Body Image Dissatisfaction and Eating Disturbance among Korean College Female Students: Relationships to Media Exposure, Upward Comparison, and Perceived Reality

Article excerpt

Traditionally Koreans had preferred a round face and somewhat chubby body figure in woman, and such attributes were considered to bring fortune. However, young females in Korea today seem to be captivated with having a thin body like models in fashion magazines. The recent survey with 469 Korean female college students found that 55.9% of respondents belonged to the underweight category, 42% to the normal weight range, and only 2.6% were in the overweight category (Yim, 1996). Also 74% of the respondents in the underweight category expressed that they needed to lose more weight to look attractive, and 57.4% of them said that they had engaged in excessive diet. Furthermore, 4.1% of females were taking laxatives and diet pills to control weight. The rising significance of the "thin ideal" is apparent to our perception of beauty. For example, most of participants in the Miss Korea Pageant were reported to be in the underweight range and to show an index of nutritive deficiency. Their Body Mass Index (BMI) marked around 15-19 when the BMI for the normal weight is 20-25.

Health professionals expressed that wanting a thin body has become a societal obsession, and it can be a very serious health threat to young Korean females. They warned that excessive diet could result in negative consequences such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and osteoporosis. Media critics and health professionals tended to claim that the "thin ideal" have been cultivated by media presentations of extremely thin characters or models, and such presentations have provided unrealistic goals to young females. As a result, females may have negative body image and experience serious eating disturbances and psychological problems.

Media Effects Research on Body Image and Eating Disturbances

Numerous studies looked at the effects of media presentations of thin characters or models found that exposure to thin media images had negative effects on viewers' body image dissatisfaction and eating disturbance, regardless of the type of media exposure (i.e., a single, direct experimental exposure or survey of the amount of exposure) (Harrison & Cantor, 1997; Heinberg & Thompson, 1995; Irving, 1990; Meyers & Biocca, 1992; Richins, 1991; Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw & Stein, 1994; Stice & Shaw, 1994). A meta-analysis conducted by Herret-Skjellum & Allen (1996) demonstrated that TV programming generally depicts women in a stereotypical fashion. The study found evidence from analyzing 11 experimental studies that viewing of sexual stereotypes (i.e., emphasis on physical attractiveness for females) increased the endorsement or acceptance of such attitudes. However, as Herret-Skjellum & Allen rightly pointed out, these media effect studies seemed to fail to specify underlying mechanisms or mediating variables through which exposure to thin media images was translated to the attitudes or behaviors of viewers.

Recent studies of media effects on body image satisfaction and eating disturbance have shifted the focus of research from testing media effects to identifying possible mediating variables of the effects. Harrison (1997) introduced interpersonal attraction as a mediating variable in explaining the effects of "thin" media images on female viewers. She found that interpersonal attraction to thin media characters was the most significant predictor of a variety of eating disorders. Viewing "thin" TV shows was also positively related to college females' drive for thinness and anorexia. Reading fashion magazines, which contain extremely thin models, was positively related to general eating disturbance and body dissatisfaction. Harrison (1997) argued that the interpersonal attraction to thin characters may be associated with some sort of modeling behaviors, and such modeling may be positively related to eating disturbance. Thus the more attraction a female demonstrates to thin characters, the more likely she would show tendencies of eating disturbance. …

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