A Reason Why Body Image Importance Judgments May Appear Un-Important to Self-Esteem and Eating Disorders

By O'Connor, Brian P. | International Journal of Psychology Research, July 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

A Reason Why Body Image Importance Judgments May Appear Un-Important to Self-Esteem and Eating Disorders


O'Connor, Brian P., International Journal of Psychology Research


INTRODUCTION

Eating disorder researchers may be surprised to learn that there is little empirical evidence for a basic, taken-for-granted assumption: That body image and the importance one places on body image interact to influence eating disorders and general self-esteem. This article illustrates a statistical reason why evidence for this assumption has been hard to find. The problem is not with the individual variables but with the statistical procedures that are used to examine how the variables go together.

The emphasis or importance that a person places on his or her body image is undoubtedly considered "important" in the eating disorders literature. "Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are both characterized by the individual's overemphasis on body image" (Frances, First, & Pincus, 1995, p. 325). Eating disorder criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR ; American Psychiatric Association , 2000) include "undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation" (p. 545) for Anorexia Nervosa, and "self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight" (p. 550) for Bulimia Nervosa. According to Garner and Garner (1986, p. 139), "For the anorexic and bulimic patient, self-concept becomes inextricably intertwined with body weight, shape, and eating" (see also Fairburn & Harrison, 2003). People with eating disorders presumably place excessive emphasis on body and appearance facets of their self-concepts, and their low evaluations of themselves on these facets contributes to their low self-esteem and to their eating disorders.

Significant bivariate correlations between these variables have often been reported in the literature (Cash & Brown, 1987; Fairburn, Peveler, Jones, Hope, & Doll, 1993; Frank & Thomas, 2003; Geller, Johnston, & Madsen, 1997; Geller, Srikameswaran, Cockell, & Zaitsoff, 2000; Geller, Zaitsoff , & Srikameswaran, 2002; Grilo, Hrabosky, White, Allison, Stunkard, & Masheb, 2008; Hrabosky, Masheb, White, & Grilo, 2007; Kostanski & Gullone, 1998; Mond, Hay, Rodgers, & Owen, 2007; Peck & Lightsey, 2008; Polivy & Herman, 2002; Rosen, 1990; Serpell, Neiderman, Roberts, & Lask, 2007; Shea & Pritchard, 2007). For example, womens' evaluations of their bodies and/or physical appearance are associated with their general self-esteem and with their scores on eating disorders. Similarly, ratings of the self-perceived importance of body weight and appearance are also associated with general self-esteem and eating disorders.

But there should be more than simple bivariate relationships between these variables. Body image and body importance should interact in the prediction of eating disorders and self-esteem. Among people who consider body image to be very important, those who have a poor body image should have lower self-esteem and higher scores on eating disorders. Conversely, people who also consider body image to be very important but who have a positive body image should have high self-esteem and low scores on eating disorders. Among people who place little emphasis or importance on body image, having a positive or negative body image should have little bearing on self-esteem or eating disorders. Facets of the self-concept that are considered unimportant should not matter.

However, a careful review of the published literature revealed no clear evidence for this predicted body-image-by-importance interaction in the prediction of self-esteem or eating disorders. Pliner, Chaiken, and Flett (1990) and Mendelson, Mendelson, and Andrews (2000) both found that placing high levels of importance on one's body or physical appearance did not interact with standings on these facets in the prediction of general self-esteem. Reider and Ruderman (2001) found no interaction between body dissatisfaction and body importance in the prediction of binge frequency, and only a weak interaction between body dissatisfaction and body importance in the prediction of purge frequency. …

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