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Sociocultural context of women's body image

Author

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  • Paquette, M.-C.Marie-Claude
  • Raine, Kim

Abstract

In our society, women's bodies are the locus of both increasing rates of obesity and body dissatisfaction. While these trends may seem contradictory or to result from each other, an alternative explanation is that they are both the products of an unfavourable sociocultural environment in the area of food and weight. Both body dissatisfaction and excess weight can seriously impact women's physical and emotional health. The strong cultural value placed on thinness, especially for women, unfortunately may take precedence over health. To effectively address the impact of women's body image dissatisfaction requires an understanding of the multiple contexts of women's lives. This study used a naturalistic paradigm to explore how women's personal and sociocultural context influences their body image. Forty-four non-eating disordered women ranging from 21 to 61 years old were interviewed twice using a semi-structured interview guide. Women's narratives revealed that body image is not a static construct, but is dynamic and fluctuates as women encounter new experiences and re-interpret old ones. The powerful and unconscious impact of the media on body image was mediated by women's internal contexts (self-confident and self-critical) and their relationships with others, such as partners and other women. Body image was not so much influenced by the nature of others' comments but interpretation of their meaning. However, health professionals' comments were typically not reinterpreted due to the health context in which they were given. While some women's narratives expressed their internalized sociocultural norms, others' described acceptance of their bodies following a process of reflection and empowerment. In light of these findings, efforts to improve women's body image, and by extension their health, can no longer only focus on diminishing the tangible power of industry and media, but must include transforming the social ties, practices and conventions in everyday relationships, including with health professionals.

Suggested Citation

  • Paquette, M.-C.Marie-Claude & Raine, Kim, 2004. "Sociocultural context of women's body image," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 59(5), pages 1047-1058, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:59:y:2004:i:5:p:1047-1058
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Gordon, Allegra R. & Austin, S. Bryn & Krieger, Nancy & White Hughto, Jaclyn M. & Reisner, Sari L., 2016. "“I have to constantly prove to myself, to people, that I fit the bill”: Perspectives on weight and shape control behaviors among low-income, ethnically diverse young transgender women," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 165(C), pages 141-149.
    2. Fabrice Etilé, 2007. "Social norms, ideal body weight and food attitudes," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 16(9), pages 945-966.
    3. Cohen, E. & Boetsch, G. & Palstra, F.P. & Pasquet, P., 2013. "Social valorisation of stoutness as a determinant of obesity in the context of nutritional transition in Cameroon: The Bamiléké case," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 96(C), pages 24-32.
    4. Luis Fernando Gamboa & Nohora Y. Forero Ramírez, 2009. "Body mass index as a standard of living measure: a different interpretation for the case of Colombia," DOCUMENTOS DE TRABAJO 005218, UNIVERSIDAD DEL ROSARIO.
    5. Wills, Wendy & Backett-Milburn, Kathryn & Gregory, Susan & Lawton, Julia, 2006. "Young teenagers' perceptions of their own and others' bodies: A qualitative study of obese, overweight and 'normal' weight young people in Scotland," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 396-406, January.

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