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About-Face facts on BODY IMAGE
Compiled by Liz Dittrich, Ph.D.
http://www.about-face.org/r/facts/bi.shtml

Interesting Fact: In 1920, women attained the right to vote. This was also the first year of the Miss America Pageant. (Source: WAC STATS: Facts about women).

Prevalence

A poll conducted by a popular women's magazine found that 75% of women thought they were "too fat" (Glamour,1984). A large scale survey conducted by Garner (1997) found body dissatisfaction to be "increasing at a faster rate than ever before" among both men and women (p. 34). He found that 89% of the 3,452 female respondents wanted to lose weight.

Many women suffer from body dissatisfaction, and assiduous dieting and the relentless pursuit of thinness has become a normative behavior among women in Western society (Rodin, Silberstein & Striegel-Moore,1984). Thinness has not only come to represent attractiveness, but also has come to symbolize success, self-control and higher socioeconomic status. Marketdata Enterprises, Inc. estimated the size of the weight loss industry for 1994 at $32,680 billion.

Body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders are more prevalent among females than males. This gender specificity is apparent in that over 90% of patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are women (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

Body image dissatisfaction and dieting behavior isn't restricted to adolescents or adults. In a study of almost five hundred schoolgirls, 81% of the ten-year-olds reported that they had dieted at least once (Mellin, Scully & Irwin, 1986). A study of 36,000 students in Minnesota found that girls with negative body image were three times more likely than boys of the same age, to say that they feel badly about themselves and were more likely to believe that others see them in a negative light. The study also found that negative body image is associated with suicide risk for girls, not for boys (American Association of University Women, 1990).

Wooley and Wooley (1980) found that girls are more influenced and thus more vulnerable to cultural standards of ideal body images, than boys are. A recent national health study, that studied 2,379 9yr and 10 yr old girls (approximately half White and half Black) found that 40 % of them reported that they were trying to lose weight (Striegel-Moore et al, 1996).

Bar-Tal and Sax (1961) found that our culture places a higher value on physical beauty in the evaluation of females than males. Garner, Garfinkel, Schwartz & Thompson (1980), have found that the average size of idealized woman (as portrayed by models), has become progressively thinner and has stabilized at 13-19% below physically expected weight. Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegelmoore (1984), suggest that this thin ideal is unachievable for most women and is likely to lead to feelings of self-devaluation, feelings of dysphoria (depression) and helplessness.

The discontent with one's body shape and size doesn't seem to be confined to White women alone. A survey conducted by the largest African-American women's publication in the U.S. (Essence magazine) served as an eating disorders study. The results from over 2,000 respondents indicated that African American women are at risk for eating disorders in at least equal proportions to their White counterparts. Analysis of the results also revealed that African American women have adopted similar attitudes towards body image, weight and eating to White women (Pumariega, Gustavson, Gustavson, Stone Motes & Ayers, 1994).

Shame seems to be another component of women's attitudes toward their bodies. In a Kinsey survey it was found that women felt more embarrassed when asked about their weight, than when they were asked about their masturbation practices, or occurrences of homosexual affairs (Kinsey et al., 1953).

Women and girls are also consistently taught from an early age that their self-worth is largely dependent on how they look. The fact that women earn more money than men in only two job categories, those of modeling and prostitution serves to illustrate this point (Wolf, 1992).

In a sample of male and female high school students, two-thirds of boys and girls believed that being thinner would have an impact on their lives. The majority of girls believed that this impact would be positive, while the majority of the boys believed that the impact would be negative. The gender groups did not differ significantly in their weight distribution around the expected norm for their group. Girls had higher body dissatisfaction scores than boys on all measures. Girls reported magazines as their primary source of information regarding diet and health, whereas boys reported their primary source to be parents, followed by two other categories before mentioning magazines (Paxton, Wertheim, Gibbons, Szmukler, Hillier, & Petrovich, 1991).

Consequences

Smoking is a common method of weight loss being used by today's youth, according to Frances Berg, editor/publisher of the Healthy Weight Journal (Berg, 1997). For the first time in history the smoking rate of girls now surpasses that of boys, with the compelling motivation for this behavior being weight control (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance-US, 1995). Forty percent to 50% of women smokers smoke because they see it as a primary mean to control their weight. Of these women, 25% will die of a disease caused by smoking (Wolf, 1992, p.229; Garner, 1997).

Of 140 adolescent smokers surveyed, 15% adhered to the belief that cigarettes help control weight (9% males, 22% females). The study found that weight concerns were connected to the habit of smoking status for women, but not for men (Johnson, McVeigh, Boles & Johnson, 1998).

Another common method to lose weight is dieting. Dieting is more common than not dieting, with 95% of the female population having dieted at some time (Polivy & Herman, 1987). Dieting has been as a powerful contributor to dysphoria because of the failure often associated with this type of weight loss method, 95-98% of all dieter regain their weight (Heatherton & Polivy, 1992; Cooke, 1996, p.35). Caloric deprivation experiments have shown to produce depression, anxiety and irritability (Keys, Brozek, Henschel, Mickelsen & Taylor, 1950). A sobering finding is that most bulimics report that the onset of their eating disorder occurred during a period of dieting (Hall & Hay, 1991).

One study experimentally induced a state of self-objectification (asking subjects to try on bathing suits), and found that in comparison to another condition (trying on a sweater) the swimsuit condition caused women, not men, to experience body shame. This experimental condition also predicted restrained eating and poor performance on a math test following the swimsuit condition, again this was true for women, not for men (Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn & Twenge, 1998). This study was among the first to investigate and find evidence for the idea that self-objectification in women leads to impaired functioning in other areas (such as mental performance).

Hill and Pallin (1998) found that among a sample of 8-year-old boys and girls, self-rated dieting in girls was related to low perceived behavioral conduct, low social acceptance and global sense of self worth, even when body weight was controlled for. Self-perception of global self-worth and weight were not significant predictors of self-endorsed dieting for boys, but they were for girls. The study concluded that young girls are drawn to weight-control to improve their self-worth . A strong predictor for both genders dieting awareness was the perception of the mother's dieting when she felt fat.

A study that explored social and economic consequences of overweight found that women who were overweight were 20% less likely to be married at a later point, and had a household income that was $6,710 less than non-overweight women. Overweight men were 11% less likely to get married, yet their income was not significantly different from their non-overweight counterparts (cited in ?Exacting Beauty?, Thompson, Heiberg, Altabe and Tantleff-Dunn, p. 50).

In a sample of male and female high school students, two-thirds of boys and girls believed that being thinner would have an impact on their lives. The majority of girls believed that this impact would be positive, while the majority of the boys believed that the impact would be negative. The gender groups did not differ significantly in their weight distribution around the expected norm for their group. Girls had higher body dissatisfaction scores than boys on all measures. Girls reported magazines as their primary source of information regarding diet and health, whereas boys reported their primary source to be parents, followed by two other categories before mentioning magazines (Paxton, Wetheim, Gibbons, Szmukler, Hillier, & Petrovich, 1991).

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