al., 2007). Indeed, the current beauty ideal may represent the ultimate in unrealistic and unnatural
attributes for feminine beauty: ultra thinness and large breasts (Thompson & Tantleff, 1992).
This ‘curvaceously thin’ ideal for women is virtually impossible to achieve without some form of
surgical modification (Harrison, 2003), which makes the current standards of beauty particularly
dangerous and women’s body images particularly vulnerable.
The most consistent appearance ideal prescribed for women since the 1960’s is thinness.
Researchers have demonstrated that girls as young as 5 and 6 years old report a desire for a
thinner body (Flannery-Schroeder & Chrisler, 1996; Lowes & Tiggemann, 2003). This culture of
thinness promotes the personal acceptance or internalization of a thin body as the beauty ideal, at
least for women in Westernized societies (Heinberg, Thompson, & Stormer, 1995). Thin-ideal
internalization refers to the extent to which individuals cognitively accept the thin cultural
standard of attractiveness as their own personal standard and engage in behaviors designed to
help them meet that standard (Thompson et al., 1999). Women who have internalized the thin
ideal, and thereby experience a drive for thinness, are more vulnerable to the negative outcomes
associated with exposure to thin images than are women who have not internalized these ideals
(Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002; Thompson et al., 1999).
Although thin-ideal internalization dominates women’s appearance concerns, the pursuit
of a muscular ideal is present in some women (Gruber, 2007). Surveys have documented an
increasing shift toward a more muscular female body ideal over the last three decades (Garner,
1997). Women’s dissatisfaction with their muscle tone has increased over time, from 30 % of
women in 1972, to 45 % in 1985, and to 57 % in 1997. In the 1997 survey, 43 % of the entire
sample, and 67 % of the women in the sample with pre-existing body dissatisfaction, reported
that ‘very thin or muscular models’ made them feel insecure. Recent research indicates a
Gender and body Image 15
discrepancy between women’s actual and ideal level of muscularity; women now wish to be
more muscular than they actually are (Cafri & Thompson, 2004).
There are several notable ethnic differences in women’s thin-ideal internalization. Some
research has indicated that Latinas born in the U.S. endorse an even thinner ideal body size than
European American women do, whereas Latinas who immigrated to the U.S. endorse a larger
body ideal (Lopez, Blix & Blix, 1995). This is consistent with research that demonstrates that
children of immigrants in the U.S. may utilize the media as a ‘cultural guide’ for assimiliation
(Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco 2001). Other research has indicated that some ethnic groups
do not endorse the thin ideal. For example, it has been found that Black women have more
flexible conceptions of beauty and reject White (thin) ideals for beauty, which, in turn, have been
linked to more positive body image, higher self-esteem, and less guilt about body size, despite
Black women’s objectively higher average body weights (Bond & Cash, 1992; Lovejoy, 2001;
Makkar & Strube, 1995; Molloy & Herzberger, 1998; Parker et al., 1995; Stevens, Kumanyika,
& Keil, 1994).
Other research has demonstrated a less straightforward adoption of the thin ideal. For
example, Casanova (2004) reported that adolescent women in Ecuador claim to endorse the
White (thin) beauty ideals espoused by White American girls, but they do tend to be less rigid in
their judgments of beauty in every day life, more critically examine the implicit messages about
beauty, and engage in supportive peer interaction about appearance. Yet, the majority of girls
reported that it is compulsory to look good because it affects job and romantic opportunities:
‘You always have to think about what others will think of you’ (Casanova, 2004, p. 300).
Some research with non-Western cultures demonstrates the endorsement of an entirely
different appearance ideal: fatness. A sample of 249 Moroccan Sahraoui women rated their
Gender and body Image 16
desired body size on a figural rating scale as significantly larger than their rating of a healthy
body size (Rguibi & Belahsen, 2006). In this sample, the desire to lose weight was very low,
even among the majority of obese women, and educational level did not affect desire to lose
weight. Women who reported dissatisfaction with their body size were more likely to report
trying to gain weight. Consistent with the literature on thin-ideal internalization, the
internalization of a fat-ideal is implicated in the body dissatisfaction of these women. Similar
results have been reported in samples of Samoans (Brewis, McGarvey, Jones, & Swinburn,
1998), Malaysians (Swami & Tovee, 2005), and women in African societies (Tovee, Swami,
Furnham, & Mangalparsad, 2006; Treloar et al., 1999).
Whereas the socially prescribed body size and shape for girls and women is small and
thin, the socially prescribed body size and shape for boys and men is big and muscular
(Thompson & Cafri, 2007). Indeed, since the 19
th
century, the most consistent appearance ideal
prescribed for men has been muscularity (Luciano, 2007). Although at the beginning of the 20
th
century men with bulging muscles were located at the fringes of society, confined to the
bodybuilding subculture and Mr. America contests, the end of the 20
th
century saw a rapid
development in the culture of muscularity in mainstream society, which continues today. Indeed,
the current masculine beauty ideal emphasizes a muscular v-shaped body with a well-developed
upper body, flat stomach, and narrow hips (Leit, Pope, & Gray, 2001).
This culture of muscularity promotes the personal acceptance or internalization of a
hypermuscular body as the masculine body ideal (Grogan & Richards, 2002; Cafri et al., 2005,
McCreary & Sasse, 2000; Thompson & Cafri, 2007). Muscular-ideal internalization refers to the
extent to which individuals cognitively accept the muscular cultural standard of attractiveness as
their own personal standard and engage in behaviors designed to help them meet that standard
Gender and body Image 17
(Thompson & Cafri, 2007). Men who have internalized the muscular ideal, and thereby pursue a
muscular body, are more vulnerable to the negative outcomes associated with exposure to
muscular images than are men who have not internalized these ideals. In particular, muscular-
ideal internalization is associated with a drive for muscularity among men in Westernized
societies (McCreary & Sasse, 2000), which, in turn, has been linked to men’s body
dissatisfaction (Cafri, Blevins, & Thompson, 2006), dieting to gain weight (McCreary & Sasse,
2000), overtraining (Klein, 2007), steroid use (Ricciardelli & McCabe, 2004), muscle
dysmorphia (Pope et al., 2005), and body dysmorphic disorder (Phillips & Castle, 2001).
When a desire to be thinner has been documented among boys, it appears to reflect a
desire for less body fat or more leanness as opposed to a smaller frame (Cafri, Strauss, &
Thompson, 2002). However, research conducted by Yelland and Tiggemann (2003) revealed
several interesting patterns with regard to the body image of gay men. First, they found that the
gay ideal body shape involves being both thin and muscular; gay men’s drive for thinness is on
par with women’s drive for thinness, and gay men’s drive for muscularity is higher than that of
heterosexual men. They also found that gay men engage in behaviors to try to achieve this ideal,
such as disordered eating, muscle-building, and food supplementation. However, with regard to
body dissatisfaction, gay men report being more satisfied than women and just as satisfied as
heterosexual men, although gay men did report less satisfaction than heterosexual men with their
current level of muscularity.
The evidence for lesbians is more mixed. Traditional lesbian ideology rejects the culture
of thinness and sexist ideologies that persist in Westernized societies (Cogan, 1999), and,
therefore, lesbians should be less susceptible to thin-ideal internalization. These notions have
been supported to some extent: Lesbians report less body monitoring, less thin-ideal
Gender and body Image 18
internalization, and less disordered eating than heterosexual women (Guille & Chrisler, 1999;
Schneider, O’Leary, & Jenkins, 1995). However, these effects are quite modest (Owens, Hughes,
& Owens-Nicholson, 2003) and suggest that a lesbian subculture may counteract some of the
sociocultural pressures for women’s appearance but may not be able to protect against the
broader societal preference for thin women (Cogan, 1999; Dworkin, 1989). For example, recent
research has shown that lesbians and heterosexual women experience similar levels of
interpersonal sexual objectification and body shame, but lesbians report even higher body
surveillance than heterosexual women (Kozee & Tylka, 2006). From this research it is also
important to note that interpersonal experiences of sexual objectification were directly linked to
lesbians’ body shame and disordered eating, whereas this was not the case for heterosexual
women.
Gender and Body Behaviors
Body behaviors refer to how people behave toward, and in relation to, their bodies. Often
conceptualized as the ‘outcome’ variables in empirical studies, a consideration of the actual
behaviors that men and women engage in as a result of their body image experiences serve as a
grave reminder of the significance of these phenomena in people’s lives. As Harrison (2003)
noted, to meet the current ‘curvaceously thin’ ideal, women are at risk for doing ‘double
damage’ to themselves as they try to reduce and reshape the lower body through disordered
eating and exercise practices and to enlarge and reshape the upper body through surgery and
drug use (e.g., herbal supplements). Similarly, in order to meet the ‘masculine ideal of lean
muscularity’ (Leon, Fulkerson, Perry, Keel, & Klump, 1999), boys and men may simultaneously
engage in strategies to gain muscle and strategies to lose weight (Cafri et al., 2005), which may
also place them at increased risk for doing ‘double damage’ to their bodies.
