"Ally McBeal vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger": Comparing Mass Media, Interpersonal Feedback and Gender as Predictors of Satisfaction with Body Thinness and Muscularity

By Vartanian, Lesa Rae; Giant, Carrie L. et al. | Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

"Ally McBeal vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger": Comparing Mass Media, Interpersonal Feedback and Gender as Predictors of Satisfaction with Body Thinness and Muscularity


Vartanian, Lesa Rae, Giant, Carrie L., Passino, Rhonda M., Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal


Susceptibility to appearance-related mass media, interpersonal feedback, and instrumentality were compared as predictors of body satisfaction and shape concerns regarding thinness and muscularity in a sample of 287 undergraduate men and women. Results indicate that both genders experience body dissatisfaction, but along different shape dimensions; susceptibility to appearance-related mass media and negative appearance-related feedback appear to operate in similar ways to affect men's and women's overall body satisfaction. Directions for additional research are discussed.

Roughly 50 million American adults begin a weight-loss diet each year (Federal Trade Commission, 1997), and spend 33 billion dollars on weight-loss products and services (Shape Up America, 1998). Nearly 8 million individuals struggle with eating disorders annually; treatment costs can exceed 30,000 dollars per month (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, [ANAD] 2000). Cigarette smoking may also be tied to body image concerns: a top reason provided for reluctance to quit smoking is the fear of weight gain (Shape Up America, 1998). Given the connections between low body esteem and issues of public health, body esteem has been a topic of active inquiry for a number of years.

One of the most salient features of the existing research in this area has been the focus on gender as a key predictor in how individuals regard their bodies. Although body satisfaction is an important component of self-esteem for both men and women, women often report lower body esteem than do men (e.g., Cash, Winstead, & Janda, 1986; Davis, Dionne, & Lazarus, 1996; McCauley, Mintz, & Glenn, 1988). This typical gender difference is illustrated poignantly by the fact that 90% of diagnosed eating disorders occur among females (ANAD, 2000), and that most girls have been on at least one diet before they complete high school (Attie & Brooks-Gunn, 1989; Rodin, Striegel-Moore, & Silberstein, 1990). In fact, it might seem that low body esteem is a female phenomenon, but men experience body dissatisfaction also. However, men's concerns about thinness tend to be more variable than women's concerns; that is, some men desire to be thinner whereas some men see themselves as underweight (Silberstein, Striegel-Moore, Timko, & Rodin, 1988). Moreover, whereas a "drive for thinness" seems to be the dominant body shape concern for women (e.g., Cash et al. 1986; Lamb, Jackson, Cassiday, & Priest, 1993), men's concems seem to reflect a "drive for bulk" (Blouin & Goldfield, 1995; Davis, Brewer, & Weinstein, 1993; Pope, Katz, & Hudson, 1993; Schwerin et al. 1997). It is likely that the increased use of anabolic steroids and dietary supplements among young males reflects this greater concern about having sufficient musculature, and not appearing as "scrawny" or "wimpy." However, anabolic steroid use among females has also risen of late (Faigenbaum, Zaichkowsky, Gardner, & Micheli, 1998; Yesalis, Barsukiewicz, Kopstein, & Bahrke, 1997). These trends suggest a need to study body image concerns and body esteem with reference to both dimensions of body shape among both men and women.

Another prominent theme that has emerged from decades of research on body image and body esteem is that both are influenced by the appearance-related messages that come from various socialization agents within one's culture. The idealization of thinness by mass media has been identified as one such socio-cultural "culprit" of low body esteem among women. The publicity surrounding the ultra-thinness of high-profile celebrities like Calista Flockhart - star of the popular television series "Ally McBeal" - has reawakened public concern about the media's emphasis on thinness as the standard of feminine beauty, and perhaps justifiably so: media portrayals of the female body have become increasingly thinner over time (e.g., Wiseman, Gray, Mosimann, & Ahrens, 1992), and other research has shown that women typically report feeling worse about their own bodies after viewing thin media models (e. …

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