Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice

By Thomas F. Cash; Thomas Pruzinsky | Go to book overview

31
A "Negative Body Image"
Evaluating Epidemiological Evidence

THOMAS F. CASH


DISSATISFACTION WITH SPECIFIC
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The answer to a common question posed by popular media and researchers alike—"How prevalent is a negative body image?"—presupposes an established definition of "negative body image." Unfortunately, there is no clear consensus on the meaning of this term. Typically it has been equated with "body (or body image) dissatisfaction." Accordingly, we refer to the percentage of people in some surveyed population who report dissatisfaction with certain physical characteristics (e.g., weight, shape, facial features, etc.). Thus, in this context, a negative body image means discontent with some aspect of one's physical appearance. An individual might convey on a questionnaire that she or he has some degree of dissatisfaction with one physical feature, even while indicating satisfaction with other physical attributes. In other words, there is some aspect of one's appearance that is negatively evaluated.

This type of data has several shortcomings as a representation of valid epidemiological information about negative body image. Nevertheless, Table 31.1 summarizes the prevalence rates cited most often. The data come from a series of large-sample surveys conducted in Psychology Today magazine—the first in 1972 by Berscheid and her colleagues, the second in 1985 that my colleagues and I conducted, and the third in 1996 by Garner. In each case, the magazine published a summary report the following year. Beyond offering descriptive information about discontent with specific physical fea-

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