Rural and Urban Differences between Adolescent
Females’ Perceptions of Body Image
Jennifer A. Hutchison
an extension of research on body image in adolescent females, the present study
attempted to see if there is a relationship between self-perception of body
image and where one lives. It
hypothesized that adolescent females (n=106) who live in rural areas (n=67) will
report higher positive body images than those girls who live in urban areas
(n=39). The females’ feelings on
body image were operationalized through a survey that compared their feelings on
their bodies and utilized Franzoi and Shields’ (1984) Body Esteem Scale (BES).
The bulk of the hypothesis was not supported at a significant level, the
BES indicated (t= -1.44, p value= .15), however, some elements of it were
supported. These results were
significant because they emphasize the importance of considering residence of
female adolescents when conducting research on them.
Recommendations for future research would be to expand on this research
because there has been little research done on this relating to this
Body Image, which refers to the feelings and reflections that an
individual has about his or her body (Rosenbaum, 1979; Schilder, 1935; as cited
in Cecil & Stanley 1997), is of critical importance during adolescence.
Female body image is intimately bound up with subjective perceptions of
weight and, perhaps, no age group is more preoccupied with body image and
appearance than adolescent girls (Attic & Brooks-Gunn, 1989 & Bruch,
1981; as cited in Page, 1991). As
researchers have pointed out, during this period the body undergoes many
physiological and psychological changes that affect adolescents’ self
perceptions (Erikson 1968; Peterson, Schulenberg, Abramowitz, Offer, &
Jarcho, 1984; Schonfield, 1969; as cited in Cecil & Stanley 1997).
Furthermore, adolescents are bombarded with messages of female thinness
as the desired body image. Posavac
(1998) found that because current media images of ideal female beauty are
narrowly defined, exaggerated, and emphasize thinness, exposure to media images
make possible the discrepancy between a female perceiver’s conceptions of her
own weight and the standard accepted by society.
Therefore, where thinness is undeniably a strived beauty ideal, young
women in the process of establishing their identity are especially vulnerable to
dissatisfaction with their body image (Senekal, Steyn, Mashego, Teresa-Ann,
Helena 2001). “Dissatisfaction
with body image and overestimation of body weight are very characteristic of
adolescent females” (Fabian & Thompson, 1989; as cited Page, 1991 p. 203)
and thus, deserves investigation.
Various research studies have supported the overwhelming prevalence of
body image concerns among young women. They
have indicated that adolescent girls are particularly concerned with the
appearance of their body and weight. For
instance, Page (1991) found that only 4.8% of a sample of adolescent girls
reported being “completely satisfied” with their weight and 18.2% were
“satisfied”. Conversely, 14.0%
said they were “completely dissatisfied” and 34.7% said they were
“dissatisfied” and the remainder (28.3%) of the girls reported being
“neutral” in regard to their feelings about their present weight.
Another aspect of this study also indicated that 54.6% of the sampled
girls rated themselves as “too fat”. Page
(1991) also reported that in another sample of adolescent females in which 81%
were within the normal weight range for their height, Eisele, Hertsgaard and
Light (1986) found that 78% wished they weighed less.
These studies are just a few of the numerous reports of low body esteem
among female adolescents. These
numbers raise great concern for this population because dissatisfaction with
body image can serve as a precipitating factor to several harmful consequences.
Researchers such as Stice, Hayward, Cameron, Killen, and Taylor (2000)
have found that because puberty moves girls away from the current thin ideal, it
can lead to body image and eating-related risk factors that may contribute to
the higher rates of major depression observed among girls during adolescence.
Additionally, researchers have indicated that adolescent depression is
associated with suicide attempts and high rates of comorbid anxiety disorders,
disruptive behavior disorders, and substance abuse and predicts future
adjustment problems, including academic failure, marital difficulties,
unemployment, substance abuse, delinquency and legal problems (Birmaher et al.,
1996; Gotlib, Lewsinsohn & Steeley, 1998; Newcomb & Bentler, 1988; as
cited in Stice, et. al., 2000). “The
rate of depression increases dramatically for girls during the second decade of
life, and by late adolescence, twice as many girls are depressed as boys” (Hankin
et al., 1998; Newcomb and Bentler, 1988 as cited in Stice, et al., 2000).
The body dissatisfaction among adolescent girls may contribute directly
to depression, “because appearance is a central evaluative dimension for
females in Western cultures” (Stice, et al., 2000).
