What leads to a positive body image

A new study has identified five factors that can help promote a positive body image in young women

Young girl admiring her reflection in the mirror
A positive body image is not about looking hot

If you thought that women who are conventionally good-looking must feel good about themselves, you’re wrong. According to a new study published online in Springer’s journal, Sex Roles, those women who are blessed with a strong family support and are not under pressure to achieve the ‘thin and beautiful’ ideal have a more positive body image.

A large number of women, especially in contemporary western cultures, are dissatisfied with their bodies and consequently at a risk of developing eating problems. The study, undertaken by Dr. Shannon Snapp, from the University of Arizona in the US, and colleagues, examined factors that make women more self-assured about their body image, in a bid to help those women at risk of eating disorders. They focussed on young college women as they most likely to experience self-consciousness when they compare themselves with peers or when they become involved in social groups and organisations that place a high value on appearance.

A total of 301 first-year college women completed questionnaires based on the Choate theoretical model. This model hypothesises that family support and low levels of pressure to attain the thin ideal are related to the rejection of the superwoman ideal, positive views of physical competence, and effective stress-busting strategies. These factors are associated with well-being, which in turn is linked to positive body image in women.

The researchers put this model to the test in a ‘real life’ situation. They found that young women with high family support and low levels of perceived socio-cultural pressure from family, friends and the media regarding the importance of achieving a ‘thin and beautiful’ ideal had a more positive body image. These same women also rejected the superwoman ideal, had a positive physical self-concept, and were armed with skills to deal with stress.

The authors conclude: “It is particularly important for women to develop a sense of self-worth that is not solely based on appearance, and to build resilience to pressures they may receive from family, friends and the media.”



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