Gender Differences: Body Image
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
MANSFIELD, C M (2009). Gender Differences: Body Image. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 12. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

Gender Differences: Body Image
Department of University of Central Missouri

Sponsored by: PATRICIA MARSH (

This study analyzed 19 males and 33 females from the University of Central Missouri. Gender differences, as well as relationship status of an individual were examined in the areas of self esteem, body integrity and appearance using the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale, and the Body Apperception Scale. There was a statistical significant difference in self esteem and body integrity, with women scoring higher on both.

Gender Differences: Self Body Image Satisfaction


The idea that women in today’s society are dissatisfied with their body is not new. Many factors have been explored in an effort to explain this dissatisfaction. Perhaps the most reasonable explanation for this dissatisfaction is the standard of thinness in Western society. The media’s portrayal of women constantly challenges them to conceptualize the ideal image of the female body. This self awareness is particularly increased on college campuses due to the social peer environment. College students, in particular women, may feel pressure to impress or be accepted by their peers. Women yearn for this acceptance, and consequently, may feel pressured to behave in many socially desirable ways. For example, in extreme cases, women become so obsessed with an ideal body image that they may develop an eating disorder.  

The media captures the attention of women so well that many women end up comparing themselves to visions they see in the media. A study of 3,452 women asked whether if the media had an effect on their body image, and almost half of them reported a negative influence on their body image (Cheng, 2006). Society and the media are constantly emphasizing a certain image, and it is no surprise that those who do not fall into this category of supposed perfection experience dissatisfaction with their body.

            Two other important factors related to body image satisfaction are being the victim of childhood teasing, and current BMI (body mass index) scores. A study reported that 72% of college women reported that they were critiqued as a child in some way relating to their appearance (Cheng, 2006). There is a possibility that childhood teasing is what causes one to be self conscious in the world today. Research has shown that even the jovial teasing of someone who is sensitive to issues such as weight and appearance can be damaging to their development (Thompson, Fabian, Moulton, Dunn, & Altabe, 1991). Therefore, teasing may eventually result in body dissatisfaction, or low self esteem as an adult.

Teasing occurs for many reasons, but one of the most reoccurring forms of teasing is picking on someone because they are overweight. One study asked college students to divide themselves into four categories describing their weight as a child (Cheng, 2006). The categories included (a) always underweight, (b) always overweight, (c) increase in weight over time, and (d) decrease in weight over time. The participants also completed a survey of body esteem. The results indicated that those in the overweight category, and increasing weight over time category, were still overweight in adulthood. Adults who fit in the overweight category had a significantly lower self body esteem compared to those in the remaining two groups (Cheng, 2006). Based on this research, one can infer that being overweight, and being teased as child can definitely effect how an adult views their body.

It is possible that because of this detrimental teasing, and being overweight as a child, it has made these adults feel hopeless to lose weight. Higher body weight has been associated with having a lower body image satisfaction, so why wouldn’t these individuals want to improve their body?  Of course, losing weight is always easier said than done. Body mass can be measured, however, and there are many harmful risks associated with different classifications of body weight.

A statistical measurement of the correlation between height and weight is referred to as the BMI, which is used to classify obesity (Cheng, 2006). The normal range for women is 19-25 for females, and 20-25 for males. For example, a female who 5’ 4” and weighs 140 lbs would have a BMI of 24 and be considered normal. A woman with a BMI over 25 is classified as overweight, and a BMI over 30 is classified as obese. Simply put, the higher the BMI the higher the health risks; a BMI over 25 is a health risk. Besides health risks, a high BMI is associated with other factors as well. According to (Cheng, 2006), it has been shown that women with a higher BMI are more likely to be dissatisfied with their body .Women may view themselves as too large to meet the ideal body image, if they have a higher than average BMI. 

Women with an average BMI score may view themselves as being too large to meet the demands society puts forth. Being presented with someone society who approves of and perceives as beautiful, may cause other people to feel that they are less than adequate. Self evaluation of the body may reflect largely on how individuals believe others perceive them. Thinness, it might seem, determines whether someone is considered beautiful. Research has continually shown that a high body mass index positively correlates with a high body dissatisfaction (Cheng, 2006), but do individual’s in romantic relationships have an improved body image satisfaction?

