Body dissatisfaction


Body dissatisfaction, a risk factor for the development of disorders, has become an increasing concern among American women. Although body image concerns is primarily related to Caucasian women, Mexican American women have shown similar levels of disordered eating habits. Acculturation is thought to play a role in changing the conceptualizing of the ideal body in Mexican American women to that of the American thin ideal. This study attempts to explore the possibility of media internalization via magazine images as a mediating factor between acculturation among Mexican Americans and body dissatisfaction. Two groups of participants Mexican and Mexican American women were exposed to two separate slideshows, one featuring thin models and the other using "plus-size models. The body dissatisfaction was measured by the Body Dissatisfaction and Drive for Thinness subscales of the Eating Disorder Inventory. It is predicted that Mexican women should exhibit no difference in these scales while Mexican American women should show increased body dissatisfaction with exposure to thin models. Possible implications of the study include determining protective conditions against acculturation effects.


Body dissatisfaction among women in western culture has become an increasing concern. Nearly 50% of undergraduate American women and girls reported being dissatisfied with their body (Bearman et al., 2006 as cited by Fischer & Bettendorf, 2009). Longitudinal studies indicate that body dissatisfaction is one of the most consistent risk factor for developing eating disorders (Grabe et al., 2007 as cited by Fischer & Bettendorf, 2009). Although eating and body concerns was previously considered to be a problem solely among Caucasian women, recent research illustrates that these concerns are also present among other ethnic groups (Chamorro & Flores-Ortiz, 2000). This is found to be especially true among Mexican American women as studies demonstrate that Latinas present with similar levels of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviours as White women (Shaw et al., 2004). However, very little research has been done in determining the mediators of body dissatisfaction among Mexican American women.

Stice's (1994) widely accepted sociocultural model of eating disorders describes the factors that lead to the development of eating disorders among women. One of the factors that have been expressed in the model is the internalization of the thin ideal, which is widely imposed on women from varying sources (Stice, 1994). The media is the major culprit in consistently espousing the thin ideal through various mediums such as magazines, television shows, and commercials/advertisements. It is believed that this depiction of the thin ideal body leads women to adopt this model as reality and as a result, associate it with beauty (Harrison & Cantor, 1997). Numerous studies have shown that internalization of unrealistic thin ideal leads to body dissatisfaction, which is found to be a risk factor for developing eating disorders (Stice, 2002). Although exposure of the thin ideal through television and magazines lead to body dissatisfaction, they do so by different means (Tiggemann, 2003). The mediating factor between magazine exposure to thin models and body dissatisfaction was found to be a result of the thin ideal internalization, which was not the case for television exposure (Tiggemann, 2003). It has been shown that even a brief exposure to thin models results in a self-discrepancy activation and thus leading body dissatisfaction (Dittmar, 2009)

Acculturation, a multidimensional construct, resulting from prolonged exposure between two or more distinct cultures, causes changes in cultural attitudes and values (Berry, 1980 as cited by Fischer & Bettendorf, 2009). Several studies involving Mexican American women have shown a positive relationship in the acculturation to mainstream American society and the incidence of eating disorders (Cachelin et al., 2006 as cited by Fischer & Bettendorf, 2009). This relationship may occur due to Mexican American women internalizing the ideal body of the mainstream American culture, which has become unrealistically thin over the years. As they internalize this unrealistic body image, there become more vulnerable to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviours (Fischer & Bettendorf, 2009).

However, there is evidence to indicate that the Mexican culture values body ideals for women that are more fuller in figure, which in stark contrast to the American thin ideal (Chamorro & Flores-Ortiz, 2000). Thus, it is possible that women who endorse this ideal will be protected against acculturation effects and thus are less vulnerable to feelings of body dissatisfaction and the subsequent development of eating disorders. Furthermore, there is a greater likelihood that Mexican women who reside in Mexico will endorse their cultural body ideal compared to Mexican American women. This is known as enculturation, which is the idea of maintaining the cultural roots of one's ethnicity by adopting their values and cultural attitudes (Fischer & Bettendorf, 2009).

Thus, the current study seeks to explore the possibility that the mediating factor between acculturation of Mexican American women to American norms and body dissatisfaction is media internalization of the thin ideal, specifically by means of magazines images. This will be carried out by exposing both Mexican women (in Mexico) and Mexican American women to magazine images of thin and "plus-size models and measuring their level of body dissatisfaction. It is predicted that Mexican women, who have not been acculturated to American societal norms, will not exhibit a difference in the body dissatisfaction measures. However, Mexican American women are expected to show an increased body dissatisfaction response to the thin models and decreased body dissatisfaction in response to the "plus-size models. Exploring mediators between acculturation and body dissatisfaction may help determine protective conditions under which women are not made vulnerable to acculturation effects.



Participants recruited were of two groups 200 female Mexican American undergraduate students throughout the U.S. and 200 female Mexican undergraduate students throughout Mexico. The mean age of the participants of both groups is expected to be approximately 21 years of age. The students participated in exchange for money or for course credits. Female Mexican American students were identified as first, second, or third generation. First generation in this study refers to children of immigrant parents. The choice of female Mexican American students who were of first generation or greater increased the probability of acculturation among these students.



Two separate slideshows are constructed, one containing thirty images of thin models and the other containing thirty images of "plus-size models that have been presented in magazines.

Acculturation and Enculturation

Acculturation and enculturation was assessed by the Acculturation Rating Scale for Mexican Americans-II (ARSMA-II; Cuellar et al., 1995). ARSMA-II is a multidimensional scale that contains 30 items, which assess factors of acculturation such as language use and preference, ethnic identity and interactions (Cuellar et al. 1995). It contains both the Mexican Orientation Scale (MOS) to measure enculturation and the Anglo Orientation Scale (AOS) that measures acculturation. Items from MOS include statements such as "My thinking is done in the Spanish language, while items from AOS include such statements as "I have difficulty accepting ideas held by some Mexicans. The items are rated on a scale from 1-5, with 1 being "not at all to 5 being "extremely often or "most always (Cuellar et al., 1995). ARSMA-II has shown good split-half reliability and one week test-retest reliability (Cuellar et al., 1995).

Body Dissatisfaction

Body dissatisfaction was measured by two scales: the Body Dissatisfaction subscale and the Drive for Thinness subscale of the Eating Disorder Inventory (EDI-BD; Garner et al., 1983). The EDI contains items that assess satisfaction with different part of the body. The items are rated on a 6-point scale with 1 being "never and 6 being "always. Drive for Thinness subscale contains items that assess factors such as restriction tendencies and fear of weight gain. Both subscales have reported good reliability and validity (Garner et al., 1983).

Design & Procedure

The design is a quasi-experiment design as it lacks randomization. The independent variable is the exposure to the type of models in the slideshow and the dependent variable is the average scores of body dissatisfaction. There are two conditions one is exposure to the thin model slideshow and the second condition is exposure to the "plus-size model slideshow. All participants took part in both conditions.

After obtaining consent, the participants filled the ARSMA-II to accurately determine the acculturation and enculturation of the participants. Both groups of participants then filled out one of the two questionnaires of body dissatisfaction. Both groups were exposed to the thin model slideshow and then were asked to fill out the second questionnaire. Since both questionnaires measure body dissatisfaction, the order in which they are used (ie. before or after) is irrelevant. The next day, the same procedure was carried out but this time with exposure to the "plus-size model slideshow. A gap of one day was given so that the study would not be affected by memory (ie. remembering their answers to the questionnaire from the first condition).


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