Stereotypical Influence on Ideal Body Images
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CHANG, C. C. (2002). Stereotypical Influence on Ideal Body Images. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 5. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved August 18, 2018
CHRIS C. CHANG
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Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (email@example.com)
|The purpose of the present research was to assess if people held different body ideals for females of different ethnicities. It was hypothesized that if people were shown figures of various female body sizes and different ethnicities, they would then rate European American women as more dissatisfied with their body figures than African American women of the same size. Sixty-eight college students participated in the study. Two pairs of nine slides, depicting European American and African American female figures of different sizes, were used. European American and African American figures were then paired according to body size. Differences between mean ratings for each European American and African American pair were assessed using paired samples t-tests. Findings indicated a significant difference in means for five of the pairs. Pairs of slim to slightly overweight figures pointed toward European American females as being rated as more dissatisfied with their bodies than African American females. The moderately overweight pair of figures pointed toward African American females as being rated as more dissatisfied with their bodies than European American females. Stereotypes of body types from different ethnicities are evident in this study.|
INTRODUCTION Women have always been judged by the appearance of their bodies, regardless of their ethnicity. They are considered faceless and as a result have more attention focused on their bodies (Wade, 1984). They are appreciated more for their sexual attractiveness than their intelligence, somewhat opposite of how men are portrayed (Wade, 1984), pressuring them to have a certain body shape. “Good looking women are described in terms of their physical attractiveness, their beauty, and their thinness” (Dittmar, Lloyd, Dugan, Halliwell, Jacobs, & Cramer, 2000). With the help of the media, society has influenced what is perceived as the ideal body figure, shaping the way adolescent females feel about their own bodies (Freedman, 1984, as cited by Bissell, 2002). Magazines in different societies depict the ideal female body differently. For example, Latin magazines portray the ideal body as more curvaceous when compared with American magazines. Australian magazines portray the ideal body as more voluptuous when compared to Japanese magazines. In North America, thinness is bliss. Expectations for thinness have been manufactured by the media for years on end (Bissell, 2000). This “ideal” body image has many females going to great lengths to achieve an ultra thin body figure. “Women are more attractive if they are petite and delicate” (Freedman, 1984, as cited by Molloy & Herzberger, 1998). However, this trend seems to affect European American women and Hispanic women more than African American women. In a study by Thomas (1989) on body image satisfaction among African American females, although the ideal body figures among them was noted as thinner, it was suggested that they were not really influenced by American beauty norms. African American women did not see thinness as a primary factor in physical appearance. Adkins (1999) suggested that Black women were not affected by “thin” media messages like White women were. “White females had a greater fear of becoming fat, were more concerned about dieting and being thin, and were more dissatisfied with their bodies than Black females” (Adkins, 1999). In a study by Henriques, Calhourn, and Cann (1996), African American women were found to have higher levels of body satisfaction and preferred to have heavier body weights. It was also found that African American women were not as affected by social feedback on their bodies, that European American women were affected differently and were more prone to criticism (Henriques, Calhourn, & Cann, 1996). African American women do not deem thinness as a main characteristic of physical attractiveness. With regard to the fondness of different body shapes and sizes, extremely thin bodies are considered unattractive (Bissell, 2002). Bissell (2002) found in this study that very thin swimsuit and lingerie models whose ribs were showing were considered by the participants to be less attractive than the other models whose ribs were not as pronounced. European American women had a stronger preference to look like very thin models than African American women (Bissell, 2002). It was suggested in this study that the media has not targeted African American women with their messages, and that European American women have more role models who depict thinness as essential toward success (Bissell, 2000). “African Americans are more likely to have certain protective factors that shield them from developing low self-esteem and distorted body images. Such factors allow them to be more satisfied with their body, regardless of its size and shape” (Molloy & Herzberger, 1998). Bissell (2002) stated European American males and females were the most critical when assessing overweight models. “European American women also had the least desire to look like the overweight models, whereas African American women had more positive attitudes about the overweight models” (Bissell, 2000). Past studies have focused more on females’ ideal body image within their ethnic and cultural group and observed if they perceived their own body image to be thinner or fatter than they actually were. Past studies have also concentrated on females’ satisfaction with their own bodies. Surprisingly, less research has focused on how women and men with different racial backgrounds perceive the ideal bodies of other ethnicities and cultures. Do stereotypes play a role in the varying body ideals across ethnic lines? From this perspective, it was hypothesized that if people were shown figures of various female body sizes and different ethnicities, they would then rate European American women as more dissatisfied with their body figures than African American women of the same size. The main variables in this study were the ethnicities and the different body sizes of the body figures altered to represent African American and European American women, which were adapted from the Stunkard Body Image Scale. This study provided information that examined if individuals from various ethnicities held stereotypical views when they viewed the body figures of women from different ethnicities.
