Hot or Not; the Reality of Body Image Perceptions in the 21st

Hot or Not; the Reality of Body Image Perceptions in the 21st (PDF)

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Summary of Hot or Not; the Reality of Body Image Perceptions in the 21st

Abilene Christian University Digital Commons @ ACU Honors College ACU Student Research, Theses, Projects, and Dissertations 5-2017 Hot or Not: the Reality of Body Image Perceptions in the 21st Century for Female College Students Raychel Duncan Follow this and additional works at: This Thesis is brought to you for free and open access by the ACU Student Research, Theses, Projects, and Dissertations at Digital Commons @ ACU. It has been accepted for inclusion in Honors College by an authorized administrator of Digital Commons @ ACU. Recommended Citation Duncan, Raychel, "Hot or Not: the Reality of Body Image Perceptions in the 21st Century for Female College Students" (2017). Honors College. 25. Hot or Not: the Reality of Body Image Perceptions in the 21st Century for Female College Students An Honors College Project Thesis Presented to The School of Social Work Abilene Christian University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for Honors Scholar by Raychel Duncan May 2017 Copyright 2017 Raychel Duncan ALL RIGHTS RESERVED No portion of this work may be reproduced without written permission of the author. This Project Thesis, directed and approved by the candidate’s committee, has been accepted by the Honors College of Abilene Christian University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for this distinction HONORS SCHOLAR _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Dr. Jason Morris, Dean of the Honors College _________________ Date Advisory Committee _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Professor Amy Kalb, Committee Chair _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Dr. Stephanie Hamm, Committee Member _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Dr. Stephen Baldridge, Committee Member _____________________________________________________________________________________________ Dr. Stephen Baldridge, Department Head HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 4 Abstract Everyone looks in the mirror at some point in their lives, and they do not feel fully satisfied with what they see. Maybe it is their weight or their hair color or perhaps their height—there is always something that “needs” to be changed. College-age women seem especially impacted by negative body image perceptions. Research shows that this desire to look like and be something different is often brought on from societal pressures, social media and familial opinions and comments. The existing research often looks at why women are dissatisfied with their looks but not routinely at what specific impacts this dissatisfaction has on their daily lives. This study looked at the body image perceptions of 65 female college students from a private, southwestern university to see how they felt their body image has impacted various areas of their lives. A survey that utilized open- ended questions sought to gain a better and more descriptive understanding of how college women truly feel about their body image. The resulting qualitative data was analyzed, and results showed that negative body image impacted the respondents’ self- esteem and self-perception. Results also showed that these negative body perceptions had a major impact on how the participants function in their social and daily lives. A full review of this study’s findings in relation to the existing literature will be discussed. HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 5 Introduction to Body Image Body image, self-esteem, and the fear of not being good enough, are issues that a majority of people face throughout their lifetime. These fears and insecurities impact many aspects of a person’s life from their relationships with their families, interactions among friend groups and possible romantic relationships that will arise as they continue to grow. Body image perceptions are major forces that impact one’s life and relationships; at the same time it is these same relationships that have immense impacts on how one perceives their own body. Literature Review What is Body Image? Body image is a multidimensional mental process focused on the way one physically looks (Cash, 2004), or how one feels about their perceptions of themselves. Body image is an aspect of life that everyone encounters at some point or another; it interacts with and affects other factors of life too. For example, body image and self- esteem many times are seen working with each other. Self-esteem can be first defined as how a person feels they are viewed or perceived by others, and secondly, how said person feels about themselves in meaningful areas of their life (Harter, 1990). Many times body image perceptions interact with the first component of self-esteem; the way that someone believes they are perceived has a massive impact on how they perceive themselves and how they act around others. How Do Negative Body Image Perceptions Arise? Social anxiety stems from one having low self-esteem; it is defined as fear of being social due to possible negative critiques from peers causing a fear of vulnerability HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 6 (Hinrichsen, Wright, Waller, & Meyer, 2003). This type of anxiety can come in two forms, a physical form and an appearance form. The first, social physique anxiety is about one’s physical health and composition, while the other is about one’s analysis of their outward appearance (White & Warren, 2014); both forms of anxiety can stem from negative body image perceptions or low self-esteem. So much of society today contributes to social anxiety; it is said that women are more likely to feel objectified sexually and therefore vulnerable in society (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). The media also promotes a made up ideal of what the “perfect body” is for the female population that young women feel they must live up to and has been shown to increase body dissatisfaction (Bell & Dittmar, 2011). These women have begun to accept this media representation as a true reality to try and achieve (Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008), and allowed it to bleed into their own thoughts regarding their sexual and bodily functions, specifically in reference to their menstrual cycles. Some researchers found that the shame that some women associate with their period relates to an overall negative body image, and even lessens chances of physical intimacy during their cycle each month (Wiederman M. W., 2002). Modern society has led women to believe that a biological process that is out of their control is something to be ashamed of and to be suffered in silence. Negative body image perceptions are issues that can be experienced throughout the length of one’s life; however, research has shown that college-age women deal with this issue more consistently, and generally feel as if they weigh more than they actually do (Mintz & Kashubeck, 1999), most likely because of the societal pressures that they face every day. When asked to choose an ideal body type many college women chose a HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 7 body type that was extremely muscular and would take copious amounts of exercise to achieve (Lenart, Bailey, Goldberg, Dallal, & Koff, 1995). It has also been reported that when women appreciate their bodies, it increases their chances of well-being psychologically, such as self-esteem and life satisfaction (Iannantuono & Tylka, 2012). Impact of Family and Friends Families and body image. Body image perceptions can begin at a young age, and much of one’s familial relationships influence what kind of body image perceptions one will have. Research has shown that support from family members has a massive impact on having a positive body image (Snapp, Hensley-Choate, & Ryu, 2012). Those who grow up with proper emotional development, support systems and communication skills (Snapp et al., 2012) are more likely to have a positive perception of their body image in the future and are more likely to carry on that way of thinking to their children. Some researchers have explored the opposite end as well, and their results showed that families with negative connections showed a greater instance of maternal modeling on their daughters’ body image, as well as the way they eat (Kichler & Crowther, 2001). This shows that not only does one’s family impact their body perception, but the ways they react to it as well. Familial remarks are some of the defining moments for one’s development of their body image perception while they are growing up. They carry this perception on into adulthood, which, if negative, can have an impact on the emergence of other issues such as eating disorders. Friends and body image. So much of a friend group’s dynamic and how one chooses who their friends are seem to pertain to body image, especially for females. Because of the importance of having attractive friends on social media (Perloff, 2014), so HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 8 much of how one incorporates oneself into a friend group is based off of the physical appearance of the other members. Also with social media, it has been said that young women satisfy their need for validation by comparing their pictures on Instagram to pictures of friends that they deem less attractive (Perloff, 2014). Social media has become the platform that young women use to validate themselves, and if someone has more likes or comments it decreases their self-worth and makes them perceive themselves in a more negative manner. Not only do young women compare themselves to others online or through their private thoughts, but research has shown that: Groups displaying higher levels of body image concern and weight-loss behaviors (a) reported more talking about weight loss and dieting with their friends, (b) reported comparing their bodies more often with others, (c) reported receiving more teasing from friends about weight and shape, (d) reported friends as being more important in their decisions to diet, and (e) perceived their friends to be more preoccupied with dieting and weight loss. (Paxton, Schutz, Wertheim, & Muir, 1999) It has become common in today’s society to constantly discuss and compare body types and for like minded and those similar in appearance to congregate together. The friends that one surrounds oneself with has a major impact on their lifestyle; it is said that attitudes from friends and peers has a significant impact on the prediction of one’s individual body image (Paxton et al., 1999), as well as attitudes towards other peers’ appearances. This being said, not all friendship circles instigate negative body image perceptions. Many people who have high social interactions and good friend HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 9 support systems are more likely to have high self-esteem (Kong & You, 2013), leading to more postivie perceptions of oneself, less likelihood of low life satisfaction and lower risk of eating disorders. Body Image and Romantic Relationships Commonly viewed as one of the most influential factors to body image perceptions for young women are their romantic relationships; women’s body image is a major factor before, during, and after relationships have taken place. In one study, some female participants stated that their partners gave meaningful comments about their weight in both negative and positive ways; some also said that their partners had compared them to other women physically, also in positive and negative ways (Goldsmith & Byers, 2016). Because of society’s current idea of the perfect body type, men’s comments and society’s standards seem to work together to develop poor body image perceptions among women (Woertman & Brink, 2012). These stigmas pointed at the female population by potential partners have horrifying impacts to a woman’s self-esteem and body image perceptions. Because of society’s ideal that all women should be “unrealistically thin” (Bell & Dittmar, 2011), fuller-bodied women, and anyone else not deemed normal by society, are at a greater risk to be stigmatized (Crandall, 1994), and lose opportunities to find relationships with heterosexual partners. This worldwide method of “fat-shaming” and “body-shaming” anyone who does not fit society’s model of the “perfect body” is a major catalyst for the social anxiety defined earlier. This anxiety leads to women electing not to go to social functions or places where they could be stared at and inspected by men (Wiederman & Hurst, 1998), which almost guarantees that relationships will not be formed. HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 10 Studies focusing on freshman female college students show that they may become more self-conscious because of continuing to compare themselves to their peers, and because of an increased need to find a romantic partner (Gillen & Lefkowitz, 2006). This comparative model of looking at peers greatly increases negative thoughts of one’s own body because there will always be something that needs to be changed or someone that they believe is more attractive than they are. Beyond dating and the initial steps