Weight-preoccupied and not-weight-preoccupied college women: a study of body weight and body image

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Differences between two groups of 25 college women, a weight-preoccupied group (WP) and a not-weight-preoccupied control group (NWP), were investigated. The groups differed only with respect to scores on the Drive for Thinness subscale of the Eating Disorder Inventory; they were matched for age, race, social class, and dissatisfaction with present weight. All subjects: completed questionnaires measuring social self-esteem and tendency to use potentially-dangerous weight-loss methods; were weighed and measured for height; and were photographed in form-fitting clothing. Silhouettes were constructed which were used in body-image tasks: subjects modified their outlines to provide "perceived," "desired," and "ideal" body images. Results revealed no significant group differences with respect to body weight or Body Mass Index. However, there was more variability among WP subjects: all 25 NWP, but only 17 WP, subjects were within 10% of their ideal weight. The WP subjects had experienced a more dramatic weight gain during adolescence. They had a significantly greater tendency to use potentially-dangerous dieting methods and to report a "desired" body image that was extremely thin. On average, the "desired" image was 86.69% of the "actual" image for the WP subjects; it was 93.45% of the actual for the NWP subjects. It is suggested that weight-preoccupation may be due to: a tendency toward overweight, and/or a drastic adolescent weight gain, and/or low body-related self-esteem. It is also suggested that the tendency of WP subjects to use potentially-dangerous dieting methods and to express infeasible weight-loss goals verifies their need for specialized weight-control counseling.