Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Friends, Family, and Their Influence on Body Image Dissatisfaction

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Friends, Family, and Their Influence on Body Image Dissatisfaction

Article excerpt


Body image dissatisfaction (BID) is common in New Zealand, as in much of the Western world. It is a particular issue for young women, with the potential for extremely negative consequences. While the role of the media has been relatively well-researched, the influence of family and friends on young women's body image dissatisfaction is deserving of further examination, especially in New Zealand, where such research is lacking, while body image dissatisfaction may be particularly high, especially among young Pakeha/European women. The current exploratory research combined a journal-writing task with in-depth interviews with four young women. Though small, this project provided a wealth of data about the influence of family and friends in young women's lives and their contribution to BID. While several factors impact on BID, this research suggests that family and friends have significant, and often unrecognised, influence. A key finding is the prevalence of 'fat-talk', and the relative unimportance of its intention; for example, participants spoke about friends' observations of others, friends' advice, well-meaning behaviour by family members and mothers' self-criticism as sources of their own dissatisfaction. This research has also emphasised the unquestioning internalisation of the thin ideal as a result of the behaviour of family and friends, to the extent that the participants considered their BID to be appropriate.


body image, fat-talk, thin ideal, self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, depression

Body image dissatisfaction (BID) is common in many countries. Dissatisfaction with one's body is so prevalent within Western and Westernised societies that it has been termed 'normative discontent' (Hardit & Hannum, 2012; Sarwer et ah, 1998). While BID is something that affects both genders and varying ages, it is particularly prevalent among young women (Hardit & Hannum, 2012; Salk & Engeln-Maddox, 2012).

Body image dissatisfaction can be defined as the inconsistency between how a person perceives their body, and how they would like their ideal body to be (Maxwell & Cole, 2012). A person may be dissatisfied with a particular body part, or their general shape, or they may be discontented with their body as a whole. It is often linked to concerns about excessive weight, though the individual need not fit common definitions (for example, as determined by the Body Mass Index) of 'overweight' in order to be dissatisfied with their body.

Hoyt and Kogan (2001) found that women tend to be dissatisfied with their abdomen, waist, buttocks, and thighs, and desire to reduce the size of these 'fat' body parts or re-shape their lower body, regardless of actual weight. Further, it has been found that the perception of being overweight - one's 'weight identity' - is linked to more psychological problems than actually being overweight (Maxwell & Cole, 2012; Muennig, Jia, Lee & Lubetkin, 2008). Women tend to rate themselves as heavier than they actually are, and to view this negatively. In addition, weight appears to be a salient aspect of identity. This does not appear to be the case with men - or at least not to the same extent (Grover, Keel, & Mitchell, 2003). We acknowledge that not all overweight people will experience BID and, in particular, that underweight people may also experience this dissatisfaction. However, BID is linked to actual body mass, insofar as being overweight is linked to increased likelihood of BID (Fitzgibbon, Blackman & Avellone, 2000; Calzo, Sonneville, Haines, Blood, Field & Austin, 2012). Therefore, BID may encompass several dimensions: body shape, perception of being overweight, and actual weight.

This paper explores BID among young New Zealand women. As mentioned above, though this dissatisfaction need not be weight-related, the research suggests that the two are overwhelmingly linked - and influenced by the 'thin ideal'1. In addition, there is a tendency in the literature not to differentiate between BID that is weight-related and that which is not. …

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