A new study suggests that women who have positive family support and limited outside pressure to achieve the thin-is-beautiful ideal have a more positive body image.
How many of us have looked in the mirror and despaired at the image staring back at us? Why do we often look at ourselves with such disdain when, otherwise we’re healthy and fit? These are some of the questions that inspired researchers at the University of Arizona to embark on a study to determine which factors make women more resilient when it comes to their body image.
Dr. Shannon Snapp and her colleagues, inspired by the knowledge that dissatisfaction with their bodies is a huge risk factor for eating problems, recruited first-year college women from two universities in the US.
Young women worry about their bodies
The researchers chose this group because many teens and young women harbour negative body perceptions that can lead to eating problems “that often include extreme worries about body image, excessive weight management strategies, and out-of-control eating episodes.”
According to a survey done by the Public Health Agency of Canada:
- 37 percent of girls in grade nine and 40 percent in grade ten perceived themselves as too fat.
- 19 percent of those who were at a normal weight (based on BMI) thought of themselves as too fat and 12 percent reported going on a weight loss diet.
Questionnaires measured self-image
These women completed questionnaires that asked them to rate their agreement (from never to always) to a series of positively and negatively worded questions (“I like what I see when I look in the mirror” and “There are lots of things I’d change about my looks if I could.”) Other questions measured:
- family support, pressure from family, friends, romantic partners, and the media to look a certain way and
- the desire to be successful in multiple roles (called the “superwoman scale”), such as career woman, parent, spouse, community member, and someone who is attractive.
Positive family support makes a difference
What the researchers found was that women who had high levels of positive family support and low levels of outside pressure to achieve the “thin as beautiful” ideal had a more positive body image than others. The same women also had a realistic attitude toward “the superwoman ideal, had a positive physical self-concept, and were armed with skills to deal with stress.”
There are some simple strategies parents can adopt to help their kids grow up with a realistic perception of their bodies and provide them with the tools to fend off negative influences.
- Focus on health, not weight.
- Model healthy eating habits and exercising for your children.
- Eat together as a family. (Children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to suffer from eating issues.)
- Refrain from making comments about your own or others’ weight or body shape.
- Compliment children on things they do, or their personality characteristics, rather than on what they look like.
- Limit children\’s exposure to media sources that emphasize thin models or put a high value on physical beauty.
- Engage kids as they get older in conversations about outside influences on their self-perceptions.