Young women sometimes compare themselves to female ideals displayed in the media. With the oversaturation of thin models and actresses, it is not hard to see why many young women associate their sense of self-worth with their bodies. Body image can contribute to many positive and negative psychological outcomes for young women. Those who are comfortable with their bodies tend to have higher levels of self-esteem and care less about others’ opinions of them. Women who are dissatisfied with their body images may find themselves trying to achieve an unrealistic ideal and consider themselves less than acceptable if they fall short. There have been numerous studies examining the impact on body image, body satisfaction, female ideals, and self-esteem among young women. However, few studies have looked at how black women’s identification with female role models affects their body satisfaction levels compared to white women’s body satisfaction.
To compare these subjective perceptions, Dara N. Greenwood of the Department of Psychology at Vassar College in New York recently led a study that evaluated 141 young women’s body consciousnesses. The women were black and white and were asked what female media personalities’ bodies they admired. They were then assessed for levels of body surveillance, body satisfaction, and self-esteem. Greenwood found that the white women chose thin female personalities more often than average over heavy women and tended to engage in higher levels of body surveillance than the black women. Greenwood also observed that the more extreme the difference between the women’s body types and their favorite personalities’ body types, the higher the level of body dissatisfaction and body surveillance, regardless of race. “This suggests that the perceived discrepancy is not driven by ‘objective’ body size but rather a subjective positioning of the self, relative to media ideals,” Greenwood said. Although this research was limited by sample size, the results demonstrate that young women’s self-worth, body shame, and body satisfaction are significantly influenced by social ideals, and this relationship should be explored further to help identify those at risk for negative body-image problems such as eating and food issues.
Greenwood, D. N., Dal Cin, S. (2012). Ethnicity and body consciousness: Black and white American women’s negotiation of media ideals and others’ approval. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029411
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