METHODParticipantsA total of 68 undergraduate college students from Loyola University New Orleans volunteered to participate. There were 15 and 32 European American males and females respectively. There were also 5 and 6 African American males and females in that order, including 10 participants of other ethnicities. The minimum age to participate was 18 years. Convenience sampling was used. Participants were recruited from on-campus organizations, the Psychology Department Human Participant Pool, and classes after Instructor permission was obtained. Those recruited from the Psychology Human Participant Pool received extra credit from their instructors for participating.MaterialsMaterials included a list of instructions, an informed consent form, figures adapted from the Stunkard Body Image Scale and a demographic questionnaire. The figures were placed on slides to represent varying body shapes and sizes of the female figures and were colored in (brown or left neutral) to resemble either European American or African American women. A total of 18 figures were shown, one on each slide. For each figure, the statement: “I think this woman is satisfied with her body” was rated on a 5-point Likert Scale. The Likert Scale ranged from “1” to “5”, with “1” being “Strongly Agree” and “5” being “Strongly Disagree”. Participants were also asked to answer “Yes” or “No” to the ideal body image question, “It is possible that I gave women of the same size, but different ethnicities, different satisfaction ratings.” A copy of the materials is included in the appendix of this paper.Design and ProcedureThe design used was a quasi-experimental design. The variables were the ethnicities and the body sizes of the female body figures. There was no control group. It compared the variables of this study with slides altered to resemble different sizes of European American and African American women. Convenient sampling was used. The viewing of the slides was projected in a classroom on an overhead projector. For the procedure, all participants were given two copies of the informed consent form. The form listed the telephone number of the counseling center on campus. After the consent forms were filled out, they were given a demographic survey. After the demographic survey was completed and collected, participants were shown eighteen slides adapted from the Stunkard Body Image Scale. The slides were shown in predetermined order. Participants rated the slides on a 5-point Likert Scale to the statement: “I think this woman is satisfied with her body”. The researcher then debriefed the participants. They were told the study investigated stereotypes on body ideals. Questions were then answered.
RESULTS In paired samples t-tests, the variables were the ethnicities and the body sizes of the female body figures. The hypothesis stated that if people were shown figures of various female body sizes and different ethnicities, they would then rate European American women as more dissatisfied with their body figures than African American women of the same size. To address this hypothesis, a European American and an African American figure of each size were paired together (see Appendix B). The means of each pair were compared using paired samples t-tests to see if there was any difference between the satisfaction ratings given. Mean satisfaction ratings and standard deviations for all figures are shown in Table 1. Paired samples t-tests across all the participants specified there was a significant difference in the means of Pair 2, Pair 3, Pair 5, Pair 6, and Pair 7. There was no significant difference in the means of Pair 1, Pair 4, Pair 8, and Pair 9. Results of these t-tests are shown in Table 1.
