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The impact of Western beauty ideals on the lives of women and men: A sociocultural perspective



According to a recent survey of 3,300 girls and women across 10 countries, 90 per cent of all women aged 15 to 64 worldwide want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest (Etcoff, Orbach, Scott, & D’Agostino, 2004). This finding suggests that women’s anxiety about their appearance is a global phenomenon, observed in every country studied from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Beyond body dissatisfaction, a stunning 67 per cent of all women aged 15 to 64 worldwide reported that they actually withdraw from life-engaging, life-sustaining activities due to feeling badly about their looks. These activities include giving an opinion, meeting friends, exercising, going to work, going to school, dating, and going to the doctor.
Calogero, Boroughs, & Thompson, 2007
The impact of Western beauty ideals on the lives of women and men:
A sociocultural perspective
Rachel M. Calogero, Michael Boroughs & J. Kevin Thompson
Calogero, R.M., Boroughs, M., & Thompson, J.K. (2007). The impact of Western beauty ideals
on the lives of women and men: A sociocultural perspective. In V.Swami & A.Furnham (Eds.),
Body beautiful: Evolutionary and sociocultural perspectives (pp. 259-298). New York: Palgrave
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Calogero, Boroughs, & Thompson, 2007
The impact of Western beauty ideals on the lives of women and men:
A sociocultural perspective
Rachel M. Calogero, Michael Boroughs & J. Kevin Thompson
I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What
do you want – an adorable pancreas?
(Jean Kerr)
It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.
(Leo Tolstoy)
I wanted to get rid of my stomach, but [I have] no money…[I] asked my doctor, ‘Don’t you
have a pill to give me bulimia?’
(Dillaway, 2005: 13)
According to a recent survey of 3,300 girls and women across 10 countries, 90 per
cent of all women aged 15 to 64 worldwide want to change at least one aspect of their
physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest (Etcoff, Orbach, Scott &
D’Agostino, 2005). This finding suggests that women’s anxiety about their appearance is a
global phenomenon, observed in every country studied from Saudi Arabia to the United
States. Beyond body dissatisfaction, a stunning 67 per cent of all women 15 to 64 worldwide
reported that they actually withdraw from life-engaging, life-sustaining activities due to
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feeling badly about their looks. These activities include giving an opinion, meeting friends,
exercising, going to work, going to school, dating, and going to the doctor.
Body dissatisfaction is considered ‘normative’ in the experience of girls and women
in Western cultures (Rodin, Silberstein & Streigel-Moore, 1984; Smolak, 2006). Children as
young as 6 to 9 years old express body dissatisfaction and concerns about their weight
(Flannery-Schroeder & Chrisler, 1996; Schur, Sanders & Steiner, 2000; Smolak & Levine,
1994). Drawing on a sociocultural theoretical model, considerable research has demonstrated
the powerful influence of societal factors on these disturbances in girls’ and women’s lives
(Hesse-Biber, Leavy, Quinn & Zoino, 2006; Levine & Smolak, 1996; Thompson, 1992;
Thompson, Heinberg, Altabe & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999). In particular, ample empirical research
is available documenting associations between idealised images of female beauty and
negative effects on women’s physical, psychological, and social well-being (Thompson, et al.,
A variety of perspectives have been offered to explain the nature of female beauty
ideals. For example, female beauty ideals may provide information about fertility (Buss,
1989), reflect the distribution of economic and political power in society (Hesse-Biber, 1996),
and/or negotiate gender role identity (Nagel & Jones, 1992). Consistent with a sociocultural
approach, the common element among these various perspectives is the idea that beauty
ideals contain information about more than mere external appearance. However, where
individual perspectives may be limited in their capacity to explain the unrealistic nature of
beauty ideals and their negative consequences for individuals, groups, and societies, applying
a sociocultural framework offers a more comprehensive account for the systematic and
significant reductions in the physical, mental, and social well-being of girls and women
(Heinberg, 1996; Thompson, et al., 1999).
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In the following sections, we review the variation in beauty ideals over time and the
consequences of these ideals on the lives of women and men within a sociocultural
framework. Although the focus will be primarily on ideals for body weight and shape in
Western culture, examples of beauty ideals that go beyond weight and shape and represent
other cultures will be included where appropriate. Particular attention is given to the effects
of the promotion and pursuit of these cultural beauty ideals on the lives of women, and
increasingly men, across the world. We begin with an in-depth analysis of women because
the great majority of research over the years has involved an examination of women.
A history of beauty ideals
The ideal beauty is a fugitive which is never found.
(Joan Rivers)
External appearance is extremely important in Western cultures (Bartky, 2003; Bordo,
1993). The external body has been described as a ‘text of culture: it is a symbolic form upon
which the norms and practices of a society are inscribed’ (Lee, 2003: 82). Broadly defined,
beauty ideals represent culturally prescribed and endorsed ‘looks’ that incorporate various
features of the human face and body, and thus define the standards for physical attractiveness
within a culture. According to Zones (2000: 87), at any given time and place, there are fairly
‘uniform and widely understood models of how particular groups of individuals “should”
A review of the history of beauty ideals provides the clearest demonstration of the
importance of beauty and appearance in the lives of women. Surviving texts, artifacts, and
images from ancient Egypt showcase the immense amount of time and effort women invested
toward the perfection of their bodies (Watterson, 1991). The following review provides
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considerable evidence that this crusade for thinness, beauty, and youth among ancient
Egyptian women continues 5,000 years later among modern Western women.
Between 1400 and 1700, the ideal for female beauty was fat and full. This is best
exemplified in the popular art of this era. For example, in Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, the
goddess of beauty was endomorphic in shape, with a round face and pear-shaped body (see
Swami, 2007). In the 19th century, we see a shift toward restricting women’s fullness. In fact,
this period seems to represent the early stages of the mass ‘standardising’ of female beauty in
Western culture, and the promotion of unrealistic, unnatural body ideals. Corsets, the
restrictive garment of choice, actually originated much earlier and were compulsory for
aristocratic women around the 16th century; however, by the 19th century they had become a
hallmark of fashion for women of nearly all classes. Corseted waistlines gave the illusion of
voluptuousness by propping up, pushing out, and holding in the fuller features of women’s
bodies, whittling some women down to a 15 inch waist (Kunzle, 2004). This idealised
hourglass figure was not possible without special garments, and thus required women to
‘work’ at making their bodies conform to unnatural measurements.
The sheer extremity of corseting must be underscored. The Lancet, a preeminent
British medical journal, published more than an article a year on the medical dangers of
corseting from the late 1860s to the early 1890s. Late 19th century woman’s corseting
practices included sleeping and bathing in corsets (using steel bolts to flatten the waist at the
sides) to permanently reduce and maintain smaller waists (between 14 and 20 inches if
possible) (Kunzle, 2004). Corseting is not an arcane beauty practice relegated to particular
historical contexts, however. Even within the last decade, there are notable examples of
women adhering to these beauty practices. Born in 1937, Cathie Jung has worn a corset for
virtually every hour of the day and night since 1983. The only time that she is not wearing a
corset is for the hour it takes her to shower and dry herself thoroughly. Her waist was 26
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inches when she began serious ‘waist training,’ 23 hours a day every day of the week. Today,
at a height of 5 feet, 6 inches and a weight of 135 pounds, Cathie’s uncorseted waist is 21
inches around, and she wears a 15-inch corset (Guinness World Records, 2006).
During the mid-19th century there was an additional conflict in the portrayal of ideal
female beauty. Banner (1983) identified two, distinct (but both corseted) beauty ideals. On
the one hand, there was the image of the ‘steel engraving lady,’ so named for the illustrative
process used to create her by Currier and Ives. This image embodied frailty by accentuating a
slight shape, sloped shoulders, small waist, tapered fingers, and tiny, delicate feet. In short,
she was anything but ‘steel,’ and instead depicted a vision of ill health and weakness. This
delicate image was associated not only with beauty, but with high social status and moral
values. On the other hand, there was the image of the ‘voluptuous woman,’ which gained
popularity toward the end of the century. This image embodied a full-figured, fleshy female
that was consonant with European nude art during this period (Renoir bathers) and the body
shapes of popular American theatre performers such as Lillian Russell. In contrast to the
unhealthy appearance described above, this image of beauty depicted a vision of good health,
with broadened bottoms and large-boned figures.
At the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th century, these conflicting images
seemed to morph into a new ideal, which is best known as the ‘Gibson Girl.’ Appearing about
1890, this new beauty ideal contained features from the ‘steel engraving lady’ and the
‘voluptuous woman,’ and added a few of her own. The Gibson Girl was slender in the waist
and legs, but still curvy with wide hips and large breasts. Corseting and padding were still
used to obtain this image, and in particular to form the breast into a ‘monobosom’ (Mazur,
1986). This ideal embodied athletic features as well, as depicted by the rounded calves, erect
posture, and sports attire.
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At the end of World War I, waistlines were loosened and skirts were shortened. The
1920s saw the exchange of padding and corsets for different undergarments that bound the
breasts to create a flat-chested, boy-like appearance (Caldwell, 1981). Referred to as the
‘flapper’ era, the beauty ideal of this period had shifted to an almost exclusive focus on a
cosmetically decorated face and slender legs. Miss America pageants emerged in 1921. Mary
Campbell, who was Miss America in 1922-23, was 5 feet, 7 inches and weighed 140 pounds,
which was thin for this era. Without the adulation of curves, and with the unveiling of the
legs, women of this era embarked on a quest to reduce any signs of secondary sex
characteristics. According to Silverstein, Peterson and Purdue (1986), this required the use of
rolling machines, iodine, starvation diets, and strenuous exercise to lose weight. Interestingly,
in 1926, the New York Academy of Science convened to study the ‘outbreak’ of eating
disorders (Fallon, 1990).