Gender and body Image 19
Eating Disorders
It has been well-documented that eating disorders are gendered phenomena. Indeed, 90%
of those affected with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are girls and women (American
Psychiatric Association, 1994), although other eating disorders, such as binge-eating disorder,
show fewer gender differences (Johnson & Torgrud, 1996). Body dissatisfaction is the most
consistent predictor of the onset of eating disturbances (Cattarin & Thompson, 1994; Thompson
et al., 1999), thus it may be no wonder that eating disorders occur at substantially higher rates in
girls and women. The behavioral hallmark of these disorders is the pursuit of weight loss by
chronic dieting, fasting, binging, purging, and a variety of other methods. Eating disorders have
the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1994),
therefore, because of the much higher prevalence rate of eating disturbances for women, it is
clear that their risk of death from eating disorders is much higher than that for men.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
BDD refers to an excessive preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in
appearance that brings about emotional suffering and significant disruptions in daily functioning
(American Psychiatric Association, 2000; Crerand, Phillips, Menard, & Fay, 2005). Although
any body part can become the focus of concern, BDD is typically characterized by intrusive
thoughts about one’s skin, hair, or facial features. BDD occurs with relatively similar frequency
in men and women; however, some of the clinical features may vary. For example, women tend
to be more preoccupied with their hips and weight, pick their skin, use make-up to cover
imagined defects, and suffer from bulimia nervosa, whereas men tend to be more preoccupied
with body build, genitals, thinning hair, using a hat to cover imagined defects, be unmarried, and
have alcohol abuse or dependence (Phillips & Diaz, 1997). The course of BDD tends to be
Gender and body Image 20
chronic, and the level of impairment can be quite severe, including attempted and completed
suicides (Phillips et al., 2005).
The trend toward societal representations of hypermuscular men parallels a rise in the
prevalence of muscle dysmorphia among men, which is described as a type of BDD with an
obsessive focus on becoming muscular (Olivardia, Pope, & Hudson, 2000). Men with BDD and
muscle dysmorphia (MD) have a particularly high risk of attempted suicide, poor quality of life,
substance use disorder, and anabolic steroid use (Cafri, Olivardia, & Thompson, 2008; Pope et
al., 2005). Although there have been documentations of cases of MD in women, by far the data
to date suggest that men are more likely to have this type of BDD. However, well-designed
prevalence studies are lacking and, to date, no study has specifically compared men and women
on MD characteristics and associated features.
Anabolic Steroid Use
Although once restricted to body builders and weight lifters, the use of anabolic-
androgenic steroids (AAS) is filtering into the mainstream as both men, and increasingly women,
strive for a more muscular look (Bahrke, 2007; Thompson & Cafri, 2007). The use of AAS to
achieve a more muscular and lean body is associated with many serious negative side effects,
such as cardiovascular disease, liver failure, kidney tumors, aggressiveness, mood changes, and
substance dependence (Cafri et al., 2005). Most of the research on AAS describes samples of
adolescent boys and men because increased muscularity is a body change goal predominantly
among boys and men; however, AAS is not only a problem among boys as there is increasing
pressure for women to look muscular and toned as well as thin and slim (Harrison, 2003).
Estimates suggest that between 1% to 12% of boys and between 0.2% and 9% of girls have used
AAS sometime in their life (Ricciardelli & McCabe, 2004).
Gender and body Image 21
Cosmetic Surgery
Over the last decade, the rate of cosmetic surgical and nonsurgical procedures has
exploded in the United States: There has been a 457% increase in all cosmetic procedures since
1997, with nearly 11.7 million procedures performed nationally in 2007 (American Society for
Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 2008). It is important to emphasize the all forms of plastic surgery
have become normalized for both women and men. This is most clearly evident in mainstream
American television shows, such as Extreme Makeover and The Swan, which have large prime-
time audiences. People on these shows compete to undergo large numbers of surgical procedures
to modify their appearance to make it more acceptable and closer to appearance ideals.
Viewership of these types of shows was recently found to be related to positive attitudes towards
cosmetic surgery, body dissatisfaction, and eating disturbances (Sperry, Thompson, Sarwer, &
Cash, in press). This normalized practice of surgically modifying the body to meet beauty
standards has caused deadly infections, gangrene, nerve damage, loss of sensation, loss of body
parts, mutiliated body parts, and death (Haiken, 1997): These deleterious effects of plastic
surgery on physical health and psychological well-being have been reported for decades, but do
not seem to have harmed its popularity.
In 2007, the top five surgical procedures included liposuction, breast augmentation,
eyelid surgery, abdominoplasty, and breast reduction and the top five nonsurgical procedures
included botox injection, hyaluronic aacid, laser hair removal, microdermabrasion, and laser skin
resurfacing. While both women and men express approval for body-altering surgical procedures
to achieve their ideals of bodily perfection (Henderson-King & Henderson-King, 2005),
approximately 10.6 million of these procedures were performed on women (91%), whereas 1.1
million of these procedures were performed on men in 2007. Although the percentage of men
Gender and body Image 22
undergoing cosmetic surgery is minimal relative to women, a 44 % increase in cosmetic surgery
among men was documented between the years 2000 and 2004 (American Society of Plastic
Surgeons, 2005), with the most common surgical procedures among men including rhinoplasty,
hair transplantation, and liposuction.
A recent development in men’s body image is the recognition that some men engage in
body depilation (Boroughs, Cafri & Thompson, 2005; Boroughs & Thompson, 2002), which is
the removal of hair in rather non-traditional places for men (e.g., arms, legs, genital area). Body
depilation is standard practice among competitive bodybuilders in order to show off high muscle
definition during competition (Klein, 2007). Yet, the practice of body depilation has extended to
men outside this athletic subculture. Indeed, the media have coined the term ‘metrosexual’ to
characterize a fashion-conscious urban heterosexual man with a strong aesthetic sense who
spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle (e.g., clothing, manicures,
facials). The cultural idea of the metrosexual might be one contributing factor to explain the
emergence of male body depilation and other body enhancing or modification strategies such as
cosmetic surgery.
Avoidance
Although seemingly less harmful than cosmetic surgery and steroid use, the actual
avoidance of social situations and interactions where the body may be on display can bring its
own set of negative consequences to people’s lives. There is evidence to indicate that women
choose to avoid situations because of their appearance significantly more often than men do. For
example, a stunning report by Etcoff and colleagues (2005) revealed that 67 % of women ages
15 to 64 across ten countries actually withdraw from life-engaging, life-sustaining activities due
to feeling badly about their looks. These activities include giving an opinion, meeting friends,
Gender and body Image 23
exercising, going to work, going to school, dating, and going to the doctor. In a recent study of
52,677 heterosexual adult readers of Elle magazine aged 18 to 65, women reported greater
dissatisfaction with their appearance and were more likely than men to avoid situations where
their bodies were on display, such as wearing a swimsuit in public (Frederick, Peplau, & Lever,
2006). In addition, negative body image concerns are linked to the avoidance of sexual intimacy
and sexual activity with a partner, at least among women (Faith & Schare, 1993; Wiederman,
2000).
Theoretical Explanations
The evidence presented above supports the idea that gender has a profound impact on
multiple dimensions of body image. Indeed, while some similarities exist, numerous gender
differences have been documented with regard to how men and women perceive, feel about,
think about, and treat their bodies. In the following sections we turn our attention toward
potential explanations for these gender differences. In particular, we describe three theoretical
frameworks to help us understand how broader social psychological, socio-cultural and socio-
structural mechanisms may contribute to the different body images of women and men.
Tripartite Model of Social Influence
According to the Tripartite Influence Model, parents, peers, and media represent three
formative influences on body image (Keery et al., 2004; Shroff & Thompson, 2006). The gender
differences in body perceptions, body cognitions, body feelings, and body behaviors can be
explained partially by the distinctly different messages that girls/women and boys/men receive
about their bodies. In particular, considerable evidence indicates that these sociocultural sources
consistently promote striving toward the thin ideal among women and the muscular ideal among
men.
