Mass media, body image and eating disturbances: The underlying mechanism through the lens of the objectification theory

Antonios Dakanalis, Giuseppe Riva

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

In Western culture, the body is considered a symbol of personal success or failure - beauty and slenderness are generally associated with happiness and social acceptability, whereas being overweight or out of shape are linked to laziness, lack of self-discipline and being out of control. Literature evidence highlights that socio-cultural and, in particular, media pressure are central to the development of negative feelings about the body (i.e., body shame) related to a number of psychopathological problems such as eating disturbances. Even though virtually all women are exposed to idealized media images, it is clear that not everybody is ashamed of their body appearance, and only a minority of women develop clinically diagnosable eating disorders. Available data suggests that individuals who have internalized media ideals and/or invested in appearance for self-evaluation are more vulnerable to experiencing body shame and then engaging in eating disorder behaviours. The objectification theory is a cohesive framework that incorporates both mechanisms and offers a more complex account of the process involved in women's emotional and behavioural responses to their desire to meet Western cultural ideals of physical appearance and attractiveness. Furthermore, this theory indicates how socio-cultural and psychological variables work together to predictwomen's eating disorder symptomatology essential for understanding how to prevent and treat such symptoms. There is also increasing evidence from experimental, longitudinal and correlational studies that some constructs (i.e., self-objectification/body surveillance, body shame) of the objectification theory are also salient in men. More recently, we have examined and demonstrated that the objectification theory is a useful framework for exploring potential underlying mechanisms that lead gay men to have high levels of disordered eating behaviours. This chapter provides an overview of the objectification theory, reviews the empirical studies which support the tenets of this theoretical approach, and describes its promise for addressing gender and sexual orientation diversity. Finally, we deal with aspects of similarities and differences between the objectification theory and other influential theoretical approaches, such as the dual pathway model of eating pathology and the allocentric lock theory in an attempt to better understand the aetiological factors of these complex and multifaceted diseases that continue to affect a significant number of individuals in Western culture.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on Body Image: Gender Differences, Sociocultural Influences and Health Implications
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Pages217-235
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781626183599
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • Eating disorders
  • Gender
  • Objectification theory
  • Sexual orientation differences
  • Socio-cultural factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Psychology(all)

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