Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Sex Differences in Social Comparison and Comparison Motives in Body Image Process

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Sex Differences in Social Comparison and Comparison Motives in Body Image Process

Article excerpt

Body image is a frequently studied topic because of its devastating effects, such as lowered self-esteem, eating disorders, depression, feelings of inferiority and insecurity, and anxiety (Botta, 1999; Brodie & Slade, 1988; Harrison, 2000; Harrison & Cantor, 1997; Newman & Dodd, 1995; Nezlek, 1999; Stice, 1998; Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw, & Stein, 1994; Stice & Shaw, 1994). Typically, the body image process occurs as one's subjective concept of his/her physical appearance based on self-observation and the reactions of others is formed. The most significant source of body image problems has been identified as the media's portrayals of thin-ideal. The media promotes unrealistically thin bodies as the most ideal and attractive, which leads to a negative impact on an individuals' body satisfaction (Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002).

Numerous studies (see Botta, 1999; Brodie, Slade & Riley, 1991; Lin & Kulik, 2002; Richins, 1991) including a meta analysis that incorporated 156 studies (Myers & Crowther, 2009) have identified social comparison (Festinger, 1954) as one of the most influential elements in the body image process. However, not everyone who is exposed to media's thin ideal becomes involved in the social comparison process. There must be variables that affect each individual's level of engagement in social comparison that produces the subsequent body image process.

Recently, Sohn (in press) produced a model that showed how different types of social comparison motives would function as predictors of one's engagement in social comparison. One notable finding from that study is the significant effect of sex as a variable that initiates the process. However, that model does not explain how those motives can function differently within men's and women's body image processes and if such differences are significant. Even though the model identifies the specific functions of social comparison motives for both men and women combined, it does not explain if there is any significant effect of sex in men's and women's social comparison in body image process.

There have been very few distinctions made between men's and women's social comparison processes within the body image context. Yet, social comparison is considered as one of the key variables in the body image process. Therefore, if the social comparison process and the functions of comparison motives are different between men and women, then the way we approach the body image issue and the way we try to intervene must be different when dealing with male population versus female population.

Thus, the main purpose of this study is to investigate potential sex differences in social comparison and functions of the comparison motives. Doing so will provide deeper understandings of 1) how the comparison motives function differently between men's and women's social comparison process, and 2) how the produced social comparison process can affect men's and women's body image process differently. The answers from this study will lead to a better understanding of how social comparison process can differ between men and women in body image process. Once we know more about the effects of sex in social comparison and body image process, we can develop better and more effective ways to address this important social and cultural issue that affects both men and women.

Social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954) suggests that people will compare themselves to others (including those portrayed in the mass media) who they believe represent what is ideal and socially desirable. Furthermore, when people are exposed to various body images, they automatically engage in the social comparison process without even knowing that they are doing so (Botta, 1999). Bessenoff (2006) confirmed the impact of social comparison as a mediating variable between exposure to thin models in advertising and resulting negative consequences (i. …

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