The proliferation of mass media in the 1920s, and throughout the 20th century,
ensured the perpetuation of standardised beauty ideals, and the homogenisation of Western
culture. Motion pictures, magazines, and singular Hollywood stars informed women and men
about what was beautiful. The period of the Great Depression saw a return to longer hemlines
and narrow waist, and a resurging emphasis on secondary sex characteristics. While a slender
figure was still ideal, a flat stomach was emphasised as well as long legs. Moving into the
1940s, legs were the focal point of ideal beauty, as depicted in the popular World War II
pinup of Betty Grable and her ‘million dollar legs’ and rear end. Legs were enhanced and
emphasised with hemmed stockings, garters, and high heeled shoes. In addition, bust size was
growing in the 1940s, and eventually breasts would assert themselves as the dominant feature
of the female beauty ideal.
This trend toward larger busts and an hourglass figure can be observed throughout the
1940s, ’50s, and ’60s in the Hollywood and fashion industry. During this period waist size
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declined so that the body exhibited conspicuous curves, with measurements of 36-23-36.
Playboy magazine glorified full-breasted women (Garner, Garfinkel, Schwartz, & Thompson,
1980), with Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield exemplifying the
proper bust to waist to hip ratios. Since 1950, almost all Miss America winners have had
bust-hip symmetry. The beauty ideal of the 1950s and ’60s seemed to exemplify the same
slender but voluptuous figure of the 19th century. During this period, researchers reported that
women desired smaller ideal body sizes and larger ideal breast sizes compared to their actual
self-rated body and breast sizes ("#$%&%'!(!)*+#%',!-.//01!Notably, DuPont introduced
Lycra in 1960, which made the use of whalebone or metal frames used in corsets obsolete,
but not the corset itself. In effect, the corset became the girdle.
Then came Twiggy. Debuting in the United States in 1966, the 17-year old model was
spread across the pages of Seventeen and Vogue, with skeletal measurements of 31-22-32.
She was described by Newsweek as ‘four straight limbs in search of a woman’s body’ (Fallon,
1990). Twiggy’s flat-chested, hipless, anorexic image peaked in popularity in 1976, but never
completely dominated the female beauty ideal. However, the trend toward increasingly
slender bodies had taken hold. Although the movement toward a thinner ideal body shape
was obvious merely by scanning fashion magazines, researchers quantified and confirmed
this change in shape. Garner et al. (1980) revealed similar trends in the body measurements
of Playboy centerfold models and Miss America pageant contestants. Specifically, between
1959 and 1978, average weights (based on age and height), bust measurements, and hip size
decreased whereas height and waist size increased. Other research has confirmed this
slenderization trend. The body shapes of English fashion models showed similar decreases in
bust and hip measurements with corresponding increases in waist size and height between
1967 and 1987 (Morris, Cooper, & Cooper, 1989). This particular combination of
measurements was described as creating a ‘tubular’ body shape. By comparison, the body
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measurements of average women during this time period were significantly higher than the
body measurements of models and pageant winners.
In the 1970s, the focus shifted more explicitly from breasts to buttocks, and small
buttocks were preferred over large breasts by both men and women (Fallon, 1990). In the
1980s, a more muscular image of female beauty had emerged, as depicted by celebrities such
as Jane Fonda and Victoria Principal. Jane Fonda, feminine and attractive, became the
prototype of the fit American woman with her fitness videos that first came out in 1982.
Broad shoulders were in vogue, and shoulder pads were everywhere. However, the focus
remained on a thin, slender body shape. Silverstein, Perdue, Peterson and Kelly (1986)
demonstrated significant decreases in the bust to waist ratios of models portrayed in Ladies
Home Journal and Vogue magazines between the 1970s and 1990s. An update of Garner et al.
(1980) showed that the trend in women’s body size did not reverse itself between 1979 and
1988, but either stabilised at a below average weight as observed for Playboy centerfold
models or continued to decrease as observed for Miss America contestants (Wiseman, Gray,
Mosimann, & Ahrens, 1992). Wiseman et al. (1992) demonstrated that 69 per cent of Playboy
centerfold models and 60 per cent of Miss American contestants were 15 per cent or more
below their expected weight for their height, indicating that these ‘ideals’ of female beauty
met one of the central criteria for anorexia nervosa based on the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual for Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
The high percentage of these ideal images displaying below normal weights corresponded
with an increase in magazine articles focused on weight loss (diet-for-weight-loss,
exercise, diet-exercise) in popular women’s magazines during this period, with
exercise articles surpassing the prevalence of diet articles after 1983 (Wiseman, et al.,
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By the 1990s, the female beauty ideal was synonymous with the ‘thin ideal’ (Owen &
Laurel-Seller, 2000). Spitzer, Henderson and Zivian (1999) updated and extended the
research by Garner et al. (1980) and Wiseman et al. (1992), demonstrating that the body sizes
(based on measures of BMI) of Miss America pageant contestants continued to decrease
throughout the 1990s, whereas Playboy centerfold models remained below average weight.
Recently, Seifert (2005) confirmed this trend toward increased thinness in Playboy centerfold
models over the last 50 years (1953-2003); however, based on analyses of anthropometric
measurements, WHR did not vary over time, suggesting that the models did not become less
curvaceous over this period. According to Sypeck et al. (2006), there were fewer Playboy
centerfold models below normal weight between 1989 and 1999 (10-15 per cent) compared
to between 1979 and 1988 (13-19 per cent). These researchers suggest that the downward
trend in the weights of the models may have stabilised as indicated by Wiseman et al. (1992),
and possibly begun to reverse itself. In addition, they did not confirm Seifert’s findings
regarding WHR, and rather supported the increased prevalence of a ‘tubular’ shape.
The Psychology Today 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, rising from 30 per cent in 1972,
to 45 per cent in 1985, and to 57 per cent in 1997. In the 1997 survey, 43 per cent of the
entire sample, and 67 per cent 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 discrepancy between women’s actual and ideal level of muscularity, with
women wishing to be more muscular than they actually are (Cafri & Thompson, 2004). When
making social comparisons with specific celebrities, college women selected Brittany Spears
most frequently, followed by Christina Aguilera and Angelina Jolie (Strahan, Wilson,
Cressman, & Buote, 2006). Thus, while the current Western ideal for female beauty
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continues to glorify thinness, this ultra lean figure also includes a flat stomach, thin waist,
boyish hips, long legs, well-developed breasts, well-defined muscles, and flawless skin
(Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002; Harrison, 2003).
Negative consequences of promoting and pursuing cultural beauty ideals
No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.
(Oscar Wilde).
Exposure to beauty ideals
Virtually every form of media exposes individuals to information about thinness and
ideal female beauty (Levine & Harrison, 2004), including magazines (Englis, Solomon &
Ashmore, 1994), TV shows (Harrison & Cantor, 1997), TV advertisements (Richins, 1991),
music television (Tiggemann & Slater, 2003), popular films (Silverstein, Perdue et al., 1986),
children’s fairy tales (Baker-Sperry & Grauerholz, 2003), and children’s videos (Herbozo,
Tantleff-Dunn, Gokee-Larose & Thompson, 2004). A meta-analytic review of the immediate
impact of experimental exposure to the thin beauty ideal revealed a significant association
between exposure to media images of the thin ideal and negative body image in girls and
women (Groesz et al., 2002). Other evidence indicates that exposure to non-media-based
messages about the thin beauty ideal also produces adverse effects on women. For example,
college women reported higher body dissatisfaction after exposure to ‘fat talk’ among peers
(Stice, Maxfield, & Wells, 2003) and after in vivo exposure to an attractive peer who typified
the thin beauty ideal (Krones, Stice, Batres & Orjada, 2005). These associations between
exposure to idealised images of women and increased body image disturbances have been
well-established across research designs, including correlational (e.g., Harrison & Cantor,
1997), quasi-experimental (e.g., Turner, Hamilton, Jacobs, Angood & Dwyer, 1997),
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experimental (e.g., Irving, 1990), longitudinal (Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2003a),
prospective (e.g., Stice & Whitenton, 2002), and meta-analytic studies (Stice, 2002).
In addition to body image variables, exposure to media images has also been linked to
the disproportionate prevalence among women of disordered eating attitudes (e.g., McCarthy,
1990), dieting and bulimic pathology (e.g., Stice, 2002), and actual eating behaviours (e.g.,
Strauss, Doyle & Kreipe, 1994; Harrison, Taylor & Marske, 2006; but see Jansen & de Vries,
2002, for non-significant effects with subliminal primes). For example, Harrison et al. (2006)
exposed women and men to overt media images that were presented with congruent text or
incongruent text. Results revealed significant reductions in the actual eating behaviour of
women and men when images were presented alone or with congruent text, but not when
presented with incongruent text, and only in the presence of high body-related self-
discrepancies between how they see themselves and what they believe their peers expect of
them. Thus, the accumulated evidence indicates that exposure to idealised images of female
beauty is a causal risk factor for body image and eating disturbances among women
in Western cultures (Cusumano & Thompson, 1997; Polivy & Herman, 2004;
Thompson et al., 1999).
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 TV shows with topics such as dieting, nutrition, fitness, and exercise (Harrison,
2003). In other research, high school boys who reported a mid-range level of appearance
schematicity (extent of investment in appearance as basis for self-evaluation) rated
attractiveness as significantly more important in a potential girlfriend after viewing
appearance-based vs. non-appearance-based commercials (Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2003b).
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Thus, direct and indirect exposure to cultural beauty ideals does have serious negative
consequences for women, although as discussed next, not all women are equally affected.
