Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Perceptions of Being a Woman and Strategies for Women's Body Image Resilience

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Perceptions of Being a Woman and Strategies for Women's Body Image Resilience

Article excerpt

There is an increasing body of research within the last ten years examining the influence of body image issues on women's self-esteem, self-worth, and mental health (Arroyo & Harwood, 2012; Calogero & Pina, 2011; Overstreet & Quinn, 2012; Tiggeman & Williams, 2012). However, this research appears to focus on establishing a solid foundation for understanding the ways in which negative body image can harm women and lacks focus on ways women can develop resilience. While there are a few studies on body image dissatisfaction that have evaluated strategies for coping and developing resiliency against body shame and guilt (Choate, 2005; McKee et al., 2013; Liimakka, 2011; Overstreet & Quinn, 2012; Snapp, Hensley-Choate, & Ryu, 2012; Watson, Robinson, Dispenza, & Nazari, 2012; Watson, Ancis, White, & Nazari, 2013) they have primarily utilized quantitative research methods. While this data represents a useful contribution towards developing counseling strategies to address body image issues, more qualitative research examining how women cope with, and develop resiliency against, negative body image is needed.

According to objectification theory, women often experience being treated as a collection of body parts, or just a body, that is valued primarily for how it can be used, or consumed, by others (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Over time, women can begin to internalize others' perspectives of themselves and begin to define themselves based on external perceptions through a process known as self-objectification (Moradi, 2010; Tiggemann & Williams, 2012). How persistently conscious a woman is about her appearance can be swayed by the presence of others, feeling below average compared to the people around her, the type of clothing she is wearing, and race. (Allen, Gervais, & Smith, 2013; Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, Reynard, Skouteris, & McCabe, 2012; Katz-Wise, Budge, Lindberg, & Hyde, 2013; Watson et. al., 2012).

Due to various cultural influences impacting objectification, body image issues can begin at an early age. Young girls have appearance-focused concerns about dieting and weight monitoring as part of everyday interactions with peers that can perpetuate an appearance culture (Carey, Donaghue, & Broderick, 2011). Media messages can shape self-esteem and self-worth, creating a continuous cycle of negative body talk that influences feelings of body guilt, shame, and depression about appearance (Arroyo & Harwood, 2012; Engeln-Maddox, Salk, & Miller, 2012; Pipher, 1994). The perpetuation of the objectification cycle can contribute to a host of mental health issues for girls and women including anxiety, eating disorders, depression, and reduced sexual functioning (Arroyo & Harwood, 2012; Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Tiggemann & Williams, 2012).

However, there are some strategies that can be used to enhance the mind, body, and spirit connection potentially resulting in increased self-esteem and self-worth. Choate (2005) proposed a theoretical model of resilience for girls and women that includes aspects of resilience such as family support, gender role satisfaction, fitness, coping strategies, and holistic wellness and balance. Further research has also established support for these factors in helping women with body image issues develop a healthier self-esteem (Liimakka, 2011; Overstreet & Quinn, 2012; Snapp et al., 2012). Given these recommendations, it will be important for counselors to understand the process by which women utilize strategies to cope with the everyday barrage of potentially harmful images, comments, and body-oriented cultural norms. In addition, more information regarding how women conceptualize the process of societal female objectification can assist counselors in identifying potentially maladaptive coping strategies and reorienting clients towards a healthier mentality.

The Present Study

The purpose of this phenomenological study was to gain an understanding of some of the resiliency strategies used for women's self-esteem, self-worth, and body image based on Choate's (2005) theoretical model of women's body image resilience. …

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