Gender and body Image 24
Parents. Perceptions by both young girls and boys that their parents are concerned about
their child’s weight predict higher levels of body dissatisfaction in these young girls and boys
(Gardner et al., 1997); however, the majority of studies indicate that parents exert a stronger
influence on the appearance concerns of girls than boys (Barker & Galambos, 2003; Thompson
et al., 1999). For young girls, the desire to be thinner is correlated with actual encouragement to
lose weight from both mothers and fathers (Thelen & Cormier, 1995). One study showed that the
body esteem of girls was related to their mothers’ comments about daughters’ weight, mothers’
complaints about their own weight, mothers’ weight loss attempts, and fathers’ complaints about
their own weight (Smolak, Levine, & Schermer, 1999). McKinley (1999) provided further
evidence that mothers’ experiences with their bodies influence daughters’ experiences with their
bodies. In a sample of 151 undergraduate women and their middle-aged mothers, McKinley
demonstrated significant, positive relationships between mothers’ and daughters’ body esteem
and body monitoring. In addition, higher body shame in mothers was associated with lower body
esteem in daughters, and daughters’ perceptions that the family approved of their appearance
significantly predicted their body esteem. Phares et al. (2004) found that, compared to boys, girls
exhibited greater body image concern, received more information regarding weight and dieting
from their parents, and tried more actively to stay thin.
In contrast, for young boys, the desire to be thinner was not related to perceived or actual
encouragement to lose weight from either mother or father (Thelen & Cormier, 1995). Perhaps
this is because parents are less likely to encourage boys to lose weight, as this strategy would
move boys further away from the muscular ideal. Instead, perceived pressure to increase muscle
size may influence weight and/or body dissatisfaction among boys. Recent evidence supports
this possibility. McCabe and Ricciardelli (2005) found that pressure from mothers to increase
Gender and body Image 25
muscularity predicted weight dissatisfaction 8 months later and muscle dissatisfaction more than
one year later in their sons. In a longitudinal investigation of 237 boys aged 8 to 11 years, the
sole predictor of boys’ body dissatisfaction was BMI, and the main predictors of body change
strategies were BMI and the perceived pressure to modify weight and muscularity from parents,
peers, and media (Ricciardelli, McCabe, Lillis, & Thomas, 2006). Other research has shown that
mothers’ messages and mothers’ own body dissatisfaction predicts the degree of body
dissatisfaction in boys whereas the role of fathers appears to be less influential (Lowes &
Tiggemann, 2003).
Peers. Appearance-related teasing and commentary from peers is associated with
negative body image in girls and women (Murray, Touyz, & Beaumont, 1995; Oliver & Thelan,
1996; Paxton, Schultz, Wertheim, & Muir, 1999). In a nationally representative cohort of
middle-aged British women, experiences of appearance-related commentary in childhood
continued to exert negative effects on body esteem in later life (McLaren, Kuh, Hardy, &
Gauvin, 2004). However, body image concerns may occur in the context of peer relationships for
both boys and girls. For example, adolescent boys and girls who reported engaging in frequent
conversations about appearance with friends endorsed greater internalization of appearance
ideals, which, in turn, predicted greater body dissatisfaction (Jones, 2001; Jones, Vigfusdottir, &
Lee, 2004; Jones & Crawford, 2005). However, among boys, social comparisons appear to be
more closely related to body change strategies than to body dissatisfaction per se (Holt &
Ricciardelli, 2007).
Other gender differences have been noted as well. In a three year prospective study,
Lunde, Frisen, and Hwang (2007) evaluated peer victimization and teasing (among other
variables) as predictors of body esteem in ten-year old girls (n = 474) and boys (n = 400). Their
Gender and body Image 26
findings indicated that peer victimization had long term association with girls’ weight esteem,
but teasing related appearance was associated with boys’ more negative beliefs regarding how
others viewed their appearance. Additionally, in a sample of college-aged men and women,
childhood teasing about weight, but not teasing about general appearance or competence,
predicted negative body image in men, whereas childhood teasing about weight, general
appearance, and competence predicted negative body image in women (Gleason, Alexander, &
Somers, 2000). In addition, teasing about competence predicted lower general self-esteem in
men, whereas teasing about appearance and competence predicted lower general self-esteem in
women. That men’s body image was influenced by fewer forms of teasing than women’s body
image suggests that women’s sense of competence is more intricately tied to their appearance
than men’s, and, moreover, that men’s self-esteem is more likely to develop independently from
body image compared to women’s self-esteem and body image. It should be noted that while
some of the questions about teasing in this study referred to ‘other kids’ or ‘peers’ explicitly as
the perpetrators of the teasing, other questions referred to ‘people’ more generally as the
perpetrators; therefore, it is not clear to what extent the source of the teasing, as opposed to the
mere occurrence of teasing, is the critical factor in the development of body image concerns.
Peer effects extend to intimate partners as well. A 1995 survey by Glamour magazine
showed that men hold unrealistic views of women’s bodies and support methods that might bring
their partner’s bodies more in line with unrealistic cultural standards (Haiken, 1997). Glamour
asked men: ‘If it were painless, safe, and free, would you encourage your wife or girlfriend to get
breast implants?’ More than one-half (55%) of the men sampled answered ‘yes.’
Media. Virtually every form of media communicates the idea that thinness is desirable for
women (Levine & Harrison, 2004), including magazines (Englis, Solomon & Ashmore, 1994),
Gender and body Image 27
television shows (Harrison & Cantor, 1997), television commercials (Richins, 1991), music
videos (Tiggemann & Slater, 2003), popular films (Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson, & Kelly, 1986),
books (Baker-Sperry & Grauerholz, 2003), and children’s videos (Herbozo, Tantleff-Dunn,
Gokee-Larose, & Thompson, 2004). These images of women consistently portrayed in the media
are not realistic as the body proportions are virtually unattainable for most women (Tiggemann
& Pickering, 1996). Even for individuals who do not purposely expose themselves to media
sources of these beauty ideals, the negative impact of these sources still seems virtually
unavoidable. For example, exposure to ideal-body television images was associated with
preferences for thinness and approval of plastic surgery even for individuals who expressed no
interest in viewing television shows with topics such as dieting, nutrition, fitness, and exercise
(Harrison, 2003). This finding may be explained, in part, by recent research, which showed that
more exposure to thin-ideal media is associated with a greater tendency among women to
idealize thinness (Harrison & Cantor, 1997). Indeed, women expect that their lives will change in
important and positive ways if they look like the ideal portrayals of women in the media
(Engeln-Maddox, 2006; Evans, 2003); that is, women expect to be happier, better adjusted, more
socially competent, romantically successful, and have more job opportunities.
Although much of the research on media exposure to unrealistic body ideals has focused
on women, there is increasing evidence to indicate that men are also targeted and affected. For
example, when exposed to pictures of attractive same-sex models, both men and women reported
lower body esteem (Grogan, Williams, & Conner, 1996). As described above for women, boys
and men are increasingly exposed to hyper-muscular male bodies through television, movies,
magazines, and other media (Pope et al., 2000). The muscular ideal is the preferred body size and
shape among boys and men (Jones, 2001; Pope et al., 2000) and this is the masculine body ideal
Gender and body Image 28
that is increasingly promoted in the mass media (Luciano, 2007). Researchers have documented
the sociocultural shift in portrayals of the muscular male ideal. Leit et al. (2001) found that
Playgirl centerfolds have become increasingly muscular over the past 25 years by losing 12 lbs
(5.4 kg) of fat and gaining 27 lbs (12.25 kg) of muscle. In one study, measurements of the waist,
chest, and bicep circumference of male action figures (e.g., GI Joes, wrestlers) have indicated
increasingly muscular physiques over the past 30 years (Pope, Olivardia, Gruber, & Borowiecki,
1999); some of the measurements far exceed the muscularity of even the largest human
bodybuilders. Although research is lacking on how playing with these action figures affects the
body image concerns of young boys, one study has showed that young adult men report lower
body esteem after touching and manipulating hypermuscular action figures (Bartlett, Harris,
Smith, & Bonds-Raacke, 2005). As reported by Olivardia (2002), since the 1990’s even male
mannequins have become more muscular. Studies have consistently shown that exposure to
muscular images is associated with body image concerns in adolescent boys (Botta, 2003) and
adult men (Agliata & Tantleff-Dunn, 2004; Grogan, Williams, & Connor, 1996; Leit, Gray, &
Pope, 2002).