The depression may also be triggered by the low self-esteem that body
image dissatisfaction can precipitate. Moreover,
body image dissatisfaction is thought to contribute to dieting and
eating-related disorders. Cecil and
Stanley (1997) found that lower body esteem is predictive of dieting behaviors
(Attic et al., 1987; Carruth and Goldberg, 1990; Davies and Furnham, 1986),
bingeing and purging activities among female adolescents (Paxton et al., 1991),
lower levels of self-esteem among female adolescents (Fisher, Schneider, Pegler,
& Napolitano, 1991), and participation in health risk activities such as
smoking and alcohol use (Fisher et al., 1991).
Perhaps the weight-regulating behaviors that body image disturbances can
lead to are of greatest concern. In
some cases, girls’ preoccupation with body image can turn into a pathological
concern with body image, which is typically an intense fear of being fat and is
associated with two eating disorders, Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (Feingold
& Mazella, 1998). Anorexia is
an obsessive compulsion for thinness, and it is characterized by
self-starvation, intense exercise, and an extremely poor body image (Feingold
& Mazella, 1998). Bulimia is
another eating disorder associated with periods of intense overeating or
bingeing, followed by attempts to prevent weight gain by self-induced vomiting
and other unhealthy methods (Feingold & Mazella, 1998).
Page (1991) found that girls who believed themselves as being too fat
were significantly more likely than any other group of girls to: practice in
self-induced vomiting; use water pills (diuretics); use laxatives; go on very
restrictive diets; use strenuous exercise to lose weight; fast; and use diet
pills. Such studies, along with
many others, reinforce the serious consequences that poor body image can lead to
in adolescent girls.
In order to gain a better understanding of how body image affects adolescents, numerous research studies have also been conducted to study the differences that have incurred between adolescents and their perceptions of body image. For instance, gender has been frequently examined to distinguish differences between young women and men in their perceptions of body image. These studies have typically indicated that girls feel less positively toward their bodies than boys (Davis, Dionne, & Lazarus, 1996; McCauley, Mintx, & Glenn, 1988; Cash, Winstead, & Janda, 1986; Mintz & Betz, 1986, as cited in McKinley, 1998). Several studies have also focused on ethnic differences, which have generally indicated that Caucasian girls have lower esteem in regard to their bodies than any other ethnic group (Padrul, 1999). However, a scarcity of studies has been done to determine if there are any differences between female adolescents’ perceptions of body image and where they reside. The current study hypothesized that female adolescents living in urban areas will report higher body image dissatisfaction in comparison to female adolescents living in rural areas who will report lower body image dissatisfaction.
MacGillivray and Wilson (1997)
stated that dramatic physical, psychological and social changes are expected to
take place during the transitional development of adolescence; however, most
research on adolescents and appearance has focused on them as if they were a
homogenous group. However, to talk
about adolescents as if they were all interchangeable would be to potentially
flaw the research that is done regarding them.
Perhaps it may be that body image is a concept that is so homogenized in
society that there may not be any rural or urban differences found between
adolescent females’ perceptions of it, but it seems necessary to determine if
differences do exist to help make future research more applicable.
Since little research has appeared to done in the United States to
examine if there are any differences, the researcher looked to international
studies conducted that have implied differences do exist among female
adolescents’ perceptions of body image and where they live.
For example, a study conducted among South African young women did find
that differences occurred in females’ body image conceptions depending on
their rural or urban origins. “Females
with urban origins were more likely to be restrained eaters, to have attempted
weight reduction, to aim for weight loss and to fear weight gain” (Senekal, et
al., 2001). Perhaps there were
cultural differences present that may have accounted for this that are not
present in the United States, along with more pronounced differences in urban
and rural areas. Still, one cannot
help but wonder if there are any similar implications for American adolescent
girls. Given the importance of body
image concern among teenage girls, it seems only appropriate that possible
differences between body image and residence be explored.
The sample consisted of 106 female adolescents ranging
in age from 14 years to 18 years old (M= 15.88, std dev.= 1.4).
Of these participants, 39 were from an urban high school in St. Louis,
MO, with a student population of approximately 1,750.
The city of St. Louis consists of approximately 395,000 people and the
suburban division this particular high school resides in consists of
approximately 29,000 people. The
other 67 participants were from a rural high school in New Athens, IL, with a
student population of approximately 200 and a town population of 2,000.
These two school districts were 43 miles apart.
Of the total participants, 88.7% were Caucasian, 5.7% were
African-American, 2.8% indicated “other”, 1.9% did not respond, and .9% were
A survey was administered and began with basic
demographic questions such as age and race, also they were asked to give their
weight, height, and desired weight if they were not satisfied with their current
weight. Then ten questions, which
the researcher has titled as the body assessment survey (modified from
www.indstate.edu) were asked of them to help determine how they felt about their
bodies, such as, “do you remark negatively about your body to yourself or
others?” (see Appendix B). All
responses were measured by a 5-point Likert scale in which a “1” indicated
never and a “5” indicated always. The
Body Esteem Scale (BES) (Franzoi and Shields, 1984) was then employed as it has
been proven to be psychometrically sound among adult samples (Blascovich &
Tomaka, 1991 as cited in Cecil & Stanley 1997) and preliminary data has
indicated that it is also reliable for adolescents (Cecil & Stanley, 1997).
