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Less Pressure Improves Women's Body Image

Update Date: May 10, 2012 01:15 AM EDT

Women can feel better about their bodies when they receive high family support and limited pressure to attain the "thin and beautiful."

That's according to a new study led by Dr. Shannon Snapp, from the University of Arizona, to look at five factors that may help young women to develop a more positive body image.

"It is particularly important for women to develop a sense of self-worth that is not solely based on appearance, and to build resilience to pressures they may receive from family, friends and the media," say authors.

Researchers examined factors that make women more resilient when it comes to their body image. Their study focused on young college women, who are likely to experience self-consciousness as they compare themselves with peers and become involved in social groups and organizations that place a high value on appearance.

The team had 301 first-year college women, from two universities in the US, complete questionnaires based on the Choate theoretical model.

This model hypothesizes that family support and low levels of pressure to achieve the thin ideal are related to the rejection of the superwoman ideal, positive views of physical competence, and effective stress-busting strategies. These factors are associated with well-being, which in turn is linked to positive body image in women. The researchers put this model to the test in a "real life" situation.

It was found that young women with high family support and low levels of perceived socio-cultural pressure from family, friends and the media regarding the importance of achieving a "thin and beautiful" ideal had a more positive body image.These same women also rejected the superwoman ideal, had a positive physical self-concept, and were with skills to deal with stress.

Authors give practical recommendations for prevention programs aimed at young women at risk of eating disorders: helping women to evaluate and become comfortable with the multiple and often contradictory expectations placed upon them in today's society; teaching them to use effective coping skills; fostering a positive view of their physical competence through exercise and health; and promoting holistic well-being and balance in their lives.

The work "A body image resilience model for first-year college women" is published online in Springer's journal, Sex Roles.

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