Body Dissatisfaction

Body  dissatisfaction  is  the  negative  subjective evaluation  of  one’s  body  as  it  relates  to  body size,  shape,  muscularity  or  muscle  tone,  weight, and  fitness.  Body  dissatisfaction  is  considered  to be  an  important  negative  affective  factor  related to  body  image.  Typically,  dissatisfaction  involves a  perceived  discrepancy  between  one’s  current body  and  one’s  ideal  body  that  fosters  negative emotions and discontent. Body dissatisfaction has been viewed as normative and has received growing research attention during recent decades. The surge in popularity is due in part to the increasing prevalence worldwide, as well as implications for the development of a range of maladaptive behaviors and emotions, such as decreases in self-esteem, self-regulations,  physical  activity,  happiness,  optimism,  pride,  and  increases  in  disordered  eating, depressive symptoms, and body-related shame and guilt.

Sociocultural Effects

Pressures  for  women  to  be  thin  and  fit,  and  for men  to  be  lean  and  muscular,  can  originate  from numerous  sources,  including  the  media,  parents, siblings,  partners,  and  peers.  These  sources  may provide  direct  or  indirect  pressures  to  attain  the desirable physique.

Sociocultural pressures to attain a socially desirable  physique  are  considered  important  risk  factors  for  body  dissatisfaction.  In  particular,  media awareness,  knowledge  of  ideals  as  presented  by the  media,  or  actions  taken  or  comments  made by  family,  partners,  and  friends  to  encourage  a socially desirable physique are important facets of the sociocultural pressure to conform to the ideal body. Researchers have concluded that even short-term  exposure  to  idealized  media  images  of  men and  women’s  bodies  can  lead  to  increased  body dissatisfaction in both sexes. Theory and research also  support  modeling  and  negative  communication  as  vehicles  through  which  family  and  peers may  influence  body  dissatisfaction.  Nonetheless, the relationship between mass media and body dissatisfaction  is  complex,  multiply  determined,  and bidirectional.  It  is  important  to  recognize  that  a number  of  individual  differences  (internalization of the ideal physique, social comparison tendency, identification  with  models,  appearance  information,  and  critical  body  image  processing)  may moderate sociocultural pressures.

Gender Differences

One  of  the  most  consistent  findings  in  the  literature is that women are significantly more dissatisfied with their bodies than men. Higher prevalence rates  are  reported  for  women  compared  to  men across the lifespan and geographic region. Upward of 90% of girls and women are dissatisfied with at least  one  aspect  of  their  physiques,  with  elevated body  weight  and  size  typically  ranking  the  highest. Nonetheless, body dissatisfaction among men is on the rise. Some researchers have reported that over  90%  of  men  also  experience  some  degree of  body  dissatisfaction.  Contrary  to  the  findings for women, men’s body dissatisfaction focuses on muscularity and involves both ends of the weight continuum. That is, some men want to lose weight, while others want to gain weight.

Despite apparent gender differences, it is important to note that the majority of body dissatisfaction measures focus on evaluations of weight and shape  at  the  expense  of  muscularity.  Therefore, most  measures  of  body  dissatisfaction  do  not adequately assess typical concerns of men. It is difficult to draw concrete conclusions regarding gender differences in body dissatisfaction until the full spectrum  of  appearance  and  fitness  evaluations represented by both men and women is considered.

Age

Body  dissatisfaction  can  manifest  at  a  very  early age.  Survey  findings  suggest  a  significant  proportion  of  young  children  express  dissatisfaction with their bodies, but levels in childhood are relatively  low  compared  with  adolescence  and  adulthood. Generally, girls experience heightened body dissatisfaction  at  puberty,  which  intensifies  during  adolescence.  The  normal  physical  changes  of increased  weight  and  body  fat  push  girls  further away from the cultural ideal of a thin and fit physique. Typically, dissatisfaction in women remains relatively  stable  throughout  adulthood.  In  older adulthood,  some  women  report  heightened  dissatisfaction  with  physical  functioning  aspects  of their  bodies  in  addition  to  age-related  deficits  in appearance.  The  impact  of  aging  on  men  is  less consistent. Boys go through a short phase of relative  dissatisfaction  with  appearance  in  early  adolescence, but the physical changes associated with puberty shortly bring them closer to the masculine ideal  (increased  height  and  muscularity,  broader shoulders). Similar to women, dissatisfaction plateaus during adulthood; however, some men may experience  a  period  of  discontent  around  middle age  (“male  menopause”).  Similar  to  their  female counterparts,  males  place  greater  investments  in fitness and health as they age.