The BES is a 35 item inventory that measures participants’ feelings
about a specific body part or function such as, eyes, weight, and physical
coordination (see Appendix C). All
responses from this scale were measured by a 5-point Likert scale in which a
“1” reflected strong negative feelings and a “5” reflected strong
positive feelings. The subscale for
Weight Concern was examined from this as well; it is ten items from the BES
dealing specifically with weight concerns with body parts or functions such as
hips and thighs. The Body Esteem
Scale contains two additional subscales, Sexual Attractiveness and Physical
Condition that were not used in this study.
The survey was administered to female adolescents at
the urban and rural high school at faculty discretion.
Due to their ambiguous definitions, there were no standardized
definitions met for rural and urban areas, other than the towns and the high
schools chosen seemed to be sufficient for the purposes of this study.
On the survey, a cover letter explained to the participants that this was
a survey being used for research on how adolescent females felt about their
bodies (see Appendix A). It was
completely voluntary and anonymous. Actual
and ideal weight discrepancies were compared among each sample.
A Body Mass Index (BMI) was also computed by reported current weight and
height to determine the number of girls that were within the normal or below
normal guidelines for weight to height ratio, but still wished to be thinner.
The BMI was calculated using the standardized formula of dividing weight
in kilograms by height in meters squared. Overweight
was defined as a BMI of 24.9 and anything below that was defined as normal or
underweight, however no distinction between normal and underweight was made in
this study. The scores from the
body assessment survey were compared among each sample. Finally, scores from the BES and the Weight Concern subscale
were compared among each sample. Race
was also analyzed to determine its potential role in the study and to see if it
remained consistent with previous research.
Analyses were done with the assistance of a statistics computer software
program known as SPSS. This
procedure allowed the researcher to determine if there were any rural and urban
differences present between adolescent females’ perceptions of body image.
Actual and ideal reported weight discrepancies were used to determine the
percentage of girls that were and were not satisfied with their weight.
Of the urban high school sample, 46.2% reported being satisfied with
their weight, 53.8% reported being dissatisfied with their weight with 20.5% of
them who wished they weighed 20 pounds or more less (M= 7.59 std. dev.= 10.23).
Of the rural high school, 49.3% reported being satisfied with their weight,
50.7% reported being dissatisfied with their weight with 24% of them who wished
they weighed 20 pounds or more less (M= 9.78, std. dev.= 13.26).
The BMI was then used to determine what percentage of girls were within
the normal or below normal guidelines for weight to height ratio, but still
wished to be thinner. Of the urban
high school sample, 74.4% fell within or below the normal guidelines for their
weight to height ratio, yet as indicated above, 53.8% reported wanting to be
thinner. Of the rural high school
sample, 77.6% fell within or below the normal guidelines for their weight to
height ratio, yet as also indicated above, 50.7% wished they were thinner.
A t-test was performed to examine any possible differences between each
sample for their responses on the body assessment survey.
There were 50 possible total points, and a lower score emphasized more
positive feelings about their bodies, with a 10 being the most positive.
A higher score indicated more negative feelings about their bodies, with
a 50 being the most dissatisfied. The
t-test revealed no significant differences (t= -2.0, p-value= .069); however,
the means were going in the predicted direction (urban high school M= 28.04,
rural high school M= 24.92).
Another t-test was executed to determine if there were any possible
differences between each sample on their responses to the Body Esteem Scale (Franzoi
& Shields, 1984). There were
175 possible total points and on this scale; a higher score indicated a more
positive body image, with a 175 being the most satisfied.
A lower score indicated a more negative body image, with a 35 being the
most dissatisfied. There were also
no significant differences found between the scores on the BES for each sample
(t= -1.44, p-value= .15); however, the means were also going in the predicted
direction (urban high school M= 115.59, rural high school M= 121.79).
A correlation test was run between these two scales for both schools in
anticipation of a negative correlation. This
is because as the score for the body assessment survey went down, it would be
expected that the scores on the BES would go up.
A significant negative correlation was found between these two tests (r=
-5.33, p-value= .001), as depicted by the graph below.
Another t-test was performed which examined any possible differences
between each sample for the Weight Concern subscale of the BES.
