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Salud mental

Print version ISSN 0185-3325


ESNAOLA, Igor; RODRIGUEZ, Arantzazu  and  GONI, Alfredo. Body dissatisfaction and perceived sociocultural pressures: gender and age differences. Salud Ment [online]. 2010, vol.33, n.1, pp.21-29. ISSN 0185-3325.

One important area of research that has emerged in recent years is the assessment of factors that contribute to the development of body image problems and, more concretely, to the development of body dissatisfaction. The female sociocultural beauty ideal, a constant object of research for over three decades now, is so ultra-thin that it is both unattainable and unhealthy. Likewise, the male beauty ideal of a lean yet muscular body is becoming an important issue for men, with poor body image sometimes leading to the adoption of numerous health-threatening behaviors, such as the use of steroids, ephedrine and deleterious dieting strategies. Body image has been related with self-esteem, depressed mood, social anxiety and disordered eating. In recent years, physical self-perceptions are also studied from the parallel perspective of physical self-concept. In general, women report much higher body dissatisfaction than men at all moments of life, from pre-adolescence to third age, although gender differences in adulthood and in the old age are less important than in adolescence. In the other hand, although women's dissatisfaction with their bodies remains fairly stable across the whole life span, the importance attached to physical appearance, specifically body size and weight, decreases with age. The sociocultural framework has become the most empirically validated of all body image theories and this theory conceptualizes perceived sociocultural pressures as the principal cause of body dissatisfaction. Mass media, peer groups, and family are the three factors which have evolved as the most frequently assessed sociocultural perceived pressures of body dissatisfaction. Previous research has paid considerable attention to gender and age differences in body dissatisfaction, but certain gaps still remain: a) more precise knowledge is required regarding men's body dissatisfaction; b) a comparative perspective of gender differences, in both body dissatisfaction and perceived pressure throughout the different stages of the lifecycle, is lacking; c) more information is required on the interpersonal variations involved in the relationship between body dissatisfaction and perceived sociocultural pressure; and d) a better understanding of the nature of sociocultural influences needs to be gained. This research examines gender and age differences on body image -responses to the Garner's Eating Disorders Inventory-2 (EDI-2)- and perceived sociocultural pressures regarding body ideals -responses to the Questionnaire of Sociocultural Influences on the Aesthetic Body Shape Model (CIMEC-26), by Toro, Salamero, and Martínez-Mallén. The sample group comprised 1259 participants: 627 adolescents, 271 young adults, 248 midlife adults, and 112 over 55's. Results indicate that: a) body dissatisfaction is closely related to perceived sociocultural pressure; b) female participants show higher body dissatisfaction and perceive themselves more affected by sociocultural factors than their male counterparts; c) gender differences (in body dissatisfaction as in perceived sociocultural pressures) are greater for younger age groups than older; d) gender is a better predictor of body dissatisfaction and sociocultural perceived influences than age. The results obtained provide a more comprehensive view of the relationship between body dissatisfaction and perceived sociocultural pressure during the different stages of the lifecycle, highlighting a number of close parallels between both variables. The new data also enables us to identify the young female population as the most susceptible to body dissatisfaction problems and the most vulnerable to sociocultural pressure, with the group of older women emerging as the one best able to cope with these problems. The study also identifies a number of themes which deserve further, more in-depth attention in the future. Tw o especially are worth noting: 1) this study analyses age differences (which may represent generational differences affected by cohort effects), rather than changes associated with age, since the inter-group differences observed correspond to people of different ages, but each separate group also represents a specific age at a specific moment in history; 2) it is important to continue exploring the different pressures exerted by different sociocultural factors (both perceived pressure and objective data on the influence of these factors), as well as the psychological mechanisms that enable some people to cope with these pressures better than others.

Keywords : Body image; perceived socio-cultural pressures; body dissatisfaction; life span.

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