in the relationship process, research has shown that negative body image perceptions generally become more prevalent during sexual activities (Weaver & Byers, 2006). This finding, combined with the implications of negative body image perceptions, leads to growing statistics of females who are self- conscious, uncomfortable and nervous during intercourse with their partner. One study stated that females who were more self-conscious about their breasts were more likely to try and keep themselves covered during sexual activity with a partner (Wiederman M. W., 2002). An act that is meant to bring about partner intimacy and connection has now become a nerve-inducing act of trying to bring pleasure to one’s partner while keeping their body covered because of the fear and hatred they feel for their body. Romantic relationships and sexual interactions are no longer based on multiple facets of one’s personality, attitude and appearance. Because of modern day societal stigmas and focus on body appearance only people deemed attractive generally have higher rates of sexual experience; having had greater sexual experience was a factor in achieving a more positive view of oneself (Wiederman M. W., 2002). A person’s own self-worth seems to stem solely from their perception of their appearance, and how they believe that they are viewed in society. Body image has become one of the deciding HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 11 factors in a person’s romantic life and sometimes, is the sole basis one uses when determining if they are good enough, or attractive enough, to be in a relationship. Purpose of Study This research study aims to answer the question: How does the way you perceive yourself impact your life? HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 12 Methodology Design: This research is a phenomenological qualitative study done through open-ended survey responses and groupings of common themes. Data: The data will show what ways a female college student’s perception of their body image impacts their day to day life and what factors from their life impact their body image perception. Data Collection Procedures: Data was collected through a survey given through SurveyMonkey. The link for the survey was sent out amongst ACU Facebook pages, ACU student emails, ACU faculty who sent the survey on to more ACU students, and the ACU Honor’s College who put the link to the survey in their newsletter. Participants: The research sample will be done through a volunteer sampling method. Participants must first agree to take the survey and complete the survey in its entirety before their data would be used for the total analysis. Instruments: Instruments used were SurveyMonkey, Facebok, ACU email servers and ACU faculty members. Data Analysis: After data is collected from SurveyMonkey, researchers will take away any responses provided from male participants and participants who are not ACU students. The remaining data will be grouped together with common themes that develop from the responses to the survey questions. HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 13 Results Survey responses came from 65 ACU female college students from a variety of demographics. Participants came from a variety of ethnicities and were between the ages of 17 and 41 years of age. Also, the participants all came from a mix of upper, middle and lower classes of economic status. Many of the participants were from Texas with only a few participants from other states, or even other countries. Despite this range of demographics, the results of the surveys still showcased some common themes in how body image impacted these students in their day to day lives and what factors in their lives further impacted the way that they view their bodies. How College Females Define Body Image Before delving into how body image impacts female college students, the researchers of this study first wanted to determine what female college students defined as “body image.” Results from the survey showed the common definition for body image is how one “perceives” or “feels” about their body. Participants expanded on this idea to describe how this perception can stem from negative stigmas from society and from inferred negative perceptions from other friends and peers. Some of the females who participated in this survey also discussed how their body image perceptions were displayed through negative thoughts about their own bodies which led to body confidence issues. One respondent stated that she defines body image as “how someone looks at their body. When [she] first looked at the question though, the first thing that popped into [her] head was fat girls looking at themselves in the mirror and crying.” Many responses discussed how one’s body image perception can be boiled down to weight and how fat someone thinks that they are. HOT OR NOT: THE REALITY OF BODY IMAGE 14 Participants stated how these perceptions are not always the reality of one’s true body image, but are based more on how they think they look and how they do not have the “perfect body” according to society which can lead to low self-esteem. They also kept in mind that body image can vary among different people because everyone’s bodies are different. Ultimately the definition of body image obtained from participants was a perception of self and the way that each individual person perceived they looked and fit into the society around them. Personal Thoughts on One’s Own Body Image By far one of the most repeated topics throughout the survey responses was about how much of one’s body image perception stemmed from their own inner thoughts and comparing themselves to other people. Many participants discussed feeling “self- conscious” and “insecure” about their bodies; they talked about how it affected them throughout the day, in class and at home. One participant stated that when she has days where she does not eat healthy or does not work out that she feels “self-disgust” and “guilty” because she had done something wrong. Some participants divulged their feelings of depression that stemmed from the way they looked at their body image. Overall, many of the comments described negative feelings about the way that the participants viewed their bodies and how thinking these negative thoughts about their body image was a direct hit to their self-esteem. Aside from feeling self-conscious about their body image, multiple women discussed the ways that they compare themselves to those around them and how these comparisons also impact how they view their body image. Participants verbalized how comparing themselves to others causes further negativity to impede their own body