There were 50 possible total points in which a higher score indicated
less preoccupation with weight concern, with a 50 being the highest.
A lower score indicated more preoccupation with weight concern, with a 10
being the lowest. These results did
come up significant (t= -1.98, p-value= .05), as depicted by the graph below.
additional t-tests were carried out to examine any possible racial differences
this study may have incorporated; it only focused on Caucasian and
African-American participants because there was inadequate participation from
any other races. The first t-test
examined any racial differences between the scores from the body assessment
survey. These results did come back significant (t= 3.518, p-value= .012). The
second test examined any possible differences between the BES scores and there
were no significant differences found (t= -1.98, p-value= .061), but the mean
for African American participants was higher in comparison to Caucasian
participants (Caucasian M= 117.23, African American M= 133.83).
The third t-test was ran to examine any possible difference on the Weight
Concern subscale of the BES and still no significant differences were found
(t=-.856, p-value= .425), but the mean for African American participants was
again higher in comparison to Caucasian participants (Caucasian M= 29.19,
African American M= 32.0)
expected, satisfaction with body weight was low for both samples, despite that
over 70% of the girls from each sample were within or below the normal
guidelines for their weight to height ratio as determined by the BMI.
The percentages for both groups were extremely parallel with one another.
If these percentages were evaluated alone, it would appear that there
were no differences among rural and urban female adolescents’ perceptions of
body image. However, these
percentages have not indicated to what degree these girls were dissatisfied with
their body image.
further analysis, the researcher was able to distinguish some differences among
the extent of dissatisfaction with body image for each sample.
The differences among the scores for the body assessment survey did not
come up significant, however the means went in the predicted direction.
This alone, may not seem valuable, but the fact that the means for the
BES, although not significant either, also went in the predicted direction
indicated that there may be some differences in the degree of discontentment
with body image for the rural and urban samples.
This demonstrated that urban female adolescents seem to be more
dissatisfied with their body image than their rural counterparts. This appeared to be especially true in the area of weight as
supported by the results on the Weight Concern subscale of the BES.
These results indicated a significant difference between urban and rural
teenage girls’ preoccupation with weight.
It confirmed that urban female youth appear to be more concerned and
unhappy with their body weight than rural female youth.
The role that race played in this study does not appear to be an
extremely important one, however, it seemed notable to at least investigate any
differences. There was very limited participation in this survey from
other races. The only differences
explored were between the Caucasian participants and the African-American
participants, because there was insufficient participation among any other races
as indicated earlier. There were
only six African-American total participants, so it would appear that a larger
representative sample would be needed to further investigate differences.
However, the first analysis did come back significant on the body
assessment survey. The two
additional tests performed indicated that the means for African-American female
adolescents were higher than the means for the Caucasian participants on the BES
scores and for its subscale of Weight Concern.
It is highly plausible that if there had been more African-American
participants, that consistent significant differences would have been
discovered, as indicated by the sample size available.
The significant difference on the body assessment survey and the
differences in the means on the BES and Weight Concern subscale were consistent
with previous research on ethnic differences in body image, which has
established that African-American young women typically feel more positively
toward their bodies than Caucasian young women.
The overall objective of this study was to determine if there was a
relationship between body image and geographic location in regards to female
adolescents. It furthered this
concept by hypothesizing that adolescent females with urban origins were more
likely to feel less positively toward their bodies than adolescent females with
rural origins. The results to this
study should be considered important regardless of whether or not any
significant differences were discovered. This
is because this study appeared to be a novel finding, in that the researcher was
unable to locate any similar research that prospectively examined this
relationship. Therefore, just to
determine if any differences do or do not exist is important because it appears
that this has not been substantially established in the United States.
It is of essential importance to be aware of any possible differences
that exist in researching adolescents’ perception of body image, especially
girls since they are so affected by this concern.
This enables a researcher to take these variables into account when
studying self-perceptions of body image. So, if it were the case, that there
were not any significant differences detected, that by itself would be
significant because it would allow researchers to eliminate this concern in
future studies. It may also suggest
that girls are so inflicted with body image concerns, that it indeed this
concept has become homogenized among adolescent girls.
It would also indicate that no matter where a girl lived, she could not
escape the pressures to be thin. If
there were no differences found between these samples, these would just be a few
of the implications.
that some of the results were not significant; there was still enough evidence
to support the notion that a relationship does exist between body image and
residence. It appears from this
study that there were not any notable differences between the occurrence of body
image dissatisfaction and geographic location, but the degree to which they were
dissatisfied did appear to vary depending on rural or urban origins.