            The definition of a romantic relationship is not consistent, and many have their own definition.  Being in a romantic relationship can be intensely exciting, uplifting, and satisfying. However, it is also easy to feel hurt, disappointed, and emotional. Certainly, a partner’s opinion on practically any issue would cause one to want to listen and care. So, would a person’s opinion of their partner’s appearance effect how the partner feels? In a strong relationship these views can be very important, and the individual may become very self-conscious. For example, a person being told by their partner that they are overweight, they may start to feel that there is a problem with their body. This uneasiness might even cause this person to be inclined to start working out, or to go on a diet. Before now, they may not have even considered doing these things. They may also become unhappy with themselves if their partner has expressed dissatisfaction with them.

Past research shows that women who are in satisfying relationships, are in turn more satisfied with themselves (Boyes, Fletcher, & Latner, 2007). Positive comments received from a partner tentatively raises body image and self esteem, whereas the inverse is associated with negative comments. A positive, successful, intimate relationship, may act as a good psychological defense against a desire to appear thin. Thus, women may not feel such a strong desire to appeal to their partner (Boyes, et al., 2007).

If an intimate relationship is successful, one usually feels as though they are doing something right in the relationship. Therefore, the urge to impress a partner may not be very strong, since the status of the relationship is content.  Being in a relationship, however, does not necessarily mean that you are receiving a high amount of support. So, how does being in a relationship correlate with body image satisfaction?        

Initially, the fact that a person is even in a romantic relationship can be an indicator of many things. For example, women who are considered overweight are less likely to be in a romantic relationship. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that they are unhappy or dissatisfied with themselves. Therefore, they do not feel worthy of being in a relationship. It could also mean that they are not receiving enough support from their partner. As a result, they may no longer in a relationship if they once were. Body dissatisfaction is correlated to a negative self esteem as well. If one does not feel worthy, in terms of their body, it is going to affect their personality and self esteem as a whole.

So that leaves one to ponder,  is it possible that a requirement for being in a romantic relationship involve having a normal self esteem, and self body satisfaction? It depends on the individual, and what his or her self satisfaction ratings are. Is it necessary for a person to value themselves first, before it is possible to accept someone as a partner? These self ratings can help one further understand if being in a romantic relationship is possibly a result of a positive correlation of self esteem and body satisfaction.   

             Self esteem is a concern to many, and is a particularly critical issue for college students. Self esteem is an appraisal of one’s overall self appraisal of an individual’s self worth (Thompson, et al., 1991). Happiness and self esteem go hand in hand. The way one values themselves as a person is very important in a person’s beliefs, and how they feel day to day. It is scary to envision how deeply self esteem is influenced by the media.  An intense control is exerted by the media on the perception of individual’s views of themselves. Overall, self esteem shapes an individual, and understanding how it compares to other aspects of an individual, such as body image and romantic relationships, is purposeful in many ways.

            Body image is shaped in many ways from the media’s portrayal of the perfect body, teasing as a child, and an individual’s BMI. Most often all these factors result in a negative self body satisfaction. It is unfortunate that an individual’s self worth may be determined by the media’s opinion. Teasing as a child is more harmful than many may believe. Body satisfaction is also associated with self esteem and romantic relationships. If one feels good about themselves and their body, then they should have higher self esteem, and a higher body image satisfaction. The self esteem of an individual, in a relationship, should also be much higher if they are receiving positive partner support.

            The purpose of this study is to examine if college students being in a romantic relationship is associated with body satisfaction and self esteem. It is hypothesized that being in a romantic relationship will be positively correlated with higher scores on body satisfaction and self esteem. Gender will also be correlated with these two dependent variables, and it is hypothesized that women will score lower on both.





            College students from the University of Central Missouri participated in this study. There were 19 males, and 33 females that participated. Of the 19 males, only 8 of them reported that they were in a serious romantic relationship. There 16 females that reported they were in a serious romantic relationship.


There are two initial questions at the beginning of this questionnaire including, “Are you in a serious romantic relationship?” and, “If so, for how long?” Two more questionnaires follow. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is a 10-item self-report measure of global self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965). The statements are related to overall feelings of self-worth or self-acceptance, and participants respond using a 4-point scale from (4) strongly agree to (1) strongly disagree. Five of the items are reverse scored. A total score for self-esteem is calculated by adding participants’ responses across the 10 items.

The Body Apperception Test was also used to measure ones’ perceived body image. It has two sub-scales: physical appearance and sense of body intactness or integrity (Carver et al., 1998).  The first sub scale involves asking participants how they feel about their physical appearance. The second sub scale asks participants how they feel about themselves in terms of body integrity. There are four items on each sub scale and two filler questions making a total of 10 questions. The test-retest reliability for each scale on a set of students resulted in correlations of .75 or higher over a four week period of time. The internal reliability for each scale was .78 and .53 respectively; however, only a clinical/patient sample was used. There are two total scores.


