Gender differences in body image

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Body Image is a person's perception of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body. It gives one the idea (concept) of the appearance of his or her body as perceived by others. Body image is influenced by the media, and is consumed by people in general, affecting both males and females. In general, girls tend to regard a slender body shape as attractive and desirable, while guys tend to perceive a more masculine muscular body shape as attractive. This preoccupation with body image engenders an increase in the number of eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia, especially among girls.


Body image was first recognized by Paul Schilder, a neurologist, who indicated that body images need to be examined in biopsychosocial, neurological, psychological, and sociocultural approaches in his book, The Image and Appearance of the Human Body (Fisher, 1990). Cash and Pruzinsky emphasized in Body Images: Development, Deviance, and Change that it is the multidimensional problem of body image and its multi-complexity that needs to be further investigated (1990, pp. 51-79). In 1996, Tompson published the book, Body Image, Eating Disorders and Obesity: An Integrative Guide for Assessment and Treatment, which explored body image and its relation to eating disorders. Those who exhibit those symptoms of an eating disorder need clinical help and further assessment.


According to Common Sense Media Inc. (2015), about 87 percent of adolescent female characters portrayed in the media are below average in weight. Over 50 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys are not satisfied with their bodies and feel the need to be thinner as a result of exposure to those characters. It is an undeniable fact that the media influences people across the generational spectrum, from young to old. The portrayed body images encourage us to believe that what we see in the media reflects body ideals and that those body images set the standard and define the proportions of physical beauty as recognized by others.In a research article published by McCabe, M., & Ricciardelli, L., the researchers recognized the body image and its relation to its influences on genders in terms of weight loss and increase muscle (2001). The recognized patterns (eating disorders, exercise, etc) are likely to lead to health problems which include depression, stress, low self-esteem, and anxiety disorders (Braun, Sunday, Huang & Halmi, 1999).

“As for the other sociocultural influences, both male and female peers were perceived to provide greater feedback to girls rather than to boys, specifically in regard to general feedback on the adolescent body and encouragement to lose weight and increase muscle tone... Thus, peers were perceived to pressure girls to move closer to the societal ideal, but the same pressure was not seen to be operating on boys to encourage them to increase muscle size or shape.” (McCabe, M., & Ricciardelli, L., 2001).

Possible Theories

Social Comparison Theory [1]

Media can influence one to compare themselves to others' body images. According to Goethals (1986), a person may feel vulnerable when comparing themselves to the images shown by the media. Television, social networking, and magazines create body image ideals that may be difficult to impossible for many to achieve. This can impact the readers' viewing, attitudes, and behaviour towards their own body, resulting in higher rates of self-objectification and body dissatisfaction.

Feminist Theory [2]

Current research questions the relationship between women's bodies and media images. The media may influence women's body ideals by basing the "ideal female body" on men's sexual desires. Throughout history, women's bodies have been involved in changing ideologies by means of fashion, special diets, workout programs, and plastic surgery, along with others. Research suggests that young girls are strongly pressured to be thin based on social pressure valuing these body ideals.

"Sex sells in contemporary consumer culture." -Jennifer Lawrence.

Simone de Beauvoir and The Second Sex

Beauvoir is considered an originator of the sex/gender dichotomy - an important point in feminist theory. [3] Sex and gender was considered fixed and in her book The Second Sex, Beauvoir tackles the subject of biology and famously noted, "one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman" [4] In the later chapters of her book, she outlines the stages in which a woman experiences her body. She notes that young girls are taught to treat her whole body as a doll and to please others: "a passive inert given object." [5] Thus, women begin to live in their bodies as objects, living for another person's gaze. Beauvoir notes that as women live as objects for others' gazes, they become objectified and internalize the gaze of the other, which ultimately distorts body image. [6]


Not only does the unrealistic body image internalize stereotypes that may result in serious physical health and mental issues, but they may also seriously influence consumer culture. We often see flawlessly imaged models in advertisements, especially in beauty product advertisements that give us the false impression that with use, that product will alter our bodies to conform with the perfect, ideal bodies. The scrutiny of body image has given us frequent dissatisfaction and prescribes consumer behavior for the sake of self-improvement (Featherstone, M., 2010).This process of consumerism is the result of neo-liberal practices, which refer to the practice of self-regulation and monitoring through the dictates of the market[7] Thus, there is societal pressure for women and men to conform to specific standards of hypersexualized beauty. Women, for instance, are expected to purchase health and beauty products to "correct" their natural appearance while subordinating their physical bodies to ever-changing beauty ideals and standards. Similarly, men are expected to purchase products such as protein powders in order to obtain "bulk" and mass.

The following video discusses the issues surrounding women's body images, with a particular emphasis on media that create or enforce the relationship women have with their bodies:


  1. Botta, R. (1999). Television images and adolescent girls' body image disturbance. Journal of Communication, 49(2), 22-41. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1999.tb02791.x Agliata, D., & Tantleff-Dunn, S. (2004). The impact of media exposure on males' body image. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(1), 7-22.
  2. Botta, R. (1999). Television images and adolescent girls' body image disturbance. Journal of Communication, 49(2), 22-41. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.1999.tb02791.x Agliata, D., & Tantleff-Dunn, S. (2004). The impact of media exposure on males' body image. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(1), 7-22.
  4. De Beauvoir, Simone, 1953. The Second Sex, London: Jonathan Cape, 295.
  5. De Beauvoir, Simone, 1953. The Second Sex, London: Jonathan Cape, 306.
  7. Lavrence, C., & Lozanski, K. (2014). "This is not your practice life": Lululemon and the neoliberal governance of self. Canadian Review of Sociology, 51(1), 76-94.

Braun, D.L., Sunday, S.R., Huang, A., & Halmi, K.A. (1999). More males seek treatment for eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 20, 415-424.

Coleman, R. (2008). The becoming of bodies: Girls, media effects, and body image. Feminist Media Studies, 8(2), 163-179.

Featherstone, M. (2010). Body, image and affect in consumer culture. Body & Society, 16(1), 193-221. doi:10.1177/1357034X09354357

McCabe, M., & Ricciardelli, L. (2001). Parent, peer and media influences on body image and strategies to both increase and decrease body size among adolescent boys and girls. Adolescence, 36(142), 225-240.