The idea that the particular content of the media can inform and form people’s view
about themselves and the world around them is the basis of cultivation theory (Gerbner, Gross,
Morgan, & Signorielli, 1994), which we describe briefly here in the context of media’s role in
body image concerns. In particular, it is television exposure that ‘cultivates’ people’s beliefs,
attitudes, and behaviors about their bodies, such that the more frequently people are exposed to
certain themes and images, the more they view those images as both desirable and realistic; the
boundaries between fictitious and real bodies become blurred (Freedman, 1984; Holstrom,
2004). The consistent portrayal of idealized bodies on T.V. has been implicated in the early
Gender and body Image 29
development of body image. In a study of preadolescents between 8 and 11 years old, patterns of
media use were associated with a greater attraction to muscular appearances and athletic ability
among boys and a greater attraction to beauty among girls (Jung & Peterson, 2007). McCreary
and Sadava (1999) demonstrated a significant positive association between television viewing
and both women’s and men’s beliefs that they were overweight, independent of their actual
weight. In a study of children’s animated cartoons appearing on television between the 1930s
and 1990s (e.g., Bugs Bunny, Popeye), the researchers were able to conclude that the cartoon
characters communicated positive messages about being attractive and negative messages about
being unattractive (Klein & Shiffman, 2006). In an investigation of actual eating behavior,
researchers found that a ‘diet-of ideal-media’ predicted smaller amounts of food consumed by
women and larger amounts of food consumed by men (Harrison, Taylor, & Marske, 2006),
consistent with the gendered body ideals of thinness and muscularity ‘cultivated’ by the media.
The cross-cultural work of Ann Becker and colleagues demonstrates the impact of
Westernized media imagery on adolescent girls in Fiji. Since the introduction of television in
1995, young Fijian girls have expressed an increased desire to be thin. Between 1995 and 1998, a
cross-sectional, two-wave cohort study revealed increased eating disordered attitudes and
behaviors among ethnic Fijian adolescents (Becker, Burwell, Gilman, Herzog, & Hamburg,
2002). This is remarkable considering that the traditionally revered body in Fiji is large and
robust; yet, there is no corresponding preoccupation with attaining this robust ideal and an
almost explicit disinterest in reshaping the body (Becker, 1995). The narrative responses of
adolescent Fijian girls reveal that young girls admire and accept Western ideals of beauty
portrayed in the media, and they associate thinness with success and social mobility (Becker,
2004). In addition, these girls report increased identification with television characters as role
Gender and body Image 30
models, preoccupation with weight loss, greater motivation to reshape their bodies through
dieting and exercise, and disordered eating behaviors. According to Becker (2004, p.553),
“Fijian self-presentation has absorbed new dimensions related to buying into Western styles of
appearance and the ethos of work on the body.”
Perhaps even more important, the portrayal of thinness and muscularity as good is
contrasted with the portrayal of fatness as bad, which prescribes anti-fat attitudes as normative in
Westernized societies (Allon, 1982; Bessenoff & Sherman, 2000; Crandall, 1994; Hebl &
Mannix, 2003; Puhl & Brownell, 2003; Vartanian, Herman, & Polivy, 2005). The media
cultivate fat prejudice and weight stigma by showing a very narrow range of acceptable bodies,
especially for women; almost two-thirds of the women portrayed on television weigh 15% less
than the average American woman (Spitzer, Henderson, & Zivian, 1999). The media also
cultivate fat prejudice by showing derogatory depictions of fat characters, such that fat people
are portrayed as less active, intelligent, hardworking, attractive, popular, romantically desirable,
successful, and athletic than people of average weight; again, this is especially true for depictions
of fat women (Fouts & Burggraf, 2000; Greenberg, Eastin, Hofshire, Lachlan, & Brownell,
2003; Hebl & Heatherton, 1997).
This stigmatization of fatness is apparent early in childhood (Goldfield & Chrisler, 1995)
and communicated in children’s media (Herbozo et al., 2004), thus affecting the perceptions of
both boys and girls. However, the biological reality is that the female body has more fat than the
male body; therefore, women will more often naturally deviate from the idealized image of a
“fat-free” body (Fallon, 1990). This sets women up to be targeted more often as bad and
unacceptable because of their bodies’ natural attributes (Chrisler, 1996), and this occurs at a very
young age. Thus, it may not be the constant media exposure to idealized bodies alone, but also
Gender and body Image 31
the constant media exposure to the associations between attractive physical appearance and clear
rewards or punishments, that leads to the cultivation of women’s and men’s body images.
In sum, while some research indicates that girls receive and detect more messages than
boys do about their bodies from sociocultural sources (McCabe, Ricciardelli, & Ridge, 2006;
Smolak, Levine, & Thompson, 2001; Tiggemann, Gardiner, & Slater, 2000; Wertheim, Paxton,
Schultz, & Muir, 1997), it is the distinctly different content of the messages that may contribute
to the gender differences in body image. Most messages transmitted to boys focus on the
importance of the functionality and strength of their bodies, whereas most messages transmitted
to girls focus on the importance of the appearance and weight of their bodies (Grogan &
Richards, 2002; McCabe et al., 2006), which, in turn, map onto men and women’s respective
pursuits of muscularity and thinness. Thus, the tripartite model of social influence may explain
why men and women come to take different perspectives on their bodies, and may help to
explain the more drastic behavioral measures that people may take to try to attain appearance
ideals, such as cosmetic surgery and steroid use.
Gender Socialization
Both the societal construction of what it means to be a boy or a girl and the distinct
biological predisposition of being male or female to gender socialization (Eagly, Beall, &
Sternberg, 2004). From an early age girls are socialized to focus on their external appearance and
on their interpersonal qualities and relationships, whereas boys are socialized to focus on their
agentic qualities and abilities (Eagly, 1987; Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1984), which
contribute to the development of girls’ and boys’ self-concepts (Wood, Christensen, Hebl, &
Rothgerber, 1997). These gender socialization practices, which teach girls to value being
communal and boys to value being agentic, extend to the way in which girls and boys learn to
Gender and body Image 32
view, experience, and treat their bodies. In particular, it has been documented that the traditional
gender roles associated with women (e.g., caregiver, nurturing, relational) are in direct conflict
with the values of individualism, independence, and competitiveness promoted in Westernized
societies (Brown & Jasper, 1993), whereas the traditional gender roles associated with men are
largely in line with societal values. Moreover, women’s bodies have often functioned as their
primary social and economic currency (Henley, 1977; Hesse-Biber, Leavy, Quinn, & Zoino,
2006; Unger & Crawford, 1996). Because the body serves as an instrument through which social
and cultural forces are communicated, “it is hardly surprising that the body is often the arena
within which women unconsciously choose to express conflict which they feel in their lives”
(Dana & Lawrence, 1988, p. 35). Thus, the disproportionate rate of negative body image
typically observed in women relative to men may actually reflect their discontent and
unhappiness about their inferior social status; however, it is their appearance, and not their social
status, that they might more quickly and directly improve to feel better (Brown & Jasper, 1993).
In conjunction with learning these traditional gender roles, girls experience specific
developmental changes that contribute to the gender socialization process. Indeed, women’s
bodies change more substantially than men’s across the lifespan. There is evidence that physical
changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, the postpartum period, and menopause are
very often associated with increased difficulties in girls’ and women’s relationships with their
bodies (Ussher, 1989). Because the physical changes accompanying puberty push girls further
away from the thin ideal, whereas pubertal changes bring boys closer to the muscular ideal,
adolescence becomes a critical window for markedly increased negative body image in girls and
decreased body image in boys. As Ussher (1989, p. 18) wrote, “It is during adolescence that the
Gender and body Image 33
young woman first experiences a split between her body and her self: between her own
experience and the archetype she is expected to emulate.”
However, it is not only weight and shape that cause distress about the body for adolescent
girls. The social construction of the sexual organs affects girls’ body images during this critical
developmental period. As Ussher (1989, p. 19) explained it, “…whilst boys learn to perceive
their genitals as a source of pride and pleasure, girls mainly develop a sense of shame, disgust
and humiliation about theirs. In this way then, social stereotypes which define women’s genitals
as unpleasant, odorous and unattractive, are internalized by the female child.” Thus, the sexual
and reproductive functions of the female body are framed and constrained to fit very narrow
standards for acceptable, feminine bodies. In support of these ideas, a longitudinal investigation
of 9,011 girls and 8,781 boys showed that adolescent girls experience more depressive symptoms
after than before puberty due to their self-perceptions of being overweight and more physically
developed than their peers (Yuan, 2007). In contrast, boys experience more depressive symptoms
during than after puberty due to their self-perceptions of not being as large and developed as
their peers, whereas pre- and post-pubertal boys did not differ on depressive symptoms.
Part of the problem has been that men’s bodies have served as the gold standard for what
is good and normal about the human body, and, therefore, by comparison, women’s bodies have
often been perceived as inferior and deviant from this biological baseline (McNay, 1992).
