The Effect of Being Weighed on the Body Image of College Women
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THUM, M. (2000). The Effect of Being Weighed on the Body Image of College Women. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effect of Being Weighed on the Body Image of College Women

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
A study was done on how being weighed affects body image in college freshman girls. A sample of 41 freshman women (ages 17-20) were given a questionnaire regarding their body image either before or after they were weighed by the researcher. The researcher hypothesized that the group that was weighed before taking the questionnaire would have a more negative body image because the scale would produce anxiety in the participant. No significant differences in body image were found between being weighed before or after taking the body image questionnaire. It was also predicted that the participants would under-report their weight when asked on the demographic section of the questionnaire. There was a significant difference in the scores between the self-reported and the actual weights.

For decades, women have been brought up being taught that a good body image is extremely important in life and that thin is beautiful. We have always heard the phrase "36-24-36 is the perfect body" but how many people really do have the perfect figure? In the 1800`s, it showed wealth when a person had "meat on their bones." Today, people are seen as beautiful when they are as thin as a twig. "In today`s culture, thinness represents not only attractiveness but self-sacrifice, virtue, success, and control. The pervasive attitude seems to be that the more fat one has on his or her body, the more unattractive, self-indulgent, lazy, and out of control one is." (Costin, 1996) This leads in to a more complete definition of body image. Body image is not only the physical appearance, but it is how we mentally see ourselves. It has an effect on the way we think, feel, and our self-esteem. The relationship between mood and body is significant; it suggests that body dissatisfaction is not a constant entity but rather is governed, at least in part, by our general emotional state. When we feel bad about something else, such as grades or stress, our bodies get dragged down to the negative side. (Garner, 1997) Koff and Rierdan (1997) did a study with pre-adolescent girls that shows the significant connection between mood and body image. Their subjects were 175 sixth-grade girls and the researchers assessed their weight-related aspects of body image in four different ways. The girls were asked to report their weight and height, categorize their weight on a 5-point scale, indicate the degree of their satisfaction, and answer weight-concerning questions. Their weight was both self-reported and objected which was measured by the school nurse. They found a negative relationship between negative weight-related body images and higher levels of depressive symptoms. They discussed how pubertal development in girls involves a significant increase in fat, and thus, weight. Puberty changes their body from the cultural ideal of thinness and for a few years, it can seem rather awkward to them. The study inferred that in fact, girls are being trained culturally to adopt distorted and negative judgements of their bodies. Our society is constantly telling us how we can improve ourselves in every way, shape, and form; so it is pretty hard for these young girls to believe that they are just fine the way that they are. This adequately explains how adolescent girls can develop depression when they are continually being reminded that they are not what they "should" be. Koff and Rierdan (1997) touched on the fact that the correlation between objective weight and self-reported weight was high. They said that girls whose objective weights were greater tended to underreport their weight more. This idea ties in with the findings from Betz, Mintz, and Speakmon (1994) in their study on the accuracy of self-reported weight. They said in their study that the use of self-reported weight, rather than actual weight, would result in more subjects classified as normal weight or underweight and fewer classified as overweight. Self-reported weight is used in many studies comparing actual (reported) weight with desired weight. There have been high correlations between self-reported and actual weight, leading to the conclusion that self-reported weight is a valid indicator of actual weight. Betz et al. (1994) hypothesized and were correct in their hypothesis that college woman are more likely than men to underreport their weight when self-reported weight was a variable. It has been determined that men underreport their weight by about 1.3% and women by 1.7%. This underreporting is directly related to the weight and inversely related to height (Jeffery, 1996). Contrasting to the study of Betz et al. in studies of self-perceptions of weight, normal-weight females perceived themselves as overweight. Jeffery (1996) also found that college females` body image is negatively distorted towards perceptions of being overweight. This illustrates how a physical factor (weight) effects a psychological factor (body image). Thus, one can conclude that the higher a person`s weight is, than the lower their body image would be.Most people feel that a lower weight will result in a better body image. Moreover, while this may be true for some, it is not always the case. In a body image survey done by Psychology Today in 1997, it was found that 89% of women want to lose weight. The average woman`s weight is 140 pounds; the preferred weight is 125 pounds. Body weight has a considerable effect on women. In the survey, it was reported that fifteen percent of women and eleven percent of men would give up more than five years of their lives to be the weight that they want. Physical body weight is made up of so many more things than just body fat. The scale weighs not only fat, but muscle, bone, water, and internal organs. When someone loses "weight," that does not necessarily mean that he or she has lost fat. This is why the scale can be so deceiving. For many people the scale can cause much anxiety. People who become obsessed with weighing themselves have a greater tendency of having a negative body image. If a person weighs himself or herself in the morning and sees that they have gained a pound since the day before; then that can have a major negative effect on their mood and body image for the rest of the day. Often, just the sight of a scale can cause a negative effect on a person`s feelings about the way they look. This is along the same lines as something called "white coat hypertension." Traditional estimate is that one in five people who are diagnosed with high blood pressure at the doctor`s office have white coat hypertension--blood pressure that`s perfectly normal but rises in the examining room due to anxiety about being checked out ("Is it simply a case of white coat hypertension," 1999). Anxiety about something (such as a doctor`s office or a scale) can then lead to negative feelings and/or reactions from the person. These negative feelings can often lead to many disturbances in the way one`s body weight or shape is sensed. This is according to part C of the diagnostic criteria for 307.1 anorexia nervosa in the DSM-IV. (1994) Everyday on television we see beautiful and very thin woman. These women are successful in careers and in love. These women have a low body weight, and from what is shown on television, they have a high body image too. We are constantly being told that we need to lose weight. It has been etched into our minds that the lower the number on the scale the happier we will be. This is what is leading to people underestimating their weight; they think that they need a low number or they will be seen as fat. Our culture is telling us that we need to be thin and look good to have a good life. Moreover, these images we see on television are leading to more and more eating disorders and depression in this country. In our study on body image, we hypothesized that women will report a lower body image after seeing their weight on the scale. We assumed that the women would become more self-critical and have negative feelings about their bodies after seeing the actual number of pounds they weigh. These negative feelings would then influence the females to report a lower body image on the questionnaire. (Appendix A) Similar to the findings of Bintz, et al (1994), we also hypothesized that both the control group (the group that is weighed after taking the body image questionnaire) and the experimental group would underreport their weight on the questionnaire. Especially for the experimental group, seeing their actual weight after self-reporting a number that we think was lower, had a big impact on how they answered the body image questionnaire.

