Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Body Dissatisfaction in College Women: Identification of Risk and Protective Factors to Guide College Counseling Practices

Academic journal article Journal of College Counseling

Body Dissatisfaction in College Women: Identification of Risk and Protective Factors to Guide College Counseling Practices

Article excerpt

This study attempted to identify risk factors that are implicated in the body dissatisfaction of college women and the factors that may facilitate effective prevention and treatment efforts. Data collected from 215 female college students indicated that participants with (a) greater physical self-concept, (b) less drive for thinness, and (c) greater social self-esteem manifested less body dissatisfaction.

Eating-disordered behavior has become a common and troubling health concern regarding college-age students (Holston & Cashwell, 2000). Estimates of prevalence suggest that up to one third of adolescent girls and college-age women engage in some degree of eating-disordered behavior (Grigg, Bowman, & Redman, 1996; Joiner & Kashubeck, 1996). Counseling professionals believe that by preventing the onset of eating-disordered behaviors (e.g., using laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills; participating in excessive/ obligatory exercise or diet; and episodic bingeing and purging), clinical-level eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia can be prevented (Phelps, Dempsey, Sapia, & Nelson, 1999). As researchers, theorists, and practitioners continue to make great progress in investigating the etiology of eating disorders (Cooley & Toray, 2001), an improved understanding has developed of cultural, political, and historical influences, as well as the individual characteristics of women who struggle with eating-d isordered behavior. Yet a refined conceptualization of the most salient and disorder-specific etiological factors is needed to guide practitioners more efficiently in intervention and treatment efforts. Our study was designed to explore, both theoretically and empirically, the relationships among factors that are associated with body dissatisfaction, the single best predictor of eating-disordered behavior (Phelps, Dempsey, et al., 1999). Identification of these target variables, which are germane to preventing dissatisfaction with their bodies, may serve to inform eating-disorder prevention among college students. In postmodern, Westernized cultures, the expectations and roles for women are continuously evolving, thus complicating female self-definition and acceptance. Some researchers argue that as women have gained social status (i.e., rights, political power, and presence in the professional world), the media have presented the female ideal as increasingly thinner (e.g., Piran, 2001). To many people, the u nattainably thin ideal represents more than a preference for a body type: It symbolizes systemic disempowerment as well as the cultural tension surrounding changes in women's cultural status. Vandereycken (1993) termed this phenomenon "beauty politics of Western society" (p. 10). The message is that feminine hunger (or the pursuit of goals or aspirations) must be controlled (Gleason, 1995). This paradox between the movement to female power and the control exerted by the thin beauty ideal can become a personal issue for many college-age women as they strive to define and accept themselves, despite daily messages that they are too large.

The implications for today's college-age woman are many. Unfortunately, the thin ideal has been internalized by the majority of young women in the United States (Shaw & Waller, 1995; Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, & Stein, 1994; Toro, Salamero, & Martinez, 1994), an internalization that has been strongly linked to body dissatisfaction (James, Phelps, & Bross, 2001; Shaw & Waller, 1995; Stice et al., 1994; Toro et al., 1994). It seems that in a culture that celebrates thinness, "the private self looking [for acceptance] in the public mirror" often finds dissatisfaction (Vandereycken, 1993, p. 12). Research is consistent with theory. For example, path analysis has suggested a "causal" relationship between the media's presentation of the thin ideal and women's body dissatisfaction (Phelps, Johnston, & Augustyniak, 1999; Stice et al. …

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