Body image is a construct that has applications in several areas of psychology and medicine, including patients with neurological disorders leading to inaccurate perceptions of personal appearance, patients with noticeable physical deformities, individuals with pathological misperceptions about certain aspects of their appearance, as well as in eating disorder patients (Fulkerson, McGuire, Neumark Sztainer, Story, French and Perry 2002). In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994) requires the presence of body image disturbance for the diagnosis of both Anorexia Nervosa (AN), marked by food refusal due to fear of weight gain, and Bulimia Nervosa (BN), in which patients binge and purge in order to prevent weight gain (Fulkerson, McGuire, Neumark Sztainer, Story, French and Perry 2002). Body image can be described as a combination of a person’s perceptions, feelings and thoughts about his/her body and their general physical appearance (Ogden 2010). It is usually conceptualized as an individual’s body size estimation, evaluation of body attractiveness and emotions associated with their body shape and size (Ogden 2010). Representation and visual culture play a significant part in determining the “ideal” female body.
Factors Affecting Body Image Concern
Body image concern is thought to be influenced by a large number of factors including age, gender, family environment and the media. Halliwell and Harvey (2006) have devised a categorization of these factors into four key areas: biological, psychological, interpersonal and environmental and cultural factors. The following section uses this categorization to describe the evidence from the literature concerning these influences on body image (Halliwell and Harvey 2006).
Environmental and cultural factors
Environmental and cultural factors are those relating to the external influences affecting body image, which include the media and socio-economic status (Perry, Rosenblatt and Wang 2004). A number of studies have shown that the media has a great impact on transmitting idealized body ideals to both women and men, resulting in negative feeling about one’s body and the use of weight change strategies. The following section will review the related evidence regarding the influences of socio-economic status and the media on body image perception and weight change behaviors (Perry, Rosenblatt and Wang 2004).
It has been suggested that social class may have an effect on how individuals perceive themselves and the importance they place on attaining the ideal body image. A study of 1,597 US children showed that girls from higher social classes were more likely to choose a thinner body ideal and have tried to lose weight compared with girls from lower social classes (Perry, Rosenblatt and Wang 2004). These results were similar to a study of 768 Australian children and adolescents, which showed that respondents from more affluent backgrounds reported greater discrepancy between the perceived current and ideal figures than those from middle and low SES groups (Perry, Rosenblatt and Wang 2004). This is consistent with two UK studies of British women, which indicated that more women of higher socio-economic status (SES) reported high body image concern and dieting than those from lower SES (Perry, Rosenblatt and Wang 2004). Furthermore, another UK study found that girls in more affluent groups were more likely to talk about weight and dieting with their family, to be aware of media pressure for thinness, and to experience friends and family trying to lose weight. It has been suggested that people in higher SES groups may see those who are thin or have lower weight as being more acceptable, which could lead them to change their attitudes and behaviors towards body image (Perry, Rosenblatt and Wang 2004)....