Participants Forty female undergraduate freshman psychology majors in learning communities from Loyola University New Orleans were chosen to be used in the study through convenience sampling. These woman ranged in age from 17-20 years old. They were told by the learning community professors that participation in the study could possibly earn them course credit. Participation, however, was on a voluntary basis. The participants were divided using random assignment into two groups: 20 participants in group one (the group weighed after taking the body image questionnaire) and 20 participants in group two (the group weighed before taking the body image questionnaire). Materials The participants were each given two informed consent forms, one was for the researcher`s records and the other was for the participant (see Appendix B). They were also given a questionnaire developed by the researchers (see Appendix A). Some of the questions were taken from the questionnaire on body image from the "Something fishy web site on eating disorders." The researchers did not use all of the questions from the questionnaire on the web site because some of them were not relevant to the topic. Therefore, the researchers came up with a couple questions of their own. The first page asked demographics regarding the participants` height, weight, and athletic practices. The second page of the questionnaire asked questions regarding their body image. The items asked about their self-esteem, body image, use of scales, dieting behaviors, and views about their body. All of the items were yes or no questions. The participants filled out their questionnaire with their own writing instrument. The researchers used a scale to accurately measure all of the participants` height and weight.Design and Procedure This was an experimental study with one independent variable. The independent variable (IV) was the act of being weighed and it had two levels. The first level (IV1) was being weighed after filling out the body image questionnaire; and the second level (IV2) was being weighed before filling out the body image questionnaire. The dependent variable (DV) was the body image of the participants measured by the scores from the body image questionnaire. There were some controls in the experiment such as age and sex. The researchers used only college freshman ranging in age from 17-20. The reason for this was the fact that this is an age where people are very much affected by looks; moreover, they are more self-conscious about how they appear to other people. In addition, the researchers only used freshman women. Men are not as much concerned as women with appearances; therefore the researchers did not use men in the study to keep the outcomes controlled. Upon arriving at the testing location (a classroom in Monroe Hall at Loyola University,) the participants were given two informed consent forms to sign, one for our records and one for the participants. The participants were given a brief overview of the study by the researchers while they were reading and signing the consent forms. The participants were also told to fill out the demographics page, which included their self-reported height and weight, but not look at the 4th page of the packet. They were told that they could leave the experiment at any time. Once the consent forms were signed, the demographic page filled out and turned into the researchers, the 40 participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Each researcher was in charge of one group. Group 1 was told to stay in the room and fill out the body image questionnaire; while group 2 was taken into another room to be weighed. The participants in group 2 were taken into a room with a scale one by one so the others could not see or hear their weight. Each participant was asked to take off her shoes and stand on the scale face forward. The researcher then weighed and measured the participant and they were told their weight and height. The researcher made note of the height and weight so she could later compare it to the self-reported height and weight. After being weighed the participants were asked to go to a separate room so they would not be able to inform the other participants of the scale. The participants were given the same body image questionnaire that group one filled out and were told to answer the questions. When group one was finished filling out the questionnaire, they were then taken one by one into the room with the scale to be measured. They were weighed by the researcher the same way as group 2 was weighed and measured. Body image was measured using the questionnaire and scoring each individual question of the fifteen questions with either zero or one points. If the participant answered negatively to the question, they received one point for that question. Therefore, fifteen points revealed an extremely negative body image and zero points revealed an extremely positive body image. Throughout the entire experiment, groups 1 and 2 were not in contact with each other so they would not be able to tell the other group what was happening. All of the participants were then debriefed after both groups were finished with the weighing and questionnaires. The participants were told the goal of the experiment and why they were deceived about the scales. The researchers gave a brief discussion on body image and the participants had the opportunity to ask any questions. After all questions were answered, the participants were thanked and free to leave. They were also given information on the Loyola University Counseling Center and the De Paul Tulane Eating Disorders Clinic if the participants wanted to further discuss or had any questions about their body image with a professional.