Women’s bodily functions, particularly menstruation, have been historically reviled and
associated with disgust (Delaney, Lupton, & Toth, 1988), and these negative perceptions remain
largely in tact even in contemporary Westernized societies (Buckley & Gottlieb, 1988; Roberts,
2000; Rozin, Haidt, McCauley, Dunlop, & Ashmore, 1999; Ussher, 1989). In the late 19
th
century, the British Medical Journal published letters from doctors suggesting that women
Gender and body Image 34
should not prepare hams if it was their ‘time of the month,’ and, until recently, withering fruit
trees and sour wine were believed to be caused by the contamination of menstrual blood or
menstruating women (Einon, 2007; Knight, 1995). In particular, menstruation, pregnancy, and
lactation seem to tie women more closely to nature, which, in turn, has been used to devalue
women and judge them as inferior (Tauna, 1993). Evidence from a recent study of American
university students suggests that although women are not confined to menstrual huts in this
culture, we haven’t come too far on this particular front: The mere presence of a tampon led both
women and men to rate a peer as less competent and likable and to physically distance
themselves from her (Roberts, Goldenberg, Power, & Pyszczynski, 2002). According to Roberts
et al. (2002, p. 138), “…norms of secrecy and concealment surrounding menstruation
nevertheless serve the function of keeping women’s corporeal bodies out of the public eye. Thus,
the sanitized, deodorized, and idealized images of women’s bodies become the only ones we
encounter and accept.”
The process of gender socialization and the adoption of traditional gender roles may also
explain the development of men’s body image, and the rising trends in men’s body image
concerns. Boys and young men report feeling a social imperative to be more muscular in order to
obtain social power and avoid ostracism (Drummond, 2002) as well as to manage the stress
associated with deviating from masculine ideals and gender roles (Mussap, 2008). Indeed, the
attainment of muscle is indicative of masculinity and reaching the status of ‘being a man’
because muscles convey the masculine qualities of strength, dominance, and power. In contrast,
men who lack muscle and size convey weakness, which is inconsistent with masculinity and may
leave boys and men more open to ridicule. Men who can achieve a muscular body are
simultaneously meeting the ideals for masculinity promoted in Western societies (Connell, 2005;
Gender and body Image 35
Luciano, 2007). Not surprisingly, researchers have demonstrated positive relationships between a
drive for muscularity and the endorsement of masculine personality traits and traditionally male
social roles (Kimmel & Mahilik, 2004; McCreary, Saucier, & Courtenay, 2005).
Perhaps the most widely accepted criterion for masculinity is the absence of feminine
qualities and traits (Holbrook, Andersen, & Cohn, 2000; McCreary, 1994). Indeed, it has been
suggested that men’s concerns with muscularity may reflect their uneasiness with women’s
improved economic and social status (Luciano, 2007). Some interesting statistics provided by
Shellenberger (2005) explain why men might feel threatened. Since 1990, the proportion of
women earning more than $100,000 per year has tripled (whereas men’s earnings have declined
over the same period), and roughly one-third of wives earn more than their husbands do.
Moreover, women hold 58 % of all bachelor’s degrees and 59 % of all master’s degrees. If we
consider that economic power has long been a critical indicator of masculinity, and that higher
education and higher-paying occupations have remained almost exclusively in men’s domain, it
may not be surprising that men are looking for other ways to display their masculinity
(Drummond, 2003; Pope et al., 2000). Muscularity remains one area in which women will not be
able to surpass, or easily match, men, and, therefore, the attainment of a muscular physique
conveys the message that men are still more powerful than, and physically superior to, women.
In sum, gender differences in body image may be explained by the distinctly different
socialization practices and developmental changes that occur for girls and boys. The long-
standing and well-documented higher rates of body dissatisfaction among women compared to
men may stem, in part, from socialization practices that align women’s physically smaller bodies
with inferior and devalued social roles (Eagly et al., 2004) and sanction the expression of disgust
toward women’s natural and changing bodies (Martin, 1992; Roberts et al., 2002). These same
Gender and body Image 36
socialization practices align men’s physically larger bodies with superior and valued social roles,
but the improvements in women’s social position and gains in freedom have threatened these
roles. In order to maintain a superordinate position in the hierarchy, it may seem necessary to
bulk up; hence, the increased rates of body dissatisfaction and the importance of appearance in
men.
Objectification Theory
A common theme shared by the perspectives described above is that women are defined
and treated more often as bodies than men. What girls and women, and boys and men, come to
learn about women’s bodies from sociocultural agents and gender socialization is that women’s
bodies are open to and available for sexual objectification. Being sexually objectified is a
pervasive aspect of girls’/women’s, but not boys’/men’s, social lives in Westernized societies
(Bartky, 1990; Calogero et al., 2007; Eck, 2003; Huebner & Fredrickson, 1999; Krassas et al.,
2003; Piran & Cormier, 2005; Plous & Neptune, 1997; Reichert, 2003; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, &
Ferguson, 2001; Thompson et al., 1999). Experiences of sexual objectification occur at a very
young age; a disturbing 75% of American elementary school girls report experiences of sexual
harassment (Murnen & Smolak, 2000). Although boys and girls may both be victims of sexual
harassment, girls are more frequently targeted and suffer more devastating effects (Bryant, 1993;
Murnen, Smolak, Mills, & Good, 2003). As documented in a well-known study of adolescents
supported by the American Association of University Women, after experiences of sexual
harassment girls were nearly five times more likely than boys to be afraid at school and three
times less confident (Bryant, 1993). Beyond the subjective distress, because of the sexual
harassment one-third of the girls did not want to attend school and nearly one-third did not want
to speak up in class.
Gender and body Image 37
Particularly insidious is the exposure to sexualized media environments, which have been
linked to the development of adolescent girls’ and boys’ notions of women as sex objects
(American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, 2007; Busby &
Leichty, 1993; Grogan & Wainwright, 1996; Harper & Tiggemann, 2008; Peter & Valkenburg,
2007; Reichert & Carpenter, 2004; Ward & Friedman, 2006). Research has revealed the
dominant presence of depictions of women in the role of sex object across virtually every
medium, including prime time television programs (e.g., Grauerholz & King, 1997; Ward, 1995),
television commercials (e.g., Lin, 1997), music videos (e.g., Gow, 1995; Vincent 1989), and
magazines (e.g., Krassas, Blauwkamp, & Wesselink, 2003; Plous & Neptune, 1997). Such
sexually objectifying images of women have been increasing over time (e.g., Busby & Leichty,
1993; Reichert & Carpenter, 2004): One report indicates a 60% increase in the portrayal of
women in “decorative” roles from 1970 to the mid-1980s (Sullivan & O’Connor, 1988).
Moreover, the sexual objectification of women in the media affects men’s beliefs about women’s
bodies. Ward, Merriwether, and Caruthers (2006) demonstrated that heavier media usage by men
is linked to greater acceptance of traditional gender ideologies that construct women as sex
objects and to positive views of women’s bodies and body parts when they serve a sexual
function but not when they serve a reproductive function.
Over a decade ago, Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) offered Objectification Theory as a
formal framework for understanding how exposure to chronic sexual objectification negatively
and disproportionately affects multiple dimensions of women’s lives. According to this theory,
daily encounters with sexual objectification across multiple interpersonal and social contexts
lead girls and women to view themselves as objects. Girls and women come to adopt an
Gender and body Image 38
objectifying observers’ perspective on their bodies such that “they treat themselves as objects to
be looked at and evaluated” (p. 177, emphasis in original). According to Bartky (1990, p. 72):
In contemporary patriarchal culture, a panoptical male connoisseur resides within the
consciousness of most women: They stand perpetually before his gaze and under his
judgment. Woman lives her body as seen by another, by an anonymous patriarchal Other.
Referred to as self-objectification, this self perspective does not merely reflect social comparison
with others, or the fact that women simply do not like the size or shape of their bodies, but
actually reflects a view of the body as belonging “less to them and more to others” (Fredrickson
& Roberts, 1997, p. 193) because women learn that it is normative for their bodies to be looked
at, commented on, evaluated, and sexually harassed. Despite the heterogeneity among women
with regard to ethnicity, class, sexuality, and age, “having a reproductively mature body may
create a shared social experience, a vulnerability to sexual objectification, which in turn may
create a shared set of psychological experiences” (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997, p. 3).
Self-objectification has been associated with significant costs to women’s emotional
well-being (e.g., body shame, appearance anxiety, diminished internal bodily awareness) and
cognitive performance (e.g., decreased motivational states, poorer math performance), and
disproportionately higher rate of mental health risks (i.e., depression, sexual dysfunction, and
disordered eating). In particular, the pervasive sexual objectification of women, and resultant
self-objectification, is one explanation for the disproportionate rate of eating disorders among
women in Westernized societies (Calogero, Davis, & Thompson, 2005; Fredrickson & Roberts,
1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Striegel-Moore & Smolak, 2001; Thompson et al., 1999). Thus,
the objectified way in which women’s bodies are evaluated and treated at both the cultural and
individual level has direct implications for their quality of life and well-being.