The SONA system will be used to recruit and track participants. Each participant will receive 1 point of credit for every ten minutes of taking part in the study. The study will be conducted as follows:

Participants will receive an informed consent form, which they are required to sign in order to participate in the study. Participants will voluntarily complete two questionnaires pertaining to self esteem, and self body image, in a classroom at the University of Central Missouri. Before receiving the surveys they must provide information regarding their gender and relationship status. The surveys include the Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale and a Measure of Body Apperception Scale. Participation will take approximately 20 minutes. The information collected will not include any names, and all data will be secure. Upon completion students will be debriefed and thanked. Only the results will be presented openly, not the individual surveys, which the informed consent form indicates. A correlation analysis of the data using SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) will be used to analyze the information collected.



            An analysis of variance showed that self esteem scores of males were significantly higher than females, F (1, 51) = 7.13, p <.05. This data supports the hypothesis that females have a significantly lower self esteem than males. An analysis of variance also showed that females scored significantly higher in comparison to males on a subscale measuring body integrity, F (1, 51)= 6.37, p <.05. This does not support my hypothesis, because women scored higher than men on this subscale. This data is provided in table 1.1, and a visual format is provided in figure 1.1 A Pearson correlation measured a significant relationship between self esteem and gender r (52) =.36, p<.01. A Pearson correlation also measured a significant relationship between body integrity and gender r (52) =.34, p<.05. This data is represented in table 1.2.


            The gender difference found between self esteem scores was significant with women scoring significantly lower than men. This reflects other research that has been discussed, and allows my alternative hypothesis that women have significantly lower self esteem to be accepted. Originally, I believed that women would score significantly lower than men on the subscale of both body integrity and feelings about their appearance. Although there was no significant difference found regarding feelings about appearance, it was surprising that women scored significantly higher than men on a subscale concerning body integrity. This could be due to the fact that men already feel confident about their body. Self esteem scores show that men feel good about themselves, so maybe the fact that they scored significantly lower on body integrity shows that they just have a less concern for body integrity in comparison to women. Men do not have a concern for body integrity or image because they already feel comfortable in their own skin.

Among the sample of college students there was no difference found regarding whether an individual was in a relationship or not. This may be due to the fact that only 8 males reported they were in a relationship, whereas 16 females reported that they were in a relationship. The null hypothesis must be accepted because no statistical significant difference was found regarding self esteem, body integrity, or appearance regarding relationship status.

A limitation of this study was that more females participated than males. Not many males who signed up for the study showed up, unlike the females who signed up. If more males had participated, it is possible that more significant differences could have been found. Another limitation is that the Body Apperception Scale was only used on females as far as I know, so it may be possible that males interpret this test differently than females. The other limitation is that this test was performed using small classrooms that did not allow for very many participants to sign up. An online study is recommended to anyone who replicates this study, because there probably would be a lot more participants. I also would advise to ask age to see if there is any difference involving that, because I did not inquire about age.

This research contributes to the field of psychology because there are not many studies done on the comparison of gender in terms of body integrity. There are also not many studies on how romantic relationships affect self esteem and body image. Although there was no significance found due to relationship status, it is possible that if this study was done with more participants who actually are in a relationship, that a significant difference would be found.



Boyes, A. D., Fletcher, G. J. O., & Latner J. D. (2007). Male and female  body image and dieting

in the context of intimate relationships. [Electronic Version] Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 764-768.

Carver, C. S., Pozo-Kaderman, C., Price, A. A., Noriega, V., Harris, S. D., Derhagopian, R. P.,

Robinson, D. S., & Moffatt, F. L., Jr.  (1998). Concern about aspects of body image and adjustment to early stage breast cancer. Psychosomatic Medicine, 60, 168-174.  Retrieved February 16, 2009 from and relationship with body

Cheng, H. (2006). Body image dissatisfaction of college women: potential risk and protective

factors. Columbia, MO. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-Image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton

            University Press. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from

Thompson J.K., Fabian, L. J., Moulton, D. O., Dunn, M. E., & Altabe, M. N. (1991).

Development and validation of the physical appearance related teasing scale. Journal of Personality Assessment, 56, 513-521.





Submitted 05/08/2009
Accepted 05/28/2009

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