Internalisation of thin ideal
Researchers have established that people associate beauty with goodness: ‘What is
beautiful is good’ (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Seid, 1989). Attractive people are
assumed to be better liked, more sociable, independent, exciting, less deviant, and less
stigmatized (e.g., Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, & Longo, 1991). Dellinger and Williams
(1997) found that American women who adhere to cultural standards of female attractiveness
(e.g., wearing make-up to work) are more likely to be viewed as heterosexual, healthy, and
competent. This research is consistent with Wolf’s (1991: 14) writings, which assert that
beauty ideals are ‘always actually prescribing behaviour rather than appearance.’ These
associations between beauty and goodness and beauty and behaviour is well illustrated in a
recent advertisement for Shape magazine, which offers a free guide with each new magazine
subscription focused on how to perfect the abdominal area entitled, Absolution (Shape, 2006).
People’s chronic exposure to these idealised images reinforces the associations
among thinness, beauty and social rewards (Cash, 1990; Eagly et al., 1991; Evans,
2003). For example, women reported that they expected their lives would change in
important and positive ways if they looked like the ideal portrayals of women in the
media (Engeln-Maddox, 2006), such as being happier, better adjusted, more socially
competent, romantically successful, and improving job opportunities.
Such an emphasis on idealised images and their associated rewards can lead
to a personal acceptance or internalisation of cultural beauty ideals (Heinberg,
Thompson, & Stormer, 1995; but see Engeln-Maddox, 2006, for slightly different
interpretation). Thin-ideal internalisation refers to the extent to which individuals
cognitively accept the thin societal standard of attractiveness as their own personal standard
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and engage in behaviors designed to help them meet that standard (Thompson et al., 1999).
Women who have internalised cultural beauty ideals are more vulnerable to experiencing the
negative outcomes associated with exposure to beauty ideals than women who have not
internalized these ideals. For example, while all women exposed to appearance-based images
(versus non-appearance based) reported higher levels of anger, anxiety, depression, and
overall appearance dissatisfaction (Cattarin, Thompson, Thomas & Williams, 2000), these
effects were stronger for women who reported pre-existing thin-ideal internalization, high
body dissatisfaction, and interest in appearance-based television programs. Dittmar and
Howard (2004a) found that adult, professional women who reported higher levels of thin-
ideal internalisation experienced more body anxiety following exposure to thin-ideal media
than women with lower levels of internalisation. In addition, women working in secondary
schools reported less body-focused anxiety when exposed to average-size models compared
to no models whereas women working in fashion advertising reported no such benefits
(Dittmar & Howard, 2004b).
Recent studies have differentiated the use of media as an informational source for
how to be attractive from the internalization of media ideals, with the former demonstrating
weaker, albeit significant, associations with measures of body dissatisfaction in non-clinical
and eating disorders samples (Calogero, Davis & Thompson, 2004; Thompson, van den Berg,
Roehrig, Guarda & Heinberg, 2004). Empirical evidence has linked thin-ideal
internalization to experiences of self-objectification, negative affect, negative body
image, and disordered eating in young girls, college women, and women with eating
disorders (e.g., Calogero, Davis & Thompson, 2005; Heinberg et al., 1995; Sands &
Wardle, 2003; Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw & Stein, 1994), and it is considered a
causal risk factor for body image and eating disturbances (Stice, 2002; Thompson &
Stice, 2001).
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Recent longitudinal research suggests that thin-ideal internalisation may not stem
directly or exclusively from media influences (e.g., television and magazine exposure). In a
one-year study of prepubescent girls, television viewing at Time 1 was associated with the
desire for a thin body as an adult and disordered eating at Time 2, but did not predict a
current desire for a thin body at Time 2 (Harrison & Hefner, 2006). These researchers note
that the girls’ current preferences for thin body shape were already quite thin, which suggests
that a thin ideal had already been internalised. These findings are consistent with other
research on body and eating-related disturbances in preadolescent samples. For example,
parental feedback has been identified as an important source for conveying sociocultural
ideals and attitudes about appearance to preadolescent girls (Levine & Smolak, 1996;
McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2003). Smolak, Levine and Schermer (1999) demonstrated that the
body esteem scores of elementary school girls were related to both maternal dieting and
parental complaints about their own weight. McKinley (1999) provided further evidence that
mothers’ experiences with their own bodies may influence daughters’ experiences with their
own bodies in a sample of 151 undergraduate women and their middle-aged mothers.
Specifically, McKinley demonstrated significant, positive relationships between mothers’ and
daughters’ body esteem and body surveillance. In addition, higher body shame in mothers
was associated with lower body esteem in daughters, and daughters’ perceptions that her
family approved of her appearance significantly predicted her body esteem. Phares, Steinberg
and Thompson (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. Thus, it is clear that the thin ideal is not promoted exclusively by
the media as the role of parents and peers appear to be powerful contributing factors to thin-
ideal internalisation in preadolescent girls. However, family and peer groups live in the same
cultural context, and therefore are not immune to the exposure, pressures, and internalisation
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of female beauty ideals. An important area of future research is to investigate thin-ideal
internalization within family and peer-based groups to improve knowledge about how beauty
ideals are indirectly transmitted to young girls.
Broader societal patterns: Discrepancy and objectification
Two broader societal patterns can be gleaned from this historical evidence regarding
the evolution, prevalence, and internalisation of beauty ideals: cultural beauty ideals
perpetuate chronic discrepancies in women and the chronic objectification of women. These
patterns are interrelated, and each of these patterns promotes and produces negative effects
for women’s lives, which will be delineated in the sections below.
Chronic Discrepancy
Considerable evidence highlights the discrepancy that is concomitant with striving
toward ideal beauty standards. The majority of women’s bodies have always been, and will
continue to be, discrepant from the contemporary ideals of female beauty. Between the 19th
and 21st century, women have tried to have no waist but large hips, to be full-figured but thin,
to have no breasts but lower body curves, and today, to have sizable breasts and muscle, but
no body fat. Female beauty ideals have almost always promoted the attainment of physically
incompatible body attributes. Indeed, the current beauty ideal may represent the ultimate in
unrealistic and unnatural attributes for female 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, which makes the current
standards of female beauty particularly dangerous (Harrison, 2003).
The obvious biological reality is that breasts are composed of fat tissue (Sherwood,
1993), and therefore breast fat is positively correlated with total body fat (Katch, et al., 1980).
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It is impossible to lose body fat (in attempt to meet the thin standard) and maintain breast size
(in attempt to meet the bust size standard) because as fat disappears, so does breast tissue. In
addition, some bodies are just not compatible with current ideals because of their particular
somatotype, or body shape (Brownell, 1991). In short, the beauty ideals themselves contain
obvious biological discrepancies for most female bodies, and thus culture and physiology are
in perpetual conflict. As Harrison (2003) describes, to meet the current ‘curvaceously thin’
ideal, women are at risk for doing ‘double damage’ to their bodies as they try to reduce and
reshape the lower half through disordered eating and exercise practices while trying to
enlarge and reshape the upper half through surgical practices and drug use (e.g., herbal
supplements). In fact, Harrison’s research demonstrates that body image and eating
disturbances are not the only potential adverse outcomes of exposure to contemporary
standards for female beauty: Both women and men were more likely to express approval for
body-altering surgical procedures after exposure to ideal body television images. Considering
these patterns of behaviour, it could be argued that the corset and the girdle have been
replaced with diet, exercise, and plastic surgery. Considering this perpetual conflict between
culture and physiology, Thompson, et al. (1999) observed that, ‘culture appears to be
As early as 6 years old, children report discrepancies between how they actually look
and how they wished they looked, and this discrepancy increases over time with children
preferring smaller ideal body sizes as they get older, especially girls (Gardner, Sorter &
Friedman, 1997). When asked to rate different figures representing varying sizes of women’s
bodies, 72 per cent of 1,056 adolescent girls defined their ideal body as smaller than their
actual body (Wertheim, Paxton & Tilgner, 2004). The average American woman is 5 feet, 4
inches tall and weighs 140 pounds whereas the average American model is 5 feet, 11 inches
tall and weighs 117 pounds (National Eating Disorders Association [NEDA], 2002). NEDA
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also reports that fashion models are thinner than 98 per cent of American women. If the
infamous Barbie doll’s measurements were extrapolated to that of an average woman, she
would lack the necessary 17-22 per cent body fat for menstruation, and her measurements
would be 39-21-33, which is dangerously unattainable (Turkel, 1998). The probability of a
woman attaining Barbie’s measurements is less than 1 in 100,000 (Norton, Olds, Olive, &
Dank, 1996). Researchers have consistently acknowledged that only 5-10 per cent of women
can actually acquire and easily maintain the desired fat-free body, which means 90 to 95 per
cent of women cannot naturally acquire it.
Despite this reality, girls are socialised to believe that they can manipulate and change
their bodies if they try hard enough (Becker & Hamburg, 1996). Repeated exposure to the
sheer prevalence of these idealised images of women, and media’s blurred boundaries
between fictitious and real women, fosters the belief that these images are actually attainable
and realistic (Freedman, 1984; Holstrom, 2004). Evidence exists documenting that health,
beauty, and fashion products are strategically marketed to create an awareness of a ‘gap’
between the consumer and the ideal, and then to provide the solution in a product (see Becker,
2004). Evidence also exists documenting that media images of women are often computer-
merged images of different models, and require a tremendous investment of time and
finances from multiple professionals/trainers (e.g., agent, clothing, make-up, hair, and
exercise/diet) to control and manipulate appearance, which is unrealistic for the average
woman; however, many women still consider these images to be appropriate comparisons for
what they should look like (Heinberg, 1996; Wolf, 1991).
