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Conclusion

For many people, EDs are marked by an overwhelming desire to attain an ideal body shape, a body that they think self-control can provide. Sociocultural messages from the media, peers, and parents have been empirically demonstrated to contribute to beliefs about the importance and achievement of this perfect body. These ubiquitous messages are remarkable for how early they appear and how consistent they are. This is especially true for girls and women; an emphasis on appearance is part of the feminine gender role. Although sociocultural factors alone likely do not explain most cases of EDs, they probably play a significant role. More research is needed to specify how these processes work. Research is needed that examines the pathways of development from early exposure to the messages to the adoption of the ideal to body image disturbance and EDs. Investigators need to include a variety of ages and ethnic groups and both genders in their samples.

These messages are culturally constructed. Thus, they are not a necessary part of the human experience. They can be changed. This change can occur on an individual level, as when cognitive schema are altered in cognitive-behavioral therapy or when feminist therapy encourages active resistance to the messages. However, actually altering the culture to change the acceptability and presence of these portrayals of women and their bodies is also possible. Teasing can be stopped. Consumers can convince advertisers and companies to use different marketing techniques. Research on how such changes affect the development and maintenance of body image disturbance and EDs will be important.

Highlights

• Cultural, ethnic group, gender, and sexual identification differences in rates and types of body image concerns, disordered eating patterns, and EDs all suggest that sociocultural factors play a role in the development of these psychological problems.

Eating disorders and obesity share some risk factors, including body dissatisfaction, child sexual and physical abuse, and dieting that is designed and initiated without medical advice. In turn, factors that create body dissatisfaction and dieting may contribute to both EDs and obesity.

• Correlational, experimental, and longitudinal data have all supported a relationship between the media and risk factors for EDs, including thin- ideal internalization, body dissatisfaction, and weight control behaviors. Data have linked media and these problems among women, men, and adolescents. Black Americans may be less affected than other ethnic groups.

• Parental modeling and comments may affect childrens body image and disordered eating. Although both boys and girls are affected, the effects may be greater for girls. Maternal comments may commonly be more influential. Parents' comments to children about their weight or shape seem more important than modeling.

• Parental attempts to exercise control over the child's eating may actually facilitate disordered (especially disinhibited) eating and obesity.

• Peers too may make direct comments or model disordered eating. Indeed, peers may form a culture in which body dissatisfaction, dieting, and other forms of body-change techniques are common.

• Peers frequently tease each other about appearance. Weight- and shape-related teasing is common. Research has linked such teasing to body image and eating problems.

• Fat talk is another form of peer interaction related to body image problems. Fat talk is socially expected among women, underscoring the link between appearance (including thinness) and feminine gender role.

• Some direct effects of media, parents, and peers on disordered eating likely exist. That many of the effects are moderated or mediated, particularly by tendencies toward social comparison or thin-ideal internalization, is also likely.

• Eating disorders are likely the result of complex interactions among biological (e.g., genetic), psychological (e.g., personality), and social (e.g., media influence) factors. The interplay among these contributors is currently poorly understood.

• Sociocultural factors should be integrated into the treatment and prevention of EDs, body image dysfunction, and disordered eating.

 
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