One  of  the  issues  in  comparing  different  age groups  with  each  other  using  a  cross-sectional design  is  that  historical  or  cultural  ideals  and experiences vary across time. Research in this area needs to use longitudinal studies that track cohorts over time as they age.

Sexual Orientation

Given the emphasis on appearance within the gay subculture,  considerable  research  has  shown  that gay boys and men constitute a group particularly vulnerable  to  body  dissatisfaction.  Homosexual men tend to report higher levels of body dissatisfaction compared with heterosexual men, whereas homosexual  women  have  reported  less  body  dissatisfaction than heterosexual women.

Ethnicity

There are reported ethnic differences in body dissatisfaction among individuals from Western countries. This paradigm of ethnic differences suggests one’s  meaning  of  the  body  is  based  on  cultural and  social  group  contexts.  Most  studies  investigating  ethnic  differences  concentrate  on  women. Body dissatisfaction is most frequent in Caucasian women  and  less  frequent  in  Black  women;  however,  this  difference  is  small.  Although  research published in the 1990s reported that Hispanic and Asian  women  are  typically  more  satisfied  with their bodies than Caucasian women, new evidence suggests  that  there  are  minimal  or  no  differences between  Caucasian  women  and  women  of  other ethnic origins. Researchers targeting variations in body dissatisfaction across ethnic groups indicate that  Hispanic  women  are  slightly  more  dissatisfied with their bodies compared to Black women. There  is  less  work  on  ethnic  differences  in  men’s dissatisfaction, although there is general agreement that Black men report higher levels of satisfaction than  Caucasian  men  and  have  heavier  body  ideals  for  women  and  men  than  do  Caucasian  men. Overall,  there  may  be  less  ethnic  difference  in dissatisfaction than was once thought.

Relationship Status

Generally,  people  in  stable,  long-term  relationships  are  more  satisfied  with  their  bodies  than those who are single. This applies to all ages. With regard  to  less  formal  relationships,  body  dissatisfaction is more prevalent among adolescents who report lower quality of friendship and perceive less social support and less acceptance by peers. Also, women  across  the  lifespan  have  reported  quality peer relationships and social support protect them from body dissatisfaction.

Pregnancy

Several   studies   have   indicated   that   pregnant women have more positive views about their body than  nonpregnant  women.  Even  though  pregnant  women  may  still  value  the  thin  and  fit  cultural  body  ideal,  their  concerns  about  failing  to match  this  ideal  are  typically  reduced  during  this life  event.  Nonetheless,  postpregnancy  introduces many  body  image  concerns  focused  on  excess weight  and  lack  of  muscle  tone.  The  prevailing emphasis  on  achieving  prepregnancy  weight  and body shape may exacerbate body dissatisfaction.

Body Dissatisfaction, Sport, and Physical Activity

Generally,  body  dissatisfaction  can  act  as  both  a motivator  and  deterrent  for  sport  and  physical activity  participation.  Several  researchers  have noted  that  participating  in  sport  and  exercise may  serve  as  a  protective  function  against  feelings of body dissatisfaction. Physical activity can also improve older adults’ perceptions of the body by increasing perceptions of mastery of the body and refocusing attention onto health, fitness, and body  function  and  away  from  concerns  about physical  appearance.  Nonetheless,  the  relationship  between  body  dissatisfaction  and  physical activity  varies  with  the  sport  and  cultural  context.  Some  aesthetic  sports,  such  as  gymnastics, cheerleading, and ballet, place high importance on the  culturally  derived  ideal  body.  In  these  cases, it is not uncommon for individuals to experience higher  levels  of  discontent  related  to  their  body. Furthermore, some athletes report lower body dissatisfaction in the context of their sport, whereby their  physiques  have  functional  sport-specific value  but  greater  body  dissatisfaction  outside  of sport, where their athletic physiques are inconsistent  with  ideal  societal  standards  of  appearance and  body  shape.  Less  is  known  about  the  dose– response  relationship  between  physical  activity and body dissatisfaction.

References:

  1. Campbell, A., & Hausenblas, H. A. (2009). Effects of exercise interventions on body image: A meta-analysis. Journal of Health Psychology, 14, 780–793.
  2. Cash, T. F., & Smolak, L. (2011). Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention. New York: Guilford Press.
  3. Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2006). Ethnicity and body dissatisfaction among women in the United States: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 622–640.
  4. Swami, V., Frederick, D. A., Aavik, T., Alcalay, L., Allik, J., Anderson, D., et al. (2010). The attractive female body weight and female body dissatisfaction in 26 countries across 10 world regions: Results of the International Body Project I. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 309–326.

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