According to social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954), people tend to make
downward social comparisons with relevant comparison targets to enhance their self-image.
That is, people prefer to compare themselves to social others who may be worse off or rated
more negatively on some variable in order to feel better about themselves. However, many
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women report that they make upward social comparisons with media-presented models as
comparative targets when evaluating their physical appearance (e.g., Irving, 1990; Wertheim,
Paxton, Schutz, & Muir, 1997). These patterns run counter to the literature on self-
enhancement and social comparison theory.
A recent experimental investigation offers some explanation for this phenomenon
(Strahan et al., 2006). First, compared to men, women demonstrated more spontaneous
irrelevant, upward social comparisons and evaluated themselves more negatively, but only
for appearance and not other domains, such as social skills. Second, when beauty ideals were
made salient, both women and men evaluated their appearance more negatively and made
upward social comparisons with irrelevant (professional models) versus relevant (peers)
targets. The salience of the beauty ideals alone, and not necessarily their personal
endorsement of them, was enough to influence participants’ self-appraisal processes. These
researchers suggest that women chronically engage in upward social comparisons with
irrelevant targets such as fashion models and celebrities because the cultural norms for
appearance imply that these standards are attainable, relevant, and appropriate by all women.
It is important to note that all participants in this study were exposed to only three
advertisements reflecting gender-specific cultural beauty ideals. Being exposed to the same
number of images related to cultural beauty standards seemed to equalise the effects of
exposure to these ideals on men and women. However, we know that women are bombarded
with messages about their appearance whereas the same messages are not as ubiquitous for
men, and thus we can imagine the effects on women in the real world (Andersen &
DiDomenico, 1992). On the basis of this cumulative evidence, then, it is not surprising that
appearance-related comparisons occur regularly in the lives of women, and they are
associated with sizable self-discrepancies that contribute to depression, anxiety, body
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dissatisfaction, body shame, and eating disordered behaviors (Markham, Thompson &
Bowling, 2005; Durkin & Paxton, 2002; Stormer & Thompson, 1996).
Chronic Objectification
The prevalence of idealised images of women’s bodies throughout history and across
media provides the clearest evidence of the pervasive objectification of women. As defined
by Bartky (1990: 26), ‘a person is sexually objectified when her sexual parts or sexual
functions are separated out from the rest of her personality and reduced to the status of mere
instruments or else regarded as if they were capable of representing her.’ Reducing women’s
bodies to the status of objects renders them available for visual inspection, measurement,
evaluation, and manipulation. Examples of this pervasive sexual objectification include
catcalls, ‘checking out’ or gazing at women’s bodies, sexual comments about appearance,
sexualised visual depictions across media, pornography, sexual harassment and sexual
violence (e.g., Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Lin, 1998; Rudman & Verdi, 1993; Swim,
Hyers, Cohen & Ferguson, 2001; Thompson, et al., 1999). Murnen and Smolak (2000)
demonstrated that a remarkable 75 per cent of elementary school girls (3rd through 5th grade)
reported experiences of sexual harassment. In recent qualitative research, Eck (2003)
illustrated the differential responses of women and men to viewing nude media
images of women and men, confirming that familiar cultural scripts exist for
viewing, evaluating, and commenting on women’s bodies, but not for men’s bodies.
Among grade-school girls and boys between the ages of 6 and 12, girls are already
demonstrating more consistent responses to objectified images of women that relate
to how they feel about their bodies whereas boys are not displaying these response
patterns (Murnen, Smolak, Mills & Good, 2003). In a recent study of 52,677
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heterosexual adults aged 18 to 65 based on survey data collected by Elle magazine, women
reported greater dissatisfaction with their appearance and were more likely to avoid situations
where their bodies were on display, such as wearing a swimsuit in public, compared to men
(Frederick, Peplau, & Lever, 2006). This study also found that while men felt better about
their bodies than women across most of the weight span, among underweight individuals the
women felt better than men, reflecting the difference in cultural standards for female and
male beauty.
The societal emphasis on women’s appearance and its association with women’s
achievement has contributed to women valuing how they look more than how they feel or
what they can do. As early as the 1950s, adolescent girls were listing ‘good looks’ as a top
aspiration when asked to write essays on the sort of person they would like to be when they
grow up (Crane, 1956). Indeed, ‘women are encouraged to…feel pleasure through their
own bodily objectification, especially being looked at and identified as objects of
male desire’ (Lee, 2003: 88). Researchers have consistently observed stronger links
among weight satisfaction, appearance, and general self-worth in girls compared to boys (e.g.,
Bowker, Gadbois, & Cornock, 2003; Tiggemann & Rothblum, 1997). More recently,
Tiggemann (2005) demonstrated that adolescent women who were not overweight, but
perceived themselves as overweight or felt dissatisfied with their current weight, reported
lower self-esteem over a two-year period.
Theories of objectification and objectified body consciousness have articulated the
pervasive nature of women’s objectification and delineated many of the negative
psychological consequences it brings to women (Berger, 1972; Fredrickson & Roberts,
1997; McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Moradi, Dirks, & Matteson, 2005; Roberts & Gettman,
2004). Chronic exposure to objectified images of women and personal experiences of
objectification encourage women to internalise the objectifying gaze of others, and to turn
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this gaze on themselves, referred to as self-objectification (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997).
Watching the self as an object requires a psychic distancing between the self and the
body, which may explain how so many women are able to break and bruise skin, cut
to shape themselves, rearrange or amputate body parts, and/or starve their bodies
continuously in an effort to meet the current standards of beauty. Little empirical
research is available that examines the influence of sexual and self-objectification on
the type and degree of women’s behavioral adherence to beauty ideals. The severity
of these practices described above underscores the importance of investigating these
relationships in future research.
Considerable evidence indicates that women who chronically self-objectify, or
women who experience self-objectifying situations (i.e., where there bodies are on display),
are vulnerable to a variety of negative consequences: These consequences include increased
levels of body shame, physique anxiety, depression, disordered eating and decreased levels of
intrinsic motivation, self-efficacy, and cognitive performance in women across age, ethnic,
and clinical groups (e.g., Calogero, 2004; Calogero et al., 2005; Fredrickson et al., 1998;
Gapinski, Brownell & LaFrance, 2003; 2*34,!5678,!(!967,!:;;<=!>+5674*?!(!2?'*,!-..@=!
C688*K&7,!:;;:=!C688*K&77!(!5$%678,!:;;<=!Tiggemann & Lynch, 2001).
Particularly insidious are the effects of self-objectification on cognitive performance,
indicating that the emphasis on how one looks affects more than body dissatisfaction, or even
disordered eating; it affects how well women will perform and meet their potential across a
multitude of personal, academic, and social contexts. For example, Fredrickson et al. (1998)
demonstrated that women wearing a swimsuit reported more negative affect, performed
worse on a math test, and ate less food compared to women wearing a sweater and men
wearing either type of clothing, with these effects even more pronounced in women reporting
high trait levels of self-objectification. A similar induced state of self-objectification
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disrupted the attentional focus of undergraduate women when performing a standard Stroop-
coloring name task (Quinn, Kallen, Twenge, & Fredrickson, 2006). Researchers have also
demonstrated that body-related thoughts persist after women are removed from self-
objectifying situations, and the amount of shame experienced mediates the relationship
between self-objectification and subsequent body-related thoughts (Quinn, Kallen, & Cathey,
2006). These findings suggest that rumination about the body continues to tap cognitive
resources for some period of time even when women are removed from the self-objectifying
situation. The real-world implications of this research are underscored by Puwar’s (2004)
interviews conducted with women members of the British parliament, which revealed that the
legitimacy of these women in the legislature required suffering constant sexual remarks,
being sexually objectified, and chronically monitoring their appearance to convey the right
amount of femininity; thereby making it difficult to be effective in government. As Hesse-
Biber (1996: 14) points out, ‘Even a woman with a successful and lucrative career may fear
that her success comes at the expense of her femininity.’ If we imagine the multitude of
seemingly innocuous environments in which girls and women may be exposed to objectifying
experiences, the effects on women’s achievement and potential are far-reaching.
Beyond weight and shape: The most beautiful bodies are unchanged
There are aspects to the female beauty ideal that have not been explicitly articulated,
but are clearly associated with Westernized female beauty: Contemporary standards of
female beauty incorporate the attributes of youth, Whiteness, and flawlessness (Zones, 2000).
Historically, research on the effects of exposure to and internalisation of Western beauty
ideals has predominantly focused on young, non-disabled, White, European American
women. Research that examines other populations will be reviewed here.
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Non-White Populations. Increasing attention has been given to the responses and
experiences of ethnic minority women to cultural beauty ideals (Altabe, 1998; Parker et al.,
1995). Research has demonstrated that African American women have more flexible
conceptions of beauty and reject white ideals, which is linked to higher levels of body image
and self-esteem and less guilt about body size, despite their objectively higher body weights
(Bond & Cash, 1992; Lovejoy, 2001; Makkar & Strube, 1995; Molloy & Herzberger, 1998;
Stevens, Kumanyika & Keil, 1994). More recently, experimental research extended the
effects of state self-objectification to other ethnic groups (Hebl, King & Lin, 2004),
demonstrating that wearing a swimsuit versus a sweater negatively affects women across
ethnic groups (African American, Hispanic, Asian American) and men (although not to the
same degree), not only European American women. State self-objectification increased body
shame and reduced self-esteem and math performance across all ethnic groups, with Hispanic
women reporting the highest level of body shame and the lowest level of self-esteem when
wearing a swimsuit. Although still negatively affected by state self-objectification, this
research demonstrated that African American women are least likely to internalize culturally
objectifying gazes, and thus may be least vulnerable to the negative effects of trait and state
Differences between Euro-American and Latina women in the effects of beauty ideals
may be less pronounced. This may be due to the fact that Latinos are the largest ethnic
minority in the United States, and therefore they are exposed to the same socialisation
practices related to body weight and shape. In fact, research has indicated that Latina women
born in the United States endorse an even thinner ideal body size than European American
women whereas Latina women who immigrated to the United States endorsed a larger body
ideal (Lopez, Blix & Blix, 1995). This is consistent with research demonstrating that children
of immigrants in the United States may utilise the media as a ‘cultural guide’ to negotiate
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social strategies (Suarez-Orozco & Suarez-Orozco 2001). Both Latina and White women
have reported that bodily self-control is their primary means to exert control in the social
world (Goodman, 2002).