In this study, the participants reported a lower body weight than what was measured as actual body weight. The alpha level of .05 was used in all of the statistical tests. The fifteen questions in the body image questionnaire were high in validity. The coefficient alpha for all of the fifteen questions was .85. Using a t-test (t(40) = -5.00, p = .000) for paired samples there was a statistical significance between the two means. The mean for the reported weight was 129.79 (SD = 20.162), and the mean for the actual weight was 135.89 (SD = 24.134). There was a strong positive correlation between the reported and actual weight of the participants (r(38) = .953, p = .000). The researchers also hypothesized that the group weighed before taking the body image questionnaire would report a much lower body image than the group who was weighed after taking the body image questionnaire. There were 20 cases for each group and the mean score for the group weighed after taking the questionnaire was 4.700 (SD = 3.771) and the mean score for the group weighed before taking the questionnaire was 6.050 (SD = 3.980). The score for the group who was weighed before taking the questionnaire was slightly higher. The results were not statistically significant (t(38) = -1.10, p = .278). The researcher then did a t-test for equality of means for each of the fifteen individual questions on the questionnaire to see if any one question had statistical significance. The means between the two groups were close in all of the questions except for question number nine, which asked the participant if they were happy with the number they see on the scale. The mean difference between the two groups in question nine was equal to .400 and the p-value was equal to .011. The group that was weighed before taking the questionnaire had a higher mean (M = .700, SD = .470) on this question than the group that was weighed after taking the questionnaire (M = .300, SD = .470). Although it was not originally hypothesized, the researcher thought that there would be a significant difference between the participants who attended a co-ed school (n = 30) and those who attended a single-sex school (n = 11). The mean score for those who attended a co-ed school was .1333 (SD = .346) and the mean score for those who attended a single-sex school was .1818 (SD = .405). There was no significant difference found between the two mean scores (t(38) = -1.35, p = .156); and those who attended a co-ed school had a higher body image than those who attended single-sex high schools, contrary to what the researcher hypothesized. The demographic page of the questionnaire asked whether the participants participated in sports and if they exercised. Of the 41 valid cases, 65.9% did not participate in sports and 34.1% did participate in sports. In addition, of the 41 cases, 36.6% did not exercise and 63.4% did exercise.

