by Ya-Ke (Grace) Wu, PhD, RN
What is body dissatisfaction? Body dissatisfaction is defined as negative perceptions, evaluation, attitudes, or feelings an individual has towards their body weight, shape, or appearance.1-3 External factors such as media images of other’s or negative feedback about one’s appearance from family and friends can influence how we evaluate our bodies.4 For example, if we believe that a thinner body is equal to beauty, it may increase the risk of developing weight and shape concerns towards our body sizes as well as body dissatisfaction.5
Body dissatisfaction is well-studied in the college student population. Previous studies showed that one out of every three college students is concerned about their weight and body shape, about 13% of female college students were dissatisfied with their body size, and female college students reported higher weight concern than male college students.6-8 In comparison with females, male college students wanted to have less body fat and desired more muscle mass.9 In addition, white female college students reported higher body dissatisfaction than Native American and Hispanic college women.10
Why might the issue of body dissatisfaction be coming up during college life? The college years represent a pivotal developmental time that students transition from teenagers to adulthood.11 In addition to facing the task of academic load and the challenge of greater personal responsibility, college students may also be exposed to group living situations such as living with roommates in dorms.12,13 This type of shared living experience may increase the risk for body dissatisfaction by body comparison and may lead to negative perceptions of one’s body image.13 College students may also use social media such as Instagram in order to establish new interpersonal relationships.14 Social media may have a negative influence on college students’ body image because students who use social media may be spending time carefully selecting the best images in order to promote themselves and to seek comments by others.14 Engaging in social media in this way may lead to increased stressors surrounding maintaining or achieving an ideal body and may lead to body dissatisfaction.15,16
Why is body dissatisfaction in college students important? College students are not only at higher risk for body dissatisfaction, but there is a significant association between body dissatisfaction and eating behavior. Body dissatisfaction has been identified as an important risk factor for disordered eating behaviors in college students, such as restrained eating, dieting, binge eating, and bulimia nervosa.17-21 Raising awareness of the link between body dissatisfaction and eating disturbances may be a first step in preventing eating disorders among college students. Health care providers can help college students change the way they see themselves by encouraging them to embrace their natural size with positive perceptions of their body images to improve physical and emotional health.
For a resource on body positivity, visit The Body Positive.
- Cash, T. F. (2004). Body image: Past, present, and future. Body Image, 1(1), 1-5. doi:10.1016/s 1740-1445(03)00011-1
- Jones, B. A., Haycraft, E., Murjan, S., & Arcelus, J. (2016). Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in trans people: A systematic review of the literature. International Review of Psychiatry, 28(1), 81-94. doi:10.3109/09540261.2015.1089217
- Slade, P. D. (1994). What is body image? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 32(5), 497-502.
- McGuinness, S., & Taylor, J. E. (2016). Understanding body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating in midlife adults. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 45(1), 4-12.
- Legenbauer, T., Thiemann, P., & Vocks, S. (2014). Body image disturbance in children and adolescents with eating disorders. Current evidence and future directions. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother, 42(1), 51-59. doi:10.1024/1422-4917/a000269
- Forney, K. J., & Ward, R. M. (2013). Examining the moderating role of social norms between body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in college students. Eating Behaviors, 14(1), 73-78. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2012.10.017
- Goswami, S., Sachdeva, S., & Sachdeva, R. (2012). Body image satisfaction among female college students. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 21(2), 168-172. doi:10.4103/0972-6748.119653
- Lipson, S. K., Jones, J. M., Taylor, C. B., Wilfley, D. E., Eichen, D. M., Fitzsimmons-Craft, E. E., & Eisenberg, D. (2017). Understanding and promoting treatment-seeking for eating disorders and body image concerns on college campuses through online screening, prevention and intervention. Eating Behaviors, 25, 68-73. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2016. 03.020
- Mayo, C., & George, V. (2014). Eating disorder risk and body dissatisfaction based on muscularity and body fat in male university students. Journal of American College Health, 62(6), 407-415. doi:10.1080/07448481.2014.917649
- Smith, J. M., Smith, J. E., McLaughlin, E. A., Belon, K. E., Serier, K. N., Simmons, J. D., . . . Delaney, H. D. (2018). Body dissatisfaction and disordered eating in Native American, Hispanic, and White College Women. Eating and Weight Disorders. doi:10.1007/s40519 -018-0597-8
- Hunt, J., & Eisenberg, D. (2010). Mental health problems and help-seeking behavior among college students. Journal of Adolescent Health, 46(1), 3-10. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth. 2009.08.008
- Pedrelli, P., Nyer, M., Yeung, A., Zulauf, C., & Wilens, T. (2015). College Students: Mental Health Problems and Treatment Considerations. Academic Psychiatry, 39(5), 503-511. doi:10.1007/s40596-014-0205-9
- Venkataramani, V., & Dalal, R. S. (2007). Who helps and harms whom? Relational antecedents of interpersonal helping and harming in organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(4), 952-966. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.92.4.952
- Bake, N. (2018). Focusing on college students’ Instagram use and body image. (Master of Science in Psychology), University of Rhode Island, Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.uri.edu/theses/1243
- Blair, L., Aloia, C. R., Valliant, M. W., Knight, K. B., Garner, J. C., & Nahar, V. K. (2017). Association between athletic participation and the risk of eating disorder and body dissatisfaction in college students. International Journal of Health Sciences (Qassim), 11(4), 8-12.
- Duarte, C., Ferreira, C., Trindade, I. A., & Pinto-Gouveia, J. (2015). Body image and college women’s quality of life: The importance of being self-compassionate. Journal of Health Psychology, 20(6), 754-764. doi:10.1177/1359105315573438
- Brechan, I., & Kvalem, I. L. (2015). Relationship between body dissatisfaction and disordered eating: Mediating role of self-esteem and depression. Eating Behaviors, 17, 49-58. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2014.12.008
- Gordon, K. H., Holm-Denoma, J. M., Troop-Gordon, W., & Sand, E. (2012). Rumination and body dissatisfaction interact to predict concurrent binge eating. Body Image, 9(3), 352-357. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.04.001
- Granner, M. L., Black, D. R., & Abood, D. A. (2002). Levels of cigarette and alcohol use related to eating-disorder attitudes. American Journal of Health Behavior, 26(1), 43-55.
- Nelson, M. C., Lust, K., Story, M., & Ehlinger, E. (2009). Alcohol use, eating patterns, and weight behaviors in a university population. American Journal of Health Behavior, 33(3), 227-237. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.33.3.1
- Welch, E., Miller, J. L., Ghaderi, A., & Vaillancourt, T. (2009). Does perfectionism mediate or moderate the relation between body dissatisfaction and disordered eating attitudes and behaviors? Eating Behaviors, 10(3), 168-175. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2009.05.002