Recent research has identified ‘the whiter the better’ ideal of beauty as increasingly
problematic for Latin American women in Latin American countries (Casanova, 2004),
where female beauty is equated with whiteness, delicate features, straight, light hair, and light
eyes. Qualitative interviews and quantitative assessments of young, Ecuadorian women in
rural and urban settings revealed that the dominant ideal for female beauty is white, although
they do apply more flexible criteria to real Ecuadorian people who reflect a continuum of
blackness. Despite the acknowledged acceptance of this white ideal, 65 per cent of
participants from two different samples did not report that they compare themselves to
idealised versions of white or Latina beauty. However, the majority of participants reported
that it was compulsory to look good because it affected job and romantic opportunities, and
this was associated with lower body and self-esteem scores in the rural sample. In addition,
there was considerable preoccupation with appearance, with young women reporting, ‘You
always have to think about what others will think of you’ (Casanova, 2004: 300). Casanova
states that women chronically anticipate reactions to their appearance by the los demάs,
which refers to all the people, known and unknown, with whom a person comes into contact
on a daily basis, as well as people who may know of her or hear something about her. With
the increasing emphasis on idealized images of Latina women such as Jennifer Lopez, Latina
models in swimsuit issues of Sports Illustrated, and the winners of Miss Universe contests
from Puerto Rico (reigning) and the Dominican Republic (former), this pervasive self-
objectification among Latin American women can be expected to increase, and should
continue to be investigated in future research.
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The cross-cultural work of Ann Becker and colleagues demonstrates the impact of
Westernised 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 young girls report increased identification with television
characters as role models, preoccupation with weight loss, greater motivation to reshape their
bodies through dieting and exercise, and disordered eating behaviours. According to Becker
(2004: 553), ‘Fijian self-presentation has absorbed new dimensions related to buying into
Western styles of appearance and the ethos of work on the body.’
Western beauty ideals have not pervaded every part of the globe, however. Recent
cross-cultural research provides evidence for the adverse effects of internalising beauty ideals
that do not embody thinness, but rather fatness. Utilising a figural rating scale, a sample of
249 Moroccan Sahraoui women rated their ideal body size as significantly larger than their
rating of a healthy body size (Rguibi & Belahsen, 2006). 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
internalisation of a fat-ideal was associated with maternal feedback, men’s approval, and
culturally prescribed clothing, and it is implicated in the prevalence of obesity among women.
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Similar results have been reported in samples of Samoans (Brewis, McGarvey, Jones, &
Swinburn, 1998), Malaysians (Swami & Tovee, 2005), and many African societies (Tovee,
Swami, Furnham, & Mangalparsad, 2006; Treloar et al., 1999).
The cross-cultural differences in perceptions of female beauty described above are
consistent with prior research that has documented differential associations between
socioeconomic status (SES) and perceptions of physical attractiveness in developing vs.
developed countries. In a review of 144 studies across several continents, Sobal and Stunkard
(1989) observed a positive association between obesity and SES for women in developing
countries, with similar associations observed for men and children as well. These results
support the idea that obesity is often viewed positively as the feminine beauty ideal in
developing countries (Anderson, Crawford, Nadeua, & Lindberg, 1992; Brown & Konner,
1987). In contrast, a negative association was observed between obesity and SES for women
in developed countries (Sobal & Stunkard, 1989). Specifically, obesity was six times more
prevalent in women of lower SES compared to women of higher SES. This reverse pattern in
developed countries was not demonstrated for men or children, confirming the unique
association between thinness and beauty for women in developed countries, and the
corresponding association between obesity and stigma, especially for women with the
resources to manipulate weight. Researchers have suggested that thinner, less curvaceous
body types are highly valued in societies where women are in competition with men for the
same resources, mainly jobs (Barber, 1998). This view suggests that in societies where
economic opportunities are not available to women, a more curvaceous ideal is dominant in
order to secure economic resources by attracting men.
The cross-cultural differences in perceptions of female beauty described above are
also challenge the idea that WHR is a universal indicator of female beauty. Some researchers
have suggested that women’s mean waist-to-hip ratio (WHR; calculated by dividing the
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circumference of the waist by the circumference of the hips) is the universal indicator of ideal
female beauty because particular distributions of body fat reflect a women’s ability to
produce healthy, abundant offspring (Buss, 1989; Singh, 1993). However, other researchers
suggest that WHR may not vary with fertility to the same degree that body mass index (BMI)
varies with fertility (Swami & Tovée, 2005). For example, comparisons of amenorrheic
women with anorexia and healthy women have shown little distinction in terms of WHR,
which demonstrates that women with effectively zero fertility can have the same WHR as
women with effectively normal fertility (Tovée, Maisey, Emery, & Comelissen, 1999). In
addition, as WHR increases there is a corresponding increase in BMI, which suggests that
this emphasis on WHR in women may be confounded by variations in body mass index
(BMI). Swami and Tovée recently demonstrated that BMI, and not WHR, is the primary
predictor of female attractiveness across samples of British and Malayasian subgroups,
accounting for 75 per cent of the variance in attractiveness ratings. Thus, while body shape
cues do seem to be associated with perceived male attractiveness (Maisey, Vale, Cornelissen
& Tovée, 1999), female attractiveness is apparently judged based on fatness across cultures
(Furnham, Tan & McManus, 1997; Puhl & Boland, 2001; Tovée & Cornelissen, 2001).
Age. As a symbolic marker of bodily change and loss of reproduction, it has been
argued that aging women find themselves in contradiction with contemporary beauty ideals
(Dillaway, 2005; Markson, 2003). Little systematic research has examined how older women
respond to contemporary beauty ideals (Pliner, Chaiken, & Flett, 1990). Among a sample of
women aged 61 to 92, Hurd Clarke (2002a) 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 appearance reasons, and
varying degrees of dieting behaviour. However, in samples of older women, appearance
concerns seem to stem more from socialization practices and pervasive social norms for
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female beauty than media messages per se; and they appear to reject extreme thin ideals,
preferring more rounded female bodies and emphasize inner beauty (Hurd Clarke, 2002b).
Managing appearance concerns is difficult for older women because they have internalised
the importance of looking good, but a focus on appearance is considered vain later in life, and
thus appearance concerns become embedded in weight and health discourse. According to
Pliner et al. (1990), ‘The need outwardly to deny the importance of appearance, and instead
to emphasize the health benefits of staying slim, undoubtedly reinforce existing cultural
norms about the relationship between women's appearances and their social value’ (770).
Disfigurement and disability. Little research is available that examines the impact of
cultural beauty ideals on individuals with varying types of disfigurement or disability. As
with aging bodies, disfigured or disabled bodies contradict contemporary standards of beauty.
Scholars have discussed the perpetuation of negative perceptions of disfigurement or
disability across various media (Bowman & Jaeger, 2004). Evil characters in children’s
stories are portrayed as ugly or disfigured (e.g., evil queens and stepmothers; Scar in The
Lion King) whereas good characters are portrayed as beautiful (e.g., Snow White), and these
messages continue in adult stories and films (e.g., Freddy Kruger in Nightmare on Elm Street;
Partridge, 1990; Smith, McIntosh & Bazzini, 1999). Quite often when characters in films
become ugly, they are often turning bad or evil (e.g., The Fly, The Exorcist). Individuals who
contradict the norms of beauty are often viewed as societal deviants and experience
dehumanizing treatment by others (e.g., Solomon, 1998). For example, adults with visible
burns are perceived as significantly less attractive, less sociable, and lacking a sense of
humour compared to adults without visible burns (Franks & Goodrick-Meech, 1997). The
recent development of measures to assess the perceptions of stigma among adult burn victims
highlights the importance of addressing societal effects on populations who are unable to
meet cultural beauty ideals (Lawrence, Fauerbach, Heinberg, Doctor & Thombs, 2006).
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Pregnancy. Pregnant women in Western cultures are not immune to the pressures of
attaining contemporary standards of beauty. Indeed, medical and cultural pressures encourage
women to gain minimal weight during pregnancy in order to regain their pre-pregnancy
shape/weight as quickly as possible (Dworkin & Wachs, 2004). Leifer (1977) found that
body image changes during pregnancy evoked negative feelings in women regardless of how
satisfied women were with their body prior to pregnancy. Similarly, Fairburn and Welch
(1990) found that 40 per cent of the pregnant women in their sample expressed fear of weight
gain in pregnancy and 72 per cent expressed a fear that they would not be able to return to
their pre-pregnancy body weight. In a sample of healthy pregnant women, Skouteris, Carr,
Wertheim, Paxton & Duncombe (2005) reported that most women do adapt to the changes in
their bodies; however, sociocultural pressures to be thin and appearance comparisons with
other people were significant predictors of body image disturbance over the course of the
Robin Wallace (2003), journalist for Fox News, offered her experience while sitting
in her doctor’s office when she was 8 and ½ months pregnant. She was flipping through a
fashion magazine and saw a full-page nude picture of a 5-month pregnant model:
As if women were not already held to an impossible standard of media-defined beauty,
now there is a pregnant ideal that we’re expected to achieve, and it is an image of
Cindy or Demi with their barely-there bumps. It may be the cruellest standard of all.
