Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Toward a Theoretical Model of Women's Body Image Resilience

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Toward a Theoretical Model of Women's Body Image Resilience

Article excerpt

Body image dissatisfaction is prevalent among girls and women. Girls as young as 6 years old experience negative body image, and there is evidence that women struggle with body concerns throughout the life cycle (Lewis & Cachelin, 2001; Smolak, 2002; Striegel-Moore & Franko, 2002). In fact, women in mid-life and as older adults report dissatisfaction with their body and are dieting to lose weight (Whitbourne & Skultety, 2002). It is becoming increasingly clear that there is a normative discontent (Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1985) that women experience with regard to their body.

Body image experiences can adversely affect a woman's quality of life, because the amount of time, energy, and money she spends on beauty enhancement can restrict her opportunities to develop other aspects of her identity (Strachan & Cash, 2002; Striegel-Moore & Franko, 2002). There is a relationship between negative body image and a variety of psychosocial problems. First, body image dissatisfaction is among the most empirically supported risk factors for maladaptive eating practices (Cooley & Toray, 2001). Second, negative body image is associated with poor self-esteem, anxiety about social evaluation, public self-consciousness, depression, and sexual inhibition (Ackard, Kearney-Cooke, & Peterson, 2000; Lavin & Cash, 2000; Wiederman & Pryor, 2000). Finally, body image dissatisfaction is the primary precursor for the development of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia (Polivy & Herman, 2002).

Although considerable research has been dedicated to the study of eating disorders, there is less literature available for counselors regarding the daily, lived experiences of millions of women who struggle with body image concerns (Striegel-Moore & Cachelin, 1999). There is also a dearth of research that has examined the protective factors that buffer some women from the development of negative body image (Cash, 2002; Striegel-Moore & Cachelin, 1999; Taylor & Altman, 1997). If approximately half of all women are dissatisfied with their weight and overall appearance (Cash, 2002; Muth & Cash, 1997), then questions remain regarding the other half of women who do not develop concerns with their body. Cash (2002) argued for a paradigm shift away from the study of body image as pathology and proposed a move toward understanding "the trajectories whereby people create fulfilling experiences of embodiment" (p. 45). This shift should examine the role of protective factors and resilience by exploring the life experiences and personality traits that build resistance to strong cultural pressures that influence women to be dissatisfied with their body (Cash & Pruzinsky, 2002). Specialists in the prevention field have also called for research regarding body image resilience. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (Reiss & Price, 1996; Taylor & Altman, 1997), prevention initiatives in the area of eating disorders should emphasize the ways in which protective factors can be targeted and enhanced in girls and women.

Because counselors possess a prevention focus and an orientation toward normal growth and development, they are well situated to take the lead in designing approaches that strengthen protective factors. The counseling profession's emphasis on wellness and holistic approaches that build on the positive resources of clients (Gale & Austin, 2003; Myers, Sweeney, & White, 2002; Myers, Sweeney, & Witmer, 2000) can also be aligned with research and interventions regarding resilience. By understanding the experiences of the sizeable minority of women who develop a positive body image, counselors can more effectively work to enhance protective factors in their prevention and counseling interventions with all girls and women. The purpose of this article is to first conduct a review of recent literature related to the development of body image in girls and women. …

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