The Facts
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Women are constantly told to "suck it in", to control themselves, constantly getting the message that there is something fundamentally undesirable and wrong with female curves, emotions and appetites.

Women's bodies are not valued for their productive and reproductive capacity, their strength, or their general state of health, but for their decorativeness. Importance is placed on the appeal the female body holds for the observer by meeting a culturally defined ideal. (Dittrich, 1997)
About-Face facts on BODY IMAGE

Compiled by Liz Dittrich, Ph.D.

Interesting Fact: In 1920, women attained the right to vote. This was also the first year of the Miss America Pageant. (Source: WAC STATS: Facts about women).


A poll conducted by a popular women's magazine found that 75% of women thought they were "too fat" (Glamour,1984). A large scale survey conducted by Garner (1997) found body dissatisfaction to be "increasing at a faster rate than ever before" among both men and women (p. 34). He found that 89% of the 3,452 female respondents wanted to lose weight.

Many women suffer from body dissatisfaction, and assiduous dieting and the relentless pursuit of thinness has become a normative behavior among women in Western society (Rodin, Silberstein & Striegel-Moore,1984). Thinness has not only come to represent attractiveness, but also has come to symbolize success, self-control and higher socioeconomic status. Marketdata Enterprises, Inc. estimated the size of the weight loss industry for 1994 at ,680 billion.

Body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders are more prevalent among females than males. This gender specificity is apparent in that over 90% of patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are women (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).

Body image dissatisfaction and dieting behavior isn't restricted to adolescents or adults. In a study of almost five hundred schoolgirls, 81% of the ten-year-olds reported that they had dieted at least once (Mellin, Scully & Irwin, 1986). A study of 36,000 students in Minnesota found that girls with negative body image were three times more likely than boys of the same age, to say that they feel badly about themselves and were more likely to believe that others see them in a negative light. The study also found that negative body image is associated with suicide risk for girls, not for boys (American Association of University Women, 1990).

Wooley and Wooley (1980) found that girls are more influenced and thus more vulnerable to cultural standards of ideal body images, than boys are. A recent national health study, that studied 2,379 9yr and 10 yr old girls (approximately half White and half Black) found that 40 % of them reported that they were trying to lose weight (Striegel-Moore et al, 1996).

Bar-Tal and Sax (1961) found that our culture places a higher value on physical beauty in the evaluation of females than males. Garner, Garfinkel, Schwartz & Thompson (1980), have found that the average size of idealized woman (as portrayed by models), has become progressively thinner and has stabilized at 13-19% below physically expected weight. Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegelmoore (1984), suggest that this thin ideal is unachievable for most women and is likely to lead to feelings of self-devaluation, feelings of dysphoria (depression) and helplessness.

The discontent with one's body shape and size doesn't seem to be confined to White women alone. A survey conducted by the largest African-American women's publication in the U.S. (Essence magazine) served as an eating disorders study. The results from over 2,000 respondents indicated that African American women are at risk for eating disorders in at least equal proportions to their White counterparts. Analysis of the results also revealed that African American women have adopted similar attitudes towards body image, weight and eating to White women (Pumariega, Gustavson, Gustavson, Stone Motes & Ayers, 1994).

Shame seems to be another component of women's attitudes toward their bodies. In a Kinsey survey it was found that women felt more embarrassed when asked about their weight, than when they were asked about their masturbation practices, or occurrences of homosexual affairs (Kinsey et al., 1953).

Women and girls are also consistently taught from an early age that their self-worth is largely dependent on how they look. The fact that women earn more money than men in only two job categories, those of modeling and prostitution serves to illustrate this point (Wolf, 1992).


Smoking is a common method of weight loss being used by today's youth, according to Frances Berg, editor/publisher of the Healthy Weight Journal (Berg, 1997). For the first time in history the smoking rate of girls now surpasses that of boys, with the compelling motivation for this behavior being weight control (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance-US, 1995). Forty percent to 50% of women smokers smoke because they see it as a primary mean to control their weight. Of these women, 25% will die of a disease caused by smoking (Wolf, 1992, p.229; Garner, 1997).

Another common method to lose weight is dieting. Dieting is more common than not dieting, with 95% of the female population having dieted at some time (Polivy & Herman, 1987). Dieting has been as a powerful contributor to dysphoria because of the failure often associated with this type of weight loss method, 95-98% of all dieter regain their weight (Heatherton & Polivy, 1992; Cooke, 1996, p.35). Caloric deprivation experiments have shown to produce depression, anxiety and irritability (Keys, Brozek, Henschel, Mickelsen & Taylor, 1950). A sobering finding is that most bulimics report that the onset of their eating disorder occurred during a period of dieting (Hall & Hay, 1991).

Both in life and in ads, you can find countless examples of women trying to get, and hold, the attentions of a man. More pervasive possibly than every other message aimed at females is the idea that a woman is only as desirable as her ability to land a boyfriend, and ultimately husband. But too often women sacrifice huge parts of themselves to be with a guy, giving up friends, interests, lives. Rule of thumb: If he's not interested in who you are, get rid of him.
Naomi Wolf (1992) says that the beauty myth isn't good for men or women. "It prevents (men) from actually seeing suggesting a vision in place of a woman, it has a numbing effect, reducing all sense but the visual..."

Repeated exposure to the thin ideal via various media can lead to the internalization of this ideal. It also renders these images real and achievable. Until women are confronted with their own mirror images they will continue to measure themselves against an inhuman ideal. (Dittrich, 1997)
The current ideal of female beauty is difficult to achieve. The ideal being a young Caucasian female, height 5'8"- 5'10", weighing 110-120 pounds or less. Make-up, lighting and airbrushing are used to slim down the images even more. Less than 10% of the female population are genetically destined to fit this ideal (Steiner-Adair & Purcell, 1996).

Women's beauty endeavors and dieting efforts are socially reinforced. Women's resources: Emotional, physical and financial, are depleted and funneled into an industry that is telling them that they are unacceptable the way they are. (Dittrich, 1997)
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A study conducted by Lucas & his associates (1991) investigated the incidents of anorexia nervosa during a 50-year period and found that the incidence of anorexia nervosa among 10-19 year old girls paralleled the change of fashion and its ideal body image. The thin ideal preceded the times when the rates of anorexia nervosa were higher.

Thinness has not only come to represent attractiveness, but has also come to symbolize success, self-control and higher socio-economic status. Personal success is measured by weight-loss, weight maintenance, as well as maintaining a youthful appearance. A clear message to women that how you look is who you are. (Dittrich, 1997)

Smoking is a common method of weight loss being used by today's youth according to Frances Berg (editor/publisher of the Healthy Weight Journal). Studies have shown that 40-50% of female smokers smoke because they see it as a primary means to control their weight. Of these women, 25% will die of a disease caused by smoking (Wolf, 1992; Garner, 1997).

Dieting can cause serious psychological as well as health problems, according to a panel of experts chosen by the National Institute of Health. There are various side effects to dieting, such as poor nutrition, possible development of eating disorders, effects of weight cycling, and sometimes serious psychological consequences of repeated failed attempts to lose weight. (Fraser, 1997)