As impossible as it will ever be for my body to resemble Cindy’s under normal
circumstances, it’s a thousand times less likely-truly beyond impossible-in our
respective pregnant forms…I can relate to pregnant Cindy about as much as I can
when she’s on the cover of Vogue.
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Beauty ideals as oppressive practices
The beauty practices that women engage in, and which men find so exciting, are those
of political subordinates…The fact that some women say that they take pleasure in the
practices is not inconsistent with their role in the subordination of women.
(Jeffreys, 2005: 26-27).
We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge what these detrimental beauty
practices are ultimately conveying about the conditions of the social world within which
women live (Hesse-Biber et al., 2006; Katzman & Lee, 1997; Thompson et al, 1999). It has
been argued that the most powerful, and most devastating, impact of these narrow, unrealistic,
and ever changing beauty ideals on women is oppression. In applying a sociocultural
approach to examine dangerous beauty-related practices, it seems critical to consider the
effects of the promotion and adherence to these beauty ideals on the legitimation of gender
inequality (Baker-Sperry & Grauerholz, 2003; Lorber, 1994).
According to Dworkin (1974: 112, emphasis in original):
Standards of beauty describe in precise terms the relationship that an individual will
have to her own body. They prescribe her mobility, spontaneity, posture, gait, the uses
to which she can put her body. They define precisely the dimensions of her physical
Indeed, the promotion and pursuit of beauty ideals is considered oppressive because of ‘the
guise of free will and choice’ that is created by the media with regard to women’s appearance
(Callaghan, 1994). A survey by Glamour magazine in 1995 uncovered this guise (Haiken,
1997). Glamour asked men, ‘If it were painless, safe, and free, would you encourage your
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wife or girlfriend to get breast implants?’ More than half of the men sampled (55 per cent)
answered ‘yes.’ The pressure to meet current beauty ideals, by surgically altering one’s body,
is clearly present and supported within the culture, and raises the question of women’s choice.
Internalized beauty ideals and objectified gazes create a context in which women are
vulnerable to the ubiquitous cultural messages regarding female beauty. The beauty industry
renders women even more vulnerable by portraying real women’s bodies as deficient and in
constant need of alteration. According to Wolf (1991), over 20 billion dollars are spent in
America each year on beauty products. Wolf demonstrated that an alternative use of this
incredible sum over one year could fund 400,000 four-year university scholarships, 20
million airline tickets around the world, one million well-paid home health aides for
homebound elderly, 75,000 women’s music, art, or film festivals, and 33,000 battered
women’s shelters. This chronic emphasis and valuing of appearance in women not only
usurps and wastes precious cognitive and physical resources (e.g., time, physical energy,
cognitive capacity) that could be utilized for achievement-based activities, but it requires a
considerable financial investment that can drain the average woman’s economic resources,
and thus become disempowering over time. As noted by Tiggemann and Rothblum (1997:
Given that billions of dollars are spent annually on diets, diet foods, and weight-loss
surgery, there would be a considerable economic impact (and backlash against women)
should women cease to be focused on thinness. The economy has much to gain to
keep women blaming themselves (and other women) for their weight.
Cross-cultural evidence exists supporting this association between the subordination
of women and adherence to beauty ideals. The Karen women of upland Burma are known in
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Europe as ‘giraffe-necked’ women. This is because the females of this group are required by
local beauty norms to start wearing brass neck rings from an early age. Initially, five brass
rings are fixed around the neck, and this number is increased gradually each year to a total of
24 rings. Brass rings are also put on the arms and legs, so that a woman might carry between
50 to 60 pounds of brass while walking long distances and working in the fields. In an
attempt to artificially lengthen the neck, this custom stretches the cervical muscles in the neck
and pulls apart the neck vertebrae to such a degree that women’s necks cannot support their
own heads if the rings are removed (Fallon, 1990; Morris, 1985).
The practice of foot binding in China dates back to at least 900 AD, and continued
until the 20th century (Fallon, 1990; Jeffreys, 2005). From as early as age 2, girls were forced
to bind their toes to the soles of their feet. A wide bandage was wrapped around the four
small toes, bending them back on themselves, and then woven tightly around the heel to pull
the toes and heel together. Large stones were placed on the top of the foot to crush the arch.
Girls were required to walk on their bound feet in order to force the feet into their new,
buckled shape. Smaller pairs of shoes were worn every few days. By the time these girls were
adults they were permanently crippled, unable to walk normally – they had to be carried or
crawl to move. A Chinese woman whose feet had not been bound would not be married.
Bound feet were considered the most beautiful and erotic feature of a woman. Writer Jung
Chang (1992) describes the experience of her grandmother in China whose feet were bound
at the age of two by her mother. Chang explains that when the feet were bound and the bones
were crushed:
My grandmother screamed in agony and begged her [mother] to stop. Her mother had
to stick a cloth into her mouth to gag her… For years my grandmother lived in
relentless, excruciating pain. When she pleaded with her mother to untie the bindings,
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her mother would weep and tell her that unbound feet would ruin her entire life, and
that she was doing it for her own future happiness. (p.24).
Both of these examples clearly reflect the absolute rejection of women’s natural body
parts and sizes, and the eroticization of artificially modified (mutilated) body parts which
become necessary to obtain in order to attain social and economic rewards. The perpetuation
of extreme beauty practices is evident across Western cultures as well. Indeed, scholars have
articulated the similarities between contemporary beauty practices for women in the West
(e.g., labiaplasty) and the mutilation and subordination of women’s bodies in non-Western
cultures (e.g., female genital mutilation; see Jeffreys, 2005). For example, in earlier centuries,
small feet had been a dominant feature of Western female beauty, and some women did have
their small toes amputated to fit their feet into smaller, more pointed shoes (Brownmiller,
1984). Wearing high-heeled, pointed shoes creates opportunities for short and long-term
deformity, increases the risks of twisted ankles, strained backs, shortened tendons, and torn
ligaments, and requires increased vigilance and energy to avoid uneven paths, pavement
cracks, elevator grids, and sidewalk gratings. The bound foot and the high-heeled foot impose
problems of grace and self-consciousness ‘on what would otherwise be a simple art of
locomotion, and in this artful handicap lies its subjugation and supposed charm’
(Brownmiller, 1984: 186).
Body modification in the form of plastic surgery is an estimated $8 billion-dollar per
year industry in the United States. Based on reports from the American Society for Aesthetic
Plastic Surgery (2004), a remarkable 1.8 million elective surgical procedures and a little over
7 million minimally invasive procedures (e.g., Botox injections, chemical peels) were
performed in 2003, with 80 per cent performed on women. Breast augmentation increased
114 per cent between 1997 and 2001, and 80 per cent of these surgeries were done on healthy
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women to change their breast size – not as part of a postmastectomy. Over one billion dollars
was spent on silicone breast enlargement in 2004 (Hesse-Biber et al., 2006). Between 2001
and 2003, buttock lifts increased by 78 per cent, tummy tucks by 61 per cent, and Botox
injections by 267 per cent.
These remarkable increases in plastic surgery resonate with Morgan’s (1991)
assertion that the severity of pressure experienced by women to be ‘perfect’ will eventually
render women who refuse to have plastic surgery as deviant. Indeed, the normalisation of
plastic surgery is most clearly evident in mainstream 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 cultural beauty ideals. This normalised 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: These
deleterious effects of plastic surgery on women’s physical health and psychological well-
being have been reported for decades (Haiken, 1997).
Future trends and shifting focus
Recent research has identified a shifting trend in the responses of over 3,000 college
women and men between 1983 and 2001 across multiple dimensions of body image (Cash,
Morrow, Habrosky & Perry, 2004). Specifically, whereas body image dissatisfaction
increased among non-Black women between 1983 and the early to mid-1990s, body-image
dissatisfaction, overweight preoccupation, and investment in appearance decreased among
non-Black and Black women from the mid 1990s onward. Men’s body image remained
relatively stable over this time period. Perhaps paradoxically, these apparent improvements in
body image have coincided with actual increases in body weight during this period (Flegal,
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Carroll, Ogden & Johnson, 2002). As of yet, it is unclear whether these trends will continue
and how they can be understood within the current cultural climate of increasingly extreme
pressures and methods to meet unrealistic beauty ideals.
It is possible that societal awareness and public consciousness of body image and
eating disturbances is growing, and programmatic efforts to enhance media literacy may
empower women to reject unrealistic beauty ideals and the dangerous behaviors required to
meet them (Irving & Berel, 2001; Levine & Piran, 2004; Levine & Smolak, 2001, 2002).
Meta-analytic and literature reviews have indicated that some types of interventions that
target internalization of cultural beauty ideals, such as dissonance-based models, produce
marked improvements in body dissatisfaction (Stice & Shaw, 2004; Thompson & Stice,
2001). However, not all intervention studies have demonstrated positive effects. Irving,
DuPen and Berel (1998) found that a media literacy-based intervention decreased thin-ideal
internalization and perceived realism of media images, but there was no corresponding
reduction for body dissatisfaction or the desire to look like the media images. In fact, some
researchers have demonstrated that critically viewing idealized media images may increase
the extent to which they are processed, thereby increasing body dissatisfaction (Botta, 2003;
Milkie, 1999; Nathanson & Botta, 2003).