Gender and body Image 39
This focus on the negative consequences of the objectification of women is consistent
with the aims of Objectification Theory, but there is evidence to suggest that men’s bodies are
becoming increasingly objectified (Pope, Olivardia, Borowiecki, & Cochrane, 2001; Thompson
& Cafri, 2007). For example, in recent decades, there has been widespread exposure of the
nearly nude male body to sell products such as underwear and shaving gel (Luciano, 2007), and
fitness magazines expose men to idealized images of the male body, with particular emphasis on
extremely muscular and lean bodies that show off the “six-pack abs” (Botta, 2003). In fact, the
percentage of nearly nude men portrayed in women’s magazines such as Glamour and
Cosmopolitan approximates that of nearly nude images of women (Luciano, 2007). Thus,
sexualized depictions of men are becoming more common.
Although women self-objectify to a greater degree than men (Strelan & Hargreaves,
2005), the nature and patterns of men’s self-objectification should be clarified because some men
do self-objectify, and when they do they also report more body shame and restrained eating
(Martins et al., 2007; Hebl et al., 2004; Tiggemann & Kuring, 2004). The degree to which men
have internalized this objectified view of their bodies needs further investigation, but there are
several indications that men feel pressure to meet these ideals and to invest more effort in their
appearance. In a recent cross-cultural study of college-aged men from Austria, France, and the
United States, the men, on average, chose an ideal body shape that was approximately 28 lbs
(12.70 kg) more muscular than their actual body shape (Pope et al., 2000). As noted above, men
are increasingly electing to engage in body change strategies, usually to increase their muscle
size with steroids or different types of implants (Luciano, 2007). The severity of these trends is
underscored by Leit, Gray, and Pope (2002), “…the cultural ideal of hypermesomorphy may be
just as dangerous to men as is the anorexic ideal to women” (p. 334). Of course, the numerous
Gender and body Image 40
risks to men’s health as a result of these body change strategies and procedures are the same as
for women, and, perhaps ironically, only serve to impair performance and function, thus
undermining the very attributes traditionally associated with the masculine gender role and
bringing men into an arena once reserved for women: the ‘decorative role.’
Although more research is needed to understand the objectification of men, it is still the
case that men are allowed much greater variability than women when it comes to body size and
shape (Andersen & DiDomenico, 1992), and their bodies are still deemed more acceptable in
their natural form. Moreover, men’s natural bodies are not sexually objectified by women to the
same extent as women’s bodies are sexually objectified by men (Strelan & Hargeaves, 2005).
Thus, Objectification Theory explains the extreme and pervasive tendency to equate women with
their bodies, and why this can have such negative consequences for women’s body image and
beyond. The sexually objectifying male gaze serves as a particularly potent way to limit
women’s social roles and behaviors by keeping them in a restricted and devalued societal
position, which they come to self-monitor and police on their own.
That being said, as mentioned above, the gay men’s subculture places an extreme
emphasis on appearance, and contains a high level of sexual objectification (Siever, 1994).
Similar to heterosexual women, gay men try to attract the attention of men who typically place
greater value on the appearance of their partners (Siever, 1994). Indeed, researchers have
documented higher levels of self-objectification in gay men compared to heterosexual men
(Martins et al., 2007). While having similar potential for negative effects, we would not submit
that these experiences of sexual objectification for women and gay men are experientially the
same because of the obvious differences in physicality and relational qualities of the surveyors
and their targets. In addition, the nature of the sexual objectification of heterosexual men or the
Gender and body Image 41
lack thereof, represents an equally important way in which men experience their own bodies
within a patriarchical system. Thus, variability in the presence or absence of sexual
objectification, and the attendant self-objectification, may explain why men and women come to
take different perspectives on their bodies.
Future Directions
The conceptualization and measurement of body image is critical for understanding the
body image of women and men. Body image has been most often measured as a cross-
situational, individual disposition or trait. Although the scope of this research has been
invaluable for understanding the nature, meaning, and consequences of body image in people’s
lives, there are other directions that need to be taken to widen the scope of research on gender
and body image. This section identifies several gaps in the literature on women’s and men’s
body images and offers some suggestions for future research directions on this topic.
Body image is not static, but can vary across situational contexts, and thus more research
is needed on the nature and consequences of body image states (Cash, 2004; Cash, Fleming,
Alindogan, Steadman, & Whitehead, 2002; Tiggemann, 2001), and how these states may differ
for men and women (e.g., Duncombe, Wertheim, Skouteris, Paxton, & Kelly, 2008). Moreover,
most individual difference measures in body image experiences cannot capture the broader
societal and cultural forces that operate on people’s body image; thus, more qualitative and
archival research is needed to investigate these processes, and the development of measurements
that are more sensitive to the operation of these processes among women and men with different
ethnic backgrounds and sexualities is needed.
An additional point must be considered when evaluating this research. As described
above, a focus on muscularity and larger size reflect the body concerns of boys and men,
Gender and body Image 42
whereas a focus on weight and smaller size reflect the body concerns of girls and women. Most
measures of body dissatisfaction focus on evaluations of weight and shape, and do not assess
evaluations of muscularity; therefore, most measures of body dissatisfaction do not represent key
targets of men’s appearance evaluations. While it is clear that girls and women are more
dissatisfied with their weight than boys and men (Gardner, Sorter, & Friedman, 1997;
Ricciardelli & McCabe, 2001), we cannot draw firm conclusions about gender differences in
body dissatisfaction until we fully consider the distinct dimensions of body image under
evaluation by men and women.
Body image has been conceptualized and assessed almost exclusively in negative terms,
and therefore there is a dearth of research on positive body image. Important practical and
empirical questions that have yet to be answered are: What is positive body image? What are the
gender similarities and differences in positive body image? How do we promote positive body
image at both macro- and micro-levels of society? Some researchers have begun to address this
gap in the literature. For example, Avalos, Tylka, and Wood-Barcalow (2005) developed and
evaluated a measure of body appreciation, which is characterized by (a) favorable evaluations of
the body regardless of perceived discrepancy from the cultural appearance standards, (b) body
acceptance regardless of weight, body shape, and imperfections, (c) respect for the body as
demonstrated by responding to body’s needs and engaging in healthy behaviors, and (d)
protection of the body by rejecting unrealistic idealized images portrayed in media. In their
acceptance model of intuitive eating, Avalos and Tylka (2006) demonstrated that more perceived
body acceptance by others (e.g., family, peers, partners) predicted greater importance of body
function (i.e., focus on how the body functions and feels vs. how the body looks), which
predicted greater body appreciation, which, in turn, predicted more intuitive, healthy eating.
Gender and body Image 43
We have discussed how the lack of acceptance of women’s natural bodies is
communicated from a variety of sociocultural sources. The findings described above indicate
that by changing the messages transmitted by these same sociocultural sources to convey body
acceptance, women may learn to appreciate their bodies more for what they can do than for how
they look. Indeed, the idea that body function is linked to body appreciation may explain why
many men are less vulnerable to negative body image because the focus on their bodies is more
likely to be functionality and agency. Further research on the development and cultivation of
positive body image, particularly in women, is sorely needed.
There is also little research available on the role of school environments in the
development of women’s and men’s body images. Peer interactions as well as teachers’ and
coaches’ comments play a significant role in the gender socialization process, and we know that
experiences of sexual harassment occur early in the lives of children (Murnen & Smolak, 2000).
There is also evidence to indicate that teachers’ perceptions of students’ competence are
influenced by aspects of the students’ physiques. Specifically, larger sized boys are more likely
to be perceived as competent, and they receive higher grades on achievement test scores,
especially older boys (Villimez, Eisenberg, & Carroll, 1986). In contrast, larger sized girls are
less likely to be perceived as competent, especially with regard to athletic competence in older
girls.
Little systematic research has examined how older individuals respond to contemporary
beauty ideals and the effects of aging on their body image (Chrisler, 2007). Clarke (2002)
assessed perceptions of body weight in a sample of women aged 61 to 92, and reported that
weight and appearance are still central to women’s identity and their perceived social value. The
majority of women reported some degree of body dissatisfaction, a desire to lose weight for
Gender and body Image 44
appearance reasons, and varied degrees of dieting behavior. Because of the social construction of
women’s bodies and their biological processes, the experience of a changing, menopausal body
could be important to women’s body image as women’s natural bodies diverge more
substantially from what they used to look like as well as from cultural appearance ideals
(Chrisler & Ghiz, 1993; Dillaway, 2005). Some recent research suggests the body esteem of
older men warrants more consideration as well. In a study of 95 adults aged 60 to 91 years old, it
was men, not women, who became more disparaging of the appearance and function of their
bodies during the last decades of their life (Kaminski & Hayslip, 2006).