As predicted, the participants did under-report their weight significantly. These results agree with the findings from Betz et al. (1994) in their study on the accuracy of self-reported weight. They stated that more people are classified as normal or underweight when asked to self-report their weight. In their study they used both men and women and concluded that women under-report their weight more than men. Since this study used only women, the researcher could not conclude the same thing; however, their findings coincide with the conclusion that women do under-report their weight. These results also agree with the findings from Koff and Rierdan (1997) when they concluded that there is a high correlation between the actual and self-reported weights. It seems as though those who weigh more tend to under-report their weight more. One reason that people might do this is that they are embarrassed of the number they weigh. If they think other people are going to see it (such as researchers), they will make it lower so they will not seem as overweight as they really are. Another reason is that they might just under-report for themselves; it is as if they can not accept the fact that they weigh a certain number. There was not enough of a difference between the means of the scores from the questionnaires for any statistical significance. The scores from the group that was weighed before taking the questionnaire were slightly higher, but not enough to come up with any conclusions. These outcomes do not support the hypothesis since, according to the results, the scale did not produce anxiety in the participants. The researcher was predicting that the scale would create anxiety in the participant as the doctor`s office does in the article titled, "Is it simply a case of white coat hypertension"? The researcher thought that if the act of getting blood pressure checked could produce anxiety then maybe the act of being weighed could have the same effect; since both of these things are known to produce feelings of anxiety. After seeing the results and looking at the questionnaire again, possibly more questions than fifteen on the body image questionnaire could produce more significant results. Furthermore, more detailed questions about how a person feels about exact parts of their body and questions concerning fear of the scale or being weighed could produce results that are more significant. According to the coefficient alpha score (.85), the questions were valid indicators of what the researcher was studying. There was only one out of the fifteen questions that had significant results between the two groups. However, the researcher did see trends in the scores between all of the questions. The group that was weighed before taking the questionnaire did have more negative scores than the group that was weighed after. Many of the participants in the group that was weighed before taking the questionnaire answered no to question 9 which stated, "are you happy with the number you see on the scale." This corresponds to the idea that people under-report their weight; furthermore, when they see their actual weight (which in most cases is higher) they are unhappy that they weigh more. Then say they are unhappy with the number they see on the scale. As far as the researchers know, a study that tested whether being weighed affected a person`s body image has never been done before until now. If the questionnaire is modified by adding more questions and more specific questions, then it is quite possible that the results would be significant. Furthermore, the sample size was rather small. Optimistically, in the future a larger sample could produce better results. It would be interesting to see how the results would turn out if the study were done on college freshman males. Most body image studies are done on females and it would be interesting to see how college-aged males feel about their bodies and weight. Then a comparison could be made between how college-aged males and females feel about their bodies. A theoretical implication for the study could be how does the "Weight Watchers" program affect people`s body image. Someone could do a study to see if being weighed in front of a group of people would give the person a more negative body image. Does the "Weight Watchers" program really work? Our society puts so much emphasis on how people look; this study was just an example of how what people tell us effects how we feel about ourselves.

American Psychiatriac Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author. Betz, N., Mintz, L., Speakman, G., (1994). Gender differences in the accuracy of self-reported weights. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 30, 543-543. Costin, C. (1996). The eating disorder sourcebook. Los Angeles: Lowell House. Garner, D. M., (1997, January-February). The 1997 Body Image Survey Results. Psychology Today, 30-84. Jeffery, R. W. (1996). Bias in reported body weight as a function of education, occupation, health, and weight concern. Addictive Behaviors, 21, 217-223. Koff, E., & Rierdan, J. (1997). Weight, weight-related aspects of body image and depression in early adolescent girls. Adolescence, 32, 615-625. Questionnaire (n.d.). The something fishy website on eating disorders. [Online]. Available: Is it simply a case of white coat hypertension. (1999, May). Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, 17, 2.

Body Image QuestionnairePage 1

1) Age _________

2) Height __________

3) Weight __________

4) Kind of High School attended (check one) co-ed________ single sex________

5) Do you participate in sports? yes_____ no_____If yes, which ones? ________________________________________________

6) Do you exercise? yes_____ no_____If yes, why? _____________________________________________________

Body Image QuestionnairePage 2

1) Do you think life would be better and/or people would like you more if you were thin/thinner?

2) Do you continuously feel unsatisfied with your appearance even after compliments from others?

3) Do you find yourself often comparing your appearance and weight to others, strangers and/or models or actors and wishing to be as "nice looking" or as "thin" as they are?

4) Do you feel as though you have a "conscience" or a "voice" that tells you negative things about yourself, convinces you that you do not deserve to eat and/or be happy or that tells you that you are fat and ugly?

5) Do you feel guilty after eating large amounts of food and/or snacking?

6) Do you feel that if you eat a large amount of food you will instantly gain weight, even though you know it is unrealistic?

7) Do you weigh yourself often?

8) Does the number on the scale dictate your mood and/or self-worth for the day?

9) Are you ever satisfied with the number you see on the scale?

10) Have you ever had or do you have an eating disorder or body image problems?

11) Do you set weight goals for yourself only to find when you reach it that you want to lose more?

12) If given the opportunity to change yourself through plastic surgery, would you?

13) Do you avoid certain situations (i.e. the beach) because of the clothing that you would have to wear?

14) Have you ever been, or are you on a diet?

15) Do you think you are beautiful and/or attractive?

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