It seems clear that women are quite capable of critiquing the current standards for
beauty and the images portraying these standards, but they continue to feel bound by them
and motivated to attain them. This may not be surprising when we consider that there is no
evidence of a reduction in the cultural messages conveying contemporary standards of female
beauty at the societal level (Tiggemann, 2002). Many women continue to engage in beauty
practices and perceive being ‘beautiful’ as empowering; this is despite the widely held view
that female beauty ideals are oppressive and contribute to the objectification, devaluation, and
subordination of women. According to the United Nations (1995), harmful cultural practices
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against women are identified as: (1) being harmful to the health of women and girls; (2)
arising from the material power differences between the sexes; (3) being for the benefit of
men; (4) creating stereotyped masculinity and femininity which damage the opportunities of
women and girls, and; (5) being justified by tradition. Thus, it can be argued that beauty
practices in Western culture represent harmful, cultural practices against girls and women.
Furthermore, the World Health Organization [WHO] (2006) defines human health as
‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of
disease or infirmity.’ Based on the evidence reviewed in this chapter, a considerable number
of women in Western culture, and increasingly other cultures, are not meeting the WHO’s
definition of human health; that is, many women do not embody a state of complete physical,
mental, and social well-being because of these harmful, cultural beauty practices. The
evidence reviewed in this chapter stands as a stark call to action for researchers, practitioners,
and community members to systematically identify the negative effects of cultural beauty
ideals and eliminate detrimental beauty practices from the lives of girls and women.
Men’s body image: The emergence of the muscular ideal, and beyond
Men’s body image has emerged in recent years as a focus of empirical inquiry on a
par with women’s body image (Thompson & Cafri, 2007). Over the past three decades,
increasing body dissatisfaction among men has been documented (see Thompson & Cafri,
2007; Thompson et al., 1999), with the focus on a drive for muscularity (Cafri, Blevins &
Thompson, in press). Researchers have demonstrated marked increases in the presentation of
muscular male physiques in Playgirl centerfolds (Leit, Pope, & Gray, 2000) and male action
figures (Pope, Olivardia, Gruber & Borowiecki, 1999) over the past 25 to 30 years. Indeed, a
casual scan of magazine shelves at bookstores, grocery and convenience stores reveals a
wealth of magazines with numerous images of hyper-muscular male bodies. Similar to
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research on female beauty ideals, Thompson and Cafri (2007) demonstrated that men
exposed to ads illustrating the male body ideal (a mesomorphic physique) reported greater
body dissatisfaction than men exposed to neutral ads. Other beauty practices among men are
becoming popularized including body depilation (Boroughs, Cafri & Thompson, 2005;
Boroughs & Thompson, 2002), which is the removal of hair in rather non-traditional places
for men such as arms, legs, or genital area. Cosmetic procedures for men have increased 44
per cent between 2000 and 2005 (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2006). As is the case
for women, this exacting male beauty ideal has required men to spend a great deal more
money in recent years on a variety of appearance enhancing and modification strategies. Now
that men’s attractiveness issues receive almost as much research attention as women’s, it will
be fascinating to track the trends of the two sexes in the coming years.
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... Consequently, their comparison may be difficult. While the former categories were based on characteristics derived from previous studies, unattractiveness was defined on the basis of culturally specific markers of beauty (Calogero et al., 2007). ...
... Ed Whittle in Replicas (2018), a brilliant, young scientist specializing in reproductive cloning, has all of the stereotypical traits of the nerdy geneticist: intelligence and technical mastery. Additionally, his physical appearance refers to the cultural idea of what constitutes physical unattractiveness and lack of sexual desirability (Calogero et al., 2007). ...
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Although images of science and scientists depicted in popular culture have been criticized as an exaggeration and fear mongering, the cinema is an important resource that influences individuals’ beliefs about science. Because popular depictions of science play a crucial role in constructing the public’s ‘scientific imaginary’ they constitute an inherent dimension of the social understanding of science and are as important for science communication as the ‘real’ science. Fictional filmic representations of geneticists portrayed in 145 films reveal that popular culture (re)constructs common images and stereotypes of scientists. While the most prevalent negative stereotypes depicted in films include: the evil demiurge, the egoist without morals, the nerdy geneticist, and the capitalist who betrays the ethos of science, over the last few decades films tend to construct more positive images of geneticists: the objective researcher, the practical expert, the bioethicist, the caring physician and the dedicated idealist. Additionally, although molecular biology depicted in films largely represents a man’s world, especially since the 1990s, the figure of the woman geneticist is on the rise. The coexistence of multiple representations of geneticists in films demonstrate that cinematic images of geneticists constitute an important narrative tool that helps moviemakers in reconstructing the social promises and perils related to biotechnology. Thus, films should be understood as a site for the examination of how popular culture fuels hopes and anxieties related to the scientific revolution that permeate culture and how these hopes and fears change over time from horror to hope and from fiction to reality.
... According to a recent survey of 3,300 girls and women across 10 countries, 90 percent of women aged 15 to 64 worldwide want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest (Calogero et al., 2007). A standard that requires women to be slim in order to be perceived as attractive, for example, has caused body dysmorphia and pushed women to seek cosmetic surgery, undergo extreme dieting, excessively use beauty filters on social media, or not feel confident when not wearing makeup (Rizky, 2022). ...
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Kecantikan feminin yang ideal adalah seperangkat standar kecantikan yang dibangun di atas gagasan bahwa daya tarik fisik adalah salah satu aset wanita yang paling penting dan sesuatu yang harus diperjuangkan dan dipertahankan oleh semua wanita. Scars to Your Beautiful adalah lagu yang ditulis dan dinyanyikan oleh Alessia Cara. Lagu ini bercerita tentang seorang gadis yang ingin menjadi cantik seperti gadis sampul. Dia ingin semua orang terpikat dengan kecantikannya. Namun, dalam proses memenuhi standar kecantikan itu, dia melupakan apa yang berharga di dalam dirinya. Dia rela menderita rasa sakit dan kelaparan untuk menjadikan dirinya secantik yang standar kecantikan inginkan. Lalu, bagaimana kecantikan perempuan yang diidealkan dan dampak negatifnya direpresentasikan dalam Scars to Your Beautiful karya Alessia Cara? Melalui metode kualitatif, artikel ini menjelaskan bagaimana standar kecantikan berdampak negatif pada gadis dalam lagu Alessia Cara. Didukung oleh teori dari Savannah Greenfield, kecantikan wanita yang diidealkan dan dampak negatifnya tercermin ketika gadis dalam lagu ini mendambakan dirinya seperti gadis sampul. Kesimpulannya, gadis itu melakukan segalanya untuk menjadi cantik namun dia akhirnya tersiksa dalam usahanya untuk memenuhi standar kecantikan yang dipenuhi oleh gadis-gadis sampul.
... Ideali ženske lepote su se menjali kroz istoriju, od naglašavanja ženskih oblina do promocije mršavih i vitkih ženskih tela (Calogero, Boroughs & Thompson, 2007). Oni sadrže informacije koje se ne odnose samo na spoljnji izgled, njihova priroda se sagledava iz različitih perspektiva: mogu pružiti informacije o plodnosti (Buss, 1989), identitetu i prirodi rodnih uloga (Nagel & Jones, 1992), a odražavaju i distribuciju ekonomske i političke moći u društvu (Hesse-Biber, 1996). ...
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In a social environment that emphasizes the importance of physical appearance and women is valued based on body appearance and sexuality, it raises the question of the relationship it establishes towards its own body. The work was intended to determine the attitude of respondents towards the importance attached to the physical appearance of the female body in the modern socio-cultural context and the degree of (dis)satisfaction with its own body. The questionnaire consists of a Scala attitude towards ?good? physical appearance (DFI scale), a seven-point Liqueur-type scale, and the Photography Figure Rating Scale (PFRS), which contains ten figures with different body mass index (BMI), from skinny to obese female bodies, filled out is by 462 respondents. The attitude towards physical appearance was not directly reflected in body dissatisfaction (there is no connection between these two constructs), but social ideals of beauty (thin ideal), which are transmitted through numerous sociocultural channels, are internalized. Respondents show a tendency to choose a figure (ideal) from BMI categories with insufficient weight. In general, the results show that the importance attached to the physical appearance of a woman's body is largely determined by the value and psychological component, and that respondents have internalized to some extent social standards that promote slender and thin bodies.
Thin ideal internalization is widely implicated in women's body image and eating disturbances. A recently proposed multidimensional operationalization of internalization suggests the brevity and construct validity of existing questionnaires may limit the assessment of thin ideal internalization. Therefore, this research aimed to develop a new questionnaire (i.e., Thin Ideal Internalization Assessment; THIINA) to comprehensively assess thin ideal internalization. In Study 1, 301 female participants were administered the THIINA. Exploratory factor analyses revealed the 17-item THIINA had a stable 3-factor structure reflecting thin idealization, thin overvaluation, and thin behavioral drive. In Study 2, 337 female participants were administered the THIINA and validation measures. Confirmatory factor analysis confirmed stability of the 3-factor structure and findings supported convergent, discriminant, and incremental validity of the THIINA. Support for temporal stability was found within a sub-sample of participants (n = 132). The THIINA demonstrated strong psychometric properties, a stable three-factor structure representing theoretically-driven domains, and support for the creation of a composite score representing overall thin ideal internalization. These findings suggest the multidimensional operationalization and measurement of thin ideal internalization could improve theoretical and clinical understanding of the impact of thin ideal internalization on women's body image and eating.
