Cross-cultural explanations of body image disturbance

Date of Completion

January 1998


Anthropology, Cultural|Psychology, Social|Women's Studies|Education, Educational Psychology




Clinical and non-clinical maladies associated with body image disturbance (BID) are of interest to researchers around the world. Most people will not be able to attain their society's physical appearance ideal, and this experience of failure often manifests itself in negative self-concept, lowered self-esteem, incessant dieting or eating disordered behaviors, and diminished effectiveness in social interactions. Thus researchers in the U.S. have increased their efforts to investigate this problem. Although cross-cultural comparisons have been attempted, there has never been a systematic effort to develop a robust model that could be used in the search for universals or differences across similar cultural samples.^ The purpose of this study was to compare BID phenomena across several Western cultural samples, using an extant multidimensional BID model devised in the U.S. (Stormer & Thompson, 1996). Specifically, the relationships between BID and teasing history, age of pubertal onset, societal pressures to be thin, and appearance comparison, were examined in a cross-cultural design, in order to confirm a framework for further investigations in this area.^ Data were obtained from approximately 300 female undergraduate psychology students from universities in the U.S., Italy, and England. Participants completed several BID measures, as well as measures on the four predictors. Body mass levels and self-esteem, two known correlates of BID, were treated as covariates, so that the four main predictors could be focused on. Data were analyzed using first standard, then hierarchical regression procedures, to determine if the relationships among predictor and criterion variables were the same for all three groups.^ This investigation essentially found no differences in the relationships among BID and its correlates for six of the seven criterion measures. Only one of the measures, the Figure Rating Scale (FRS) distinguished across groups, but with a small effect size. These results suggest that levels of BID are not significantly different for college females in Italy, U.S., and England. Perhaps a lack of significant cultural differences, or the similarity of characteristics of university students from similar SES, would explain these results. ^