Conclusions
The frameworks provided by theories of social influence, gender socialization, and
objectification converge on the point that women’s, and increasingly men’s, bodies are not
wholly acceptable in their natural form. The extent to which this cultural dissatisfaction becomes
internalized introduces a new set of consequences for individual women and men, but it seems
clear that people’s bodies are systematically subjected to negative scrutiny and objective
evaluation regardless of whether they like their own bodies or not. In addition, it is evident that
social and political conflicts and norms are often translated into how the body can be
manipulated, controlled, and experienced. As Lee (2003, p. 82) stated, the external body is a
“text of culture; it is a symbolic form upon which the norms and practices of a society are
inscribed.” The critical point is that gender is inscribed on people’s bodies. Gender informs body
image through the different fictions about women’s and men’s bodies communicated by the
media, the different fashions for women’s and men’s bodies encouraged by formative
sociocultural agents, and the different biological and social functions of women’s and men’s
bodies that define their respective social roles and social value.
Gender and body Image 45
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... As such, across the BMI spectrum, men have more muscle than adipose tissue whereas at higher BMIs women have more adipose tissue than muscle (Heymsfield et al., 2009). If a higher body weight reflects muscularity for men, the negative relationship between overweight/obesity and suicidality among men could reflect the benefit of having a socially prescribed body ideal, which is to be big and muscular (Calogero & Thompson, 2010). Conversely, if a higher body weight reflects more adipose tissue for women, a higher BMI likely indicates a failure to achieve the socially prescribed body ideal of thinness (Calogero & Thompson, 2010). ...
... If a higher body weight reflects muscularity for men, the negative relationship between overweight/obesity and suicidality among men could reflect the benefit of having a socially prescribed body ideal, which is to be big and muscular (Calogero & Thompson, 2010). Conversely, if a higher body weight reflects more adipose tissue for women, a higher BMI likely indicates a failure to achieve the socially prescribed body ideal of thinness (Calogero & Thompson, 2010). Regardless of the reasons for the mixed evidence about the relationship between body weight and suicidal thoughts and behaviors, it is unclear how to expect results from previous studies to translate into research expectations for a nationally representative sample of U.S. young adults. ...
... Among men, muscle represents a larger fraction of body mass than adipose tissue (Heymsfield et al., 2009) signifying that a heavier BMI may be indicative of increased muscularity rather than fat. In our society, the socially prescribed body ideal for boys and men is big and muscular (Calogero & Thompson, 2010) and more muscular men achieve this body ideal which may reduce their likelihood for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. ...
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The prevalence of both obesity and suicide ideation has risen in the last several decades among young adults in the United States (U.S.). Obesity is highly stigmatized in the U.S. and leads to discrimination and societal rejection, which suggests that obesity may increase the risk of suicide ideation. However, no U.S. population-representative studies to date have investigated the relationship between body weight and suicide ideation among young adults. We make this contribution by analyzing data from Wave III of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health). Our results indicate obesity is not related to suicide ideation among young men or young women and overweight young men have lower odds of suicide ideation than normal weight young men. We speculate that these findings may be attributable to the very high U.S. overweight and obesity prevalence, which has made obesity more common despite stigmatization.
... Psychological literature on body image has indicated important gender differences, although studies including male participants are less numerous than those involving women or both genders. In general, girls tend to show higher levels of dissatisfaction compared to boys (Calogero & Thompson, 2010;Quick et al., 2013;Senín-Calderón, Gálvez-González, Perona-Garcelán, Camacho, & Rodríguez-Testal, in press). Quantitative research in several Western countries, such as U.S., Spain and Germany, has demonstrated that body appreciation is higher for male college students than for females (Lobera & Ríos, 2011;Swami, Stieger, Haubner, & Voracek, 2008). ...
... Second, according to Calogero and Thompson (2010) gender differences in body image may be explained by the distinctly different socialization practices and developmental changes that occur for girls and boys. From an early age, girls are socialized to focus on their physical appearance and on their interpersonal qualities and relationships, whereas boys are socialized to focus on their agentic qualities and competences. ...
... From an early age, girls are socialized to focus on their physical appearance and on their interpersonal qualities and relationships, whereas boys are socialized to focus on their agentic qualities and competences. These gender socialization practices contribute to the development of girls' and boys' self-concepts, teaching girls to value being communal and boys to value being agentic, but also extend to the way in which girls and boys learn to view, experience, and treat their bodies (Calogero & Thompson, 2010). ...
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Social networking sites (SNSs) are used every day by billions of people worldwide to communicate with each other and engage in different ways and reasons of interactions. As the popularity of different SNS rises from day to day, so do the concerns regarding its potential benefits and risks associated with elevated use of these sites. The most prominent domain which is being studied and put in the interest of the public is its association with mental health, especially with depression. Many studies were conducted on this particular topic, showing mixed results. The increased usage of SNS seems to rise to a maladaptive addictive pattern of usage in many cases. The uncertainty whether this problematic usage of SNS, the content based on these sites, or the individual differences and possible risk factors among users, are the predominant cause and feature of depression development. For sure it leaves a lot of space for researching and understanding how these intertwined factors result in depression. Even though the relationship of the usage of SNS and depressive symptoms seems to be inevitable and logical, the reality shows that their bond is not that naive. Whether or not SNSs are the source of depression or only a factor elevating already existing symptoms, the importance of the indisputable relationship between these factors should be studied and understood by the public. Especially, considering the rapid pace of SNS, new sites arising and the number of users increasing, as well as the rising dependency on SNS for personal communication, as well as for academic and professional instances, the risk for more addictive patterns of usage seems inevitable, and therefore the risk of depression may be heightened more than ever.
... This persistence raises the question of how such an ideal endures in Western society despite decades of research that has documented the negative impacts that arise from its spread through media (e.g., Calogero & Thompson, 2010;Evans, 2003;Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997;Stice & Shaw, 1994;Swami et al., 2010;Ward, 2003). In other words, the cognitive processes that underlie the proliferation and internalization of the thin ideal have yet to be fully clarified (López-Guimerà et al., 2010). ...
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Body dissatisfaction is pervasive among young women in Western countries. Among the many forces that contribute to body dissatisfaction, the overrepresentation of thin bodies in visual media has received notable attention. In this study, we proposed that prevalence-induced concept change may be one of the cognitive mechanisms that explain how beauty standards shift. We conducted a preregistered online experiment with young women (N = 419) and found that when the prevalence of thin bodies in the environment increased, the concept of being overweight expanded to include bodies that would otherwise be judged as "normal." Exploratory analyses revealed significant individual differences in sensitivity to this effect, in terms of women's judgments about other bodies as well as their own. These results suggest that women's judgments about other women's bodies are biased by an overrepresentation of thinness and lend initial support to policies designed to increase size-inclusive representation in the media.
... Gender represents body image through the lens of various fictions about women's and men's bodies depicted by media, allying with it the different biological and social functions that define their respective social roles (40). Considered as an extremely common phenomenon, dieting for women is considered 'normal', where dieting refers to restricting the amount of food consumed, avoiding certain categories of food or going without food for long periods of time (33). ...
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Nutrition to the body is a basic element for sustenance and growth biologically, provided through food. This paper aims to understand why there is a difference between foods that are marketed gender-specifically to males and females separately. There have been a lot of participative changes in the household kitchen activities since the birth of the concept. However, certain things have continued to remain the same either as a result of tradition, preference, or systemic societal loop. This paper aims to categorically understand this patterned behaviour behind gender based food marketing and the consequent consumptions so as to find a more sustainable and inclusive approach for food marketing for the firms of this industry. The aim is also to shed light on the impact of such practices on the psychological level of the individual buyer that stems to form a pattern, creating a recurring practice out of habit, over internal choice.
... In this regard, the relevance of addressing males' shame experiences when working with body image-related difficulties and body attitudes has been more recently highlighted (Gioia et al., 2020;Oliveira et al., 2018). This experience may lead to pathological attempts to control physical appearance (Calogero & Thompson, 2010;Dakanalis & Riva, 2013) and an improved compensatory drive for muscularity (Agliata & Tantleff-Dunn, 2004;Choma et al., 2010;Grieve & Helmick, 2008;Lorenzen et al., 2004). ...
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... Fewer studies adopted measures based on body silhouettes evaluating the level of body size accuracy and the satisfaction with one's physical appearance as the difference between actual and ideal size. Multidimensional assessment should start from the assumption that body image is a multifaceted construct consisting of self-perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors related to one's body and is dynamically related to the social environment (Calogero & Thompson, 2010;Cash & Pruzinsky, 1990), and such assessments should be more frequently adopted as a measurement approach that can recognize the multiple aspects of body image. ...