Acne vulgaris or “acne” is a prevalent and burdensome cutaneous condition that has been linked with unique mental health implications. Clinical (i.e., general and social anxiety, and major depression) and subclinical indicators (e.g., excessive worry, social self‐consciousness, and low self‐esteem) of internalizing disorders have been associated with acne across demographics (e.g., age groups and cultures). Considering the persistent burden of disease associated with these mental health outcomes, our primary aim was to concretely synthesize the relation between acne and internalizing symptoms. A secondary aim was to address the role that combined oral contraceptives and isotretinoin (e.g., Accutane), widely prescribed medical treatments for acne, may play in this relation as both have been linked to depression and anxiety. We discuss practical implications that may strengthen the effective biopsychosocial management of acne for suffering individuals. This review actively upholds and amplifies the call for longitudinal research that integrates the developmental psychology and dermatology literature to effectively treat acne in its entirety, including mental health.
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Online social sites have become popular platforms for reimagining the self and (re)constructing identities. In a consumer-orientated neoliberal global order where bodies have become products to be branded, packaged and marketed, social networks have become ideal platforms for the representation and identification of bodies. Although some studies have examined the discursive construction of identities online, few have focused on the representation of the female body on social media and none has done so in the context of semi-urban spaces with a history of systemic underdevelopment such as the former Bantustan capital, Phuthaditjhaba. Thus, there is a clear dearth of knowledge about how we can read the impact of new technologies on the ever-shifting notions and perceptions of identity construction in such places. In line with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) goal five, which envisages gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by 2030, this chapter investigates how women in Phuthaditjhaba have appropriated social networks to instrumentalise the female body as a site and mechanic of female emancipation. We used netnography as instrument to collect data from 30 women users of Facebook and visual/textual analysis as an analytical framework to interrogate how the participants constructed identity and represented the female body on the selected social networking sites in the context of emerging and historical dimensions and dynamics of Phuthaditjhaba. Results of the study show that social media networks provide women in remote areas with an opportunity to discursively challenge limiting cultural traditions and formulate empowering and experiential new identities.
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Childhood neglect and abuse, defined as risk factors for various psychopathologies are significant for forming disordered eating behaviors. Nevertheless, the effect of childhood emotional abuse on eating behaviors and the mechanisms through which this relationship forms still need to be understood. This study tested the mediating role of self-criticism (hated and inadequate self) between childhood emotional abuse and eating behaviors (emotional, uncontrolled, and cognitive restricted eating). A total of 430 undergraduate students (66.3% female, N = 285) have completed measures related to emotional abuse, self-criticism, and eating behaviors. The Structural Equation Model supported the mediating role of self-criticism in the relationship between childhood emotional abuse and eating behaviors. Results indicated that self-criticism explained 12% of the eating behaviors. The indirect effect of self-criticism is significant for obesity-related eating behaviors and restricted eating behavior. In addition, results predict gender differences in eating behaviors. All these findings suggest that eating behaviors may emerge as a dysfunctional way of dealing with negative self-evaluation due to emotional abuse in childhood. Therefore, the study contributes to understanding the underlying processes of unhealthy eating behaviors that can be seen as a premise of eating pathologies.
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Tüketim kültürünün günümüzdeki taşıyıcısı moda endüstrisi, sadece akımları değil güzellik standartlarını da belirlemektedir. Yıllarca reklam kampanyaları ideal beden imajını temsil eden modeller kullanmıştır ancak markalar bugün Z kuşağı olarak adlandırılan yeni bir segmente pazarlama göreviyle karşı karşıya bulunmaktadır. Günümüzün majör platformu yeni medyada ise buna başkaldıran; çatlakların, fazla kiloların ve sivilcelerin rötuşlamadan paylaşıldığı beden olumlama akımı ortaya çıkmıştır. Kullanıcının bu akımların hangisinden etkilendiği bireyin tüketim kültürünü de etkilemektedir. Bu çalışmada yeni medya ile çeşitlenen beden algılarından hangisinin Z kuşağı kadınlarını satın almaya teşvik ettiği anlaşılmaya çalışılmıştır. Bu sebeple araştırmada niteliksel bir yöntem olan odak grubu tekniği kullanılmış, Z kuşağına ait 20 kız öğrencinin seçildiği 2 odak gruba belirli reklam görselleri üzerinden ve beden takdiri ölçeğinden derlenen sorular yöneltilmiştir. Araştırma neticesinde elde edilen bulgularda Z kuşağının çeşitli beden temsillerinin yer aldığı kampanyalara olumlu yaklaştıkları ancak fazla marjinal buldukları kampanyaların markayla olan bağlarını zayıflattığı anlaşılmıştır. Katılımcıların, ideal beden temsillerinin yer aldığı reklamları daha cazip buldukları, kusurların yüceltildiğini düşündükleri reklamları ise samimiyetsiz buldukları gözlemlenmiştir. Bu pazarlama kampanyalarının Türkiye’de Batı toplumlarındaki kadar benimsenmemiş olabileceği, tüketicinin marka sevgisi üzerinde hala riskli olabileceği anlaşılmıştır.
Humor is considered a coping strategy that is associated with well-being and positive self-esteem. The role of humor in relation to body image and eating behaviors has rarely been investigated. This cross-sectional study ( n = 216) examined the relationship between general coping humor and humor styles targeting the self, namely self-enhancing and self-defeating humor, and body image and eating behaviors. Results showed that adaptive self-enhancing humor was associated with body appreciation and compassion, whilst maladaptive self-defeating humor was related to body criticism, drive for thinness, and emotional eating. General coping humor played almost no role. We also examined humor clusters and found that body appreciation and body kindness were higher in self-enhancers than self-defeaters and higher in humor endorsers than humor deniers. Further, self-defeaters reported more body criticism and emotional eating than self-enhancers, and emotional eating was higher in humor deniers than humor endorsers. This study shows that humor referring to the self is key in the understanding of body image and eating behaviors. Whilst the use of self-enhancing humor can have positive effects on body image, self-defeating humor can play a detrimental role.
Objective: Self-objectification is linked to disordered eating (DE) behaviors in women. However, the awareness of objectification by the self and others, not just the objectifying experiences themselves, may be differentially related to DE. The proposed study examines the development and validity of the Conscious Objectification Questionnaire (COQ), which seeks to evaluate awareness of objectification by others and intentional self-objectification. Method: In Study 1, 24 participants who identify as women (≥18 years) will provide qualitative feedback on COQ items, and survey items will be updated based on participant feedback. In Study 2, separate participants will complete the COQ and questionnaires assessing DE, self-objectification, and mental health correlates. Exploratory factor analyses will be conducted on the COQ, and reliability and convergent and divergent validity will be assessed. Results: Results will clarify whether the COQ is a reliable and valid instrument that measures the distinct construct of awareness of objectification. Discussion: If proven psychometrically sound, the COQ may be useful for future research on the link between awareness of objectification and disordered eating. Public significance: The novel Conscious Objectification Questionnaire (COQ) assesses the degree to which women recognize and act upon being objectified. The COQ will be reviewed by self-objectification experts and pilot participants before being psychometrically evaluated with data from a larger sample. The COQ is expected to differentially relate to disordered eating above and beyond existing self-objectification measures and accurately represent the distinct construct of conscious awareness of societal and self-objectification.
Historical analyses were used to test the hypothesis that the recent outbreak of eating disorders among women may be due, in part, to the slim standard of bodily attractiveness for women that has become fashionable. Historical changes in the standard were estimated by means of a measurement of the curvaceousnes of women depicted in photographs appearing in Vogue and Ladies Home Journal since 1901. When variation in the standard is measured across time, adherence to a slim standard is associated with low body weight among college women, with preoccupation with obesity in popular magazines and with various symptoms of eating disorders reported by experts cited in the mass media.
This meta-analytic review of prospective and experimental studies reveals that several accepted risk factors for eating pathology have not received empirical support (e.g., sexual abuse) or have received contradictory support (e.g., dieting). There was consistent support for less-accepted risk factors(e.g., thin-ideal internalization) as well as emerging evidence for variables that potentiate and mitigate the effects of risk factors(e.g., social support) and factors that predict eating pathology maintenance(e.g., negative affect). In addition, certain multivariate etiologic and maintenance models received preliminary support. However, the predictive power of individual risk and maintenance factors was limited, suggesting it will be important to search for additional risk and maintenance factors, develop more comprehensive multivariate models, and address methodological limitations that attenuate effects.
Evidence is presented showing that body fat distribution as measured by waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is correlated with youthfulness, reproductive endocrinologic status, and long-term health risk in women. Three studies show that men judge women with low WHR as attractive. Study 1 documents that minor changes in WHRs of Miss America winners and Playboy playmates have occurred over the past 30-60 years. Study 2 shows that college-age men find female figures with low WHR more attractive, healthier, and of greater reproductive value than figures with a higher WHR. In Study 3, 25- to 85-year-old men were found to prefer female figures with lower WHR and assign them higher ratings of attractiveness and reproductive potential. It is suggested that WHR represents an important bodily feature associated with physical attractiveness as well as with health and reproductive potential. A hypothesis is proposed to explain how WHR influences female attractiveness and its role in mate selection.
The present study represents an intersection between cross-cultural theorizing and feminist scholarship. It is an attempt to provoke as well as augment prevailing biomedical models that esteem fear of fatness as the primary motivation for voluntary starvation in anorexic women. Method: Recent studies of eating disturbance in both Eastern and Western societies are invoked to demonstrate the ways in which women straddling two worlds, be it generational, work-family, cultural, or traditional and modern, may employ food denial as an instrumental means of negotiating the transition, disconnection, and oppression that they uniformly endure. Results: A feminist/transcultural interpretation of the literature suggests that by construing anorexia nervosa as a body image disorder or Western culture-bound syndrome, extant models miss the broader contexts and varied meanings of food refusal. Discussion: The implications of cross-disciplinary perspectives for theory building and treatment are discussed, acknowledging not only the gendered nature of eating disorders but their embodiment of power differentials as well. © 1997 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. J Eat Disord 22:385–394, 1997.