Thus, the hypothesis was somewhat supported. This was significant because
it supported previous research that has shown the overwhelming prevalence of
adolescent female body image dissatisfaction, but has generally not take
residence into consideration. It
was also vital because it implied that rural and urban origins may very well
have an effect on the extent to which an adolescent female may feel unhappy with
her body image. This was shown in
an international article about South African adolescent females, so it looks as
if this also may be held true for American adolescent females.
If this is accurate then, it should modify the way a researcher examines
body image among adolescents. It
seems quite necessary to take into account where a teenage girl lives when
looking at body image.
the same time, these results have suggested that body image dissatisfaction is
an Americanized problem in the United States and prevention efforts should reach
both rural and urban girls. However,
perhaps prevention efforts should be more intensely focused on urban teen girls
since they appear to be more intensely focused on this problem and this can lead
to more serious consequences such as eating disorders and depression.
There were limitations to this study that should be acknowledged and
discussed. This study was
correlational, that is, it just examined a potential relationship between body
image and geographic location. Causal
inferences cannot be made from this study.
It is not known if one’s rural or urban origin causes differences in
how one feels about their body. There
may be other extraneous variables to help account for these differences that
were not explored or controlled for.
Another limitation to this study was that the responses were gained
through a self-reported survey. It
required the participants to report their current weight and self-reported
weight is likely to be underestimated especially by women (Betz, Mintz, &
Speakmon, 1994; as cited in McKinley, 1998), which future studies may wish for
the researcher to physically measure the participants’ weight and height to
eliminate this concern. It also
asked the participants to rate various parts of their bodies that they might not
have been comfortable answering, particularly since they were adolescents.
Another limitation to this study was actually inadvertently implied in a
question on the body assessment survey. It
asked the participants, “does your mood affect the way you feel about your
body?” (see Appendix B). The
majority of the participants from both schools answered sometimes, frequently,
or always. If this was the case, then the responses may also be
indicative of one’s mood at the time they took the survey, rather than just
one’s feelings about their bodies.
Areas for future study on this relationship are endless because this appeared to be a relatively novel study. One area might include looking more closely at causal factors in these differences. Also, since it appeared that urban girls were more conflicted with body image disturbances, then it would be more likely they would participate further in unhealthy eating habit. So, another area of future study might include looking more closely at eating and dieting related behavior differences. Other studies could simply focus on replicating similar studies to this one to help determine the reliability of this study. Body image concern among female adolescents is clearly an area of study that should not be ignored and the differences among this population needs continuous investigation.
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Indiana State University Web Page:http://indstate.edu/shp/bodyi
Hi Students! My name is Jenna Hutchison and I am a senior at McKendree College whose major is Psychology. I am conducting a research project to gain a better understanding of how adolescent girls feel about their bodies, but I can’t do it without your help. I have put together a survey that is completely anonymous, confidential, and it is completely up to you if you would like to fill it out. It is a short survey that asks questions about how you feel about your body and you may choose to skip any questions that you are uncomfortable with. Please remember that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers and that your honesty on them is truly appreciated. If these questions raise any concerns you may have please feel free to discuss them with your counselor at school or anyone else who may be able to assist you. Thank you so much for your help!!!!
How old are you?
2. What is your ethnic background? Please circle one.
1) Caucasian 2) Hispanic 3)African-American 4) Other Please indicate: ___________
3. How much do you currently weigh? ________
4. Are you satisfied with your weight? Please circle one.
If you answered NO, how much do you wish you weighed? ________
5. How tall are you? Please put in feet and inches and round up or down to whole inch.
For example, 5ft. 3in. ________
Assessment Survey (modified from www.indstate.edu)
use the following scale to help you answer the questions below.
Put the number that best corresponds with your feelings in the lines
below the questions.
Does your mood affect the way you feel about your body?
2) Is it hard for you to accept compliments about the way you look?
3) Do you avoid situations where others would see your body, such as swimming parties or social situations that call for scanty dress?
4) Do you think you look bad on days you haven’t exercised?
Do you remark negatively about your body to yourself or others?
6) In thinking about your body, do you focus on the parts you believe need improvement?
Do you feel threatened or depressed by girls you perceive as more
attractive than yourself?
8) How often do you find yourself asking others—friends, boyfriend, parents, etc.—how you look?
9) How often do you worry about your weight?
you self-conscious about eating fully in front of others?
Body Esteem Scale
(Franzoi and Shields, 1984)
On this page are listed a number of body parts and functions.
Please read each item and indicate how you feel about this part or
function of YOUR OWN BODY using the following scale:
1 = Have strong negative feelings
2 = Have moderate negative feelings
3 = Have no feeling one way or the other
4 = Have moderate positive feelings
5 = Have strong positive feelings