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Despite type 1 diabetes' (T1D) potential influence on adolescents' physical development, the occurrence of body image problems of adolescents with diabetes remains unclear. No research synthesis has yet addressed this issue. This study aims to systematically evaluate the empirical evidence concerning body image in individuals with T1D in order to provide an overview of the existing literature. Using PRISMA methodology, 51 relevant studies that fulfilled the eligibility criteria were found, the majority of them (N = 48) involving youth. The findings varied across studies: 17 studies indicated that in youth with T1D, body dissatisfaction was common and that body concerns were generally greater in youth with T1D than in controls; nine studies did not find any differences in body image problems between participants with and without T1D; three studies described higher body satisfaction in youth with diabetes than in controls; and three studies reported mixed results. Body concerns in individuals with T1D were often found to be associated with negative medical and psychological functioning. The variability and limits in assessment tools across studies, the overrepresentation of female subjects, and the fact that most research in this field is based on cross-sectional data are stressed in the interpretation of these mixed findings. Future research directions that could improve the understanding of body image concerns and clinical implications are discussed.
... This persistence raises the question of how such an ideal endures in Western society despite decades of research that has documented the negative impacts that arise from its spread through media (e.g., Calogero & Thompson, 2010;Evans, 2003;Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997;Stice & Shaw, 1994;Swami et al., 2010;Ward, 2003). In other words, the cognitive processes that underlie the proliferation and internalization of the thin ideal have yet to be fully clarified (López-Guimerà et al., 2010). ...
Preprint
Body dissatisfaction is pervasive among young women in Western countries. Among the many forces that contribute to body dissatisfaction, the overrepresentation of thin bodies in visual media has received notable attention. In this study, we proposed that prevalence-induced concept change may be one of the cognitive mechanisms that explain how beauty standards shift. We conducted a preregistered online experiment with young women (N = 419) and found that when the prevalence of thin bodies in the environment increased, the concept of being overweight expanded to include bodies that would otherwise be judged as “normal.” Exploratory analyses revealed significant individual differences in sensitivity to this effect, in terms of women’s judgments about other bodies as well as their own. These results suggest that women’s judgments about other women’s bodies are biased by an overrepresentation of thinness and lend initial support to policies designed to increase size-inclusive representation in the media.
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Body appreciation, defined as accepting, holding favourable attitudes towards, and respecting the body, is the most widely studied facet of positive body image. Despite more than 15 years of research investigating associations between body appreciation and psychological wellbeing constructs, a synthesis of this literature has yet to be performed. We conducted the first systematic review and meta-analysis of research on body appreciation and its psychological correlates. Two-hundred-forty papers were included, of which only eight investigated prospective associations. Random effects meta-analyses were performed on 35 cross-sectional correlates of body appreciation. Prospective associations were reviewed qualitatively. Meta-analyses showed that body appreciation was inversely associated with numerous indices of eating (eating pathology, restraint) and body image disturbances (appearance-ideal internalization, body surveillance, sociocultural pressures), and general psychopathology (depression, anxiety). Body appreciation was positively associated with several adaptive wellbeing constructs (self-esteem, self-compassion, sexual satisfaction). Crucially, pooled associations were still evident after controlling for the influence of negative body image. Qualitative synthesis showed that body appreciation may also promote better wellbeing over time. Findings confirm that body appreciation is consistently associated with better psychological wellbeing. Body appreciation shows promise as a viable intervention target in mental health promotion initiatives and eating disorder prevention programs.
Chapter
This chapter attempts to create a close-up picture of the society of Orthodox Jewish men in regard to their levels of religiosity and sexual identity. The author examines BI, emotional wellbeing, and the connection between them, among three groups of religious Israeli young men: Modern Orthodox (MO) heterosexual men, Modern Orthodox gay men (MOG), and ultra-Orthodox heterosexual men (UO). The findings pose an extremely important challenge to educators in Israel. The young men answered two questionnaires: SWLS and the Body Image Questionnaire. The BI and wellbeing scores for the MOGs were significantly lower than for the MOs and UO. The correlations between BI and wellbeing were different in each group: there was no significant correlation among the MO, among the MOGs there was a negative, medium, and significant correlation, and among the UO there was a positive, high, and significant correlation. These differences were explained by social and educational trends.
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This research studied the preferences reported by women and men about their Ideal Body Image for the Opposite Sex (IBIOS), and its association with body mass index (BMI). It also analysed the preferences of each sex for a woman’s ideal body image (W-IBI) and a man’s ideal body image (M-IBI). A total of 450 participants aged 18–70 years with different weights were studied. Their IBIOS was assessed using standard figural stimuli. The sample was divided in four groups by sex and age (<45 years; ≥45 years). Sex and age differences in IBIOS, as well as sex differences in the preferences for a woman’s ideal body image (W-IBI) and a man’s ideal body image (M-IBI), were tested using a non-parametric Mann-Whitney U test. The association between IBIOS and BMI was analysed using Spearman’s correlation. In all groups, the most chosen silhouette as IBIOS was number 4. In the under-45 years group, women chose bigger silhouettes for the opposite sex than men did ( p <0.05). In this age group women chose as ideal smaller silhouettes for the female body than men did ( p <0.01). In addition, women and men in the younger age group and with normal weight chose smaller silhouettes, while those who were overweight or obese selected larger silhouettes ( p <0.001). Age was found to be a relevant factor in IBIOS preferences, and in the association between IBIOS and nutritional status as measured by BMI, which was only observed to be significant in the younger age group.
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Full-text available
PIP This study explores the explicit and implicit messages of sexual harassment that viewers receive when viewing prime-time television in the US. A content analysis of 48 hours of prime-time television reveals that sexual harassment on television is both highly visible and invisible. Sexual harassment is rendered visible simply by its prominence in these programs. Incidents involving quid-pro-quo harassment and environmental harassment occur with regularity on television. Furthermore, about 84% of the shows studied contained at least one incident of sexual harassment; yet these acts of sexual harassment remained largely invisible because none of the behaviors were labeled as sexual harassment. These incidents are presented in humorous ways, and victims are generally unharmed and very effective at ending the harassment. Although such programs may actually reflect the reality of many women's lives in terms of prevalence of sexual harassment, they perpetuate several myths about sexual harassment, such as that sexual harassment is not serious and that victims should be able to handle the situations themselves.
Chapter
Beauty matters (Buss, 2004;Miller, 2001). We know from what men tell us, from the images they use when masturbating and from investigations of what men find attractive (Barber, 1995;Buss, 1994;Johnson & Franklin, 1993;Jones, 1995;Singh & Young, 1995;van den Berghe & Frost, 1986) that certain parts of women’s bodies both aesthetically please, and sexually arouse, men. Men like beautiful, young women and, given a choice (Gladue & Delany, 1990), or when engaging in fantasy (Barclay, 1973), men prefer a pretty, young woman. They like to fall in love (Fisher, 1992;Jankowiak, 1995;Sprecher et al., 1994) and would order up humour, intelligence, good work habits, shared values, loyalty, and fidelity (Buss, 1989), but given an option, prefer such things (or a goodly share of them) in a pretty package. Not only are pretty women more likely to arouse men sexually, they are considered more competent, employable, generous, helpful, and intelligent (Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani & Longo, 1991). Men gain status by the beauty of their partner (Sigall & Landy, 1973) in much the same way they do from the clothes they wear and the cars they drive.
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Much of the existing research on disordered eating has centered on the drive for thinness, which is most commonly observed in girls and women. The male standard of bodily attractiveness, however, is bigger, bulkier, and more muscular. Are boys and men motivated to be big and muscular in the same way that girls and women are motivated to be thin? The authors construct ed a 15-item survey and administered it to 197 adolescents. The findings showed that the drive for muscularity measure displayed good reliability; that individuals high in the drive were more likely to be boys who were trying to gain both weight and muscle mass; that the drive was related to poor self-esteem and higher levels of depression among boys, but not among girls; and that the drive for muscularity was relatively unrelated to the drive for thinness.
Article
The objective of this study was to identify risk and resource factors related to body dissatisfaction for girls and boys in early adolescence. Participants were 91 girls and 79 boys in Grades 7 and 10 who were participants in the second wave of a 3-year longitudinal study of adolescents' psychosocial maturity. Separate hierarchical regressions were conducted for girls and boys. Three risk factors for girls' body dissatisfaction were identified: weight (higher body mass index), greater figure management, and being teased about appearance. For boys, being teased was the only significant risk factor. Perceived mother acceptance and father acceptance were the only significant resource factors for girls. No resource factors were significant for boys. Resource factors did not evidence protective effects (i.e., moderate effects of significant risks) against body dissatisfaction for girls or for boys. Findings are discussed in relation to previous research that has linked body dissatisfaction to disordered eating.