DISCUSSION It was hypothesized in the study that if people were shown figures of various female body sizes and different ethnicities, they would then rate European American women as more dissatisfied with their body figures than African American women of the same size. The hypothesis was supported by the results of the present study, indicating there was a significant difference in 55.56% of the means between each pair of figures. This suggests that stereotypes of body shapes of the different ethnicities were present. People do hold different body ideals for different races. Pair 1, 8 & 9 showed no significant differences between the means of each pair of figures. A possible explanation for this is when the figure displayed is either extremely thin or extremely overweight, no one is going to feel that the figure is satisfied with her body. This explanation is consistent with previous studies (Bissell, 2000) which noted that swimsuit and lingerie models whose ribs were showing were considered more unattractive than models whose ribs were not as pronounced. Also, European Americans were most critical when assessing overweight models (Bissell, 2000). It seemed European American figures were rated as significantly more dissatisfied with their bodies for Pairs 2, 3, 5, & 6, but Pair 7 was inversely significant. African American figures were noted as more dissatisfied with their bodies than European American figures when the figures shown were greatly overweight. It is possible the reason the results of Pair 7 was not consistent with the hypothesis of this study was due to a contrast effect; the two figures shown before that were in the direction of the thinner figures of the body scale. One of the main limitations to this study was that because convenience sampling was used, there was an unequal number of participants from each race. There were two female researchers. One was African American and the other was European American. There was also a male Eurasian. Out of 69 participants, one participant’s data was disposed of as the participant found the satisfaction rating question confusing. Another shortcoming of this study was that the slides of the figures shown were shuffled at random and the order was predetermined before the commencement of the tests. In hindsight, the study was confounded as it was not counterbalanced. Improvements in future research should include an equal number of participants from each ethnicity being observed. This would yield more accurate results and could be better generalized to the population. Having the same researcher/s be present for all testing sessions would control for some extraneous variables. For example, the present study had both an African American and a European American researcher. There could have been socially desirable responses from the participants if the African American or the European American researcher was the only one present, as participants would not want to appear prejudice. Another recommendation, there are 18 slides altogether. Executing a Latin Square to balance the order the slides were shown would give the study more control. Lastly, it is suggested realistic pictures of females be used in the future. For example, changing the skin tone of the “model figure” to represent figures from different races would be more realistic. In conclusion, the purpose of this research was to determine if people held stereotypical views for female figures of different ethnicities, and if people would rate European American women as more dissatisfied with their bodies than African American women of the same size. The hypothesis was moderately supported with participants giving different ratings of figures of the same size but of different ethnicities 55.56% of the time. Stereotypes of body types from different ethnicities are evident in this study. The findings of this study imply that European American females are stereotyped as being more dissatisfied with their bodies than African American females. This is microcosmic of the stereotypes evident in American society. Future studies in the field should pay more attention to stereotypes on body types, pertaining not just to European American and African American females, but also to males and other ethnicities.
REFERENCESAdkins, J.A. (1999). Race as a Predictor of Body Image Satisfaction and Body-Size Preference in Female College Students. Retrieved November 29, 2002, from http://www.uncc.edu/psychology/UJOP/UJOP%201999/Adkins%201999.htmlBissell, K. L. (2002, April). I Want To Be Thin, Like You: gender and race as predictors of cultural expectations for thinness and attractiveness in women. Visual Communication Quarterly/Spring. News Photographer, 57, 4-11.Demarest, J., Allen, R. (2000, August). Body Image: Gender, Ethnic, and Age Differences. The Journal of Social Psychology, 140, 465-472.Dittmar, H., Lloyd, B., Dugan, S., Halliwell, E., Jacobs, N., Cramer, H. (2000, May). The “Body Beautiful: English Adolescents’ Images of Ideal Bodies. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 887.Henriques, G. R., Calhourn, L. G., Cann, A. (1996, December). Ethnic differences in women’s body satisfaction: an experimental investigation. Journal of Social Psychology, 136, 689- 698.Molloy, B. L., Herzberger, D. (1998, April). Body Image and Self Esteem: a comparison of African-American and Caucasian women. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 38, 631-644.Stunkard, A. J., Sorenson, T., Schulsinger, F. (1983). Use of the Danish adoption register for the study of obesity and thinness. The Genetics of Neurological and Psychiatric Disorders,115-120.Thomas, V.G. (1989, February). Body-image satisfaction among black women. The Journal of Social Psychology, 129, 107-112.Wade, C. (1984, March). Female and Faceless. Psychology Today, 18,15.
Submitted 12/12/2002 7:03:43 AM
Last Edited 12/12/2002 12:49:39 PM
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