Does this Blog Make Me Look Fat?
Dr. Steve Franzoi
Body esteem has been a “hot” topic in the media for many years, and it also is an important area of research in psychology. Up until the mid-1980s, researchers considered body esteem to be a unidimensional construct, meaning that you could measure people’s evaluations of their physical selves by assigning them an overall score on the degree to which they liked or disliked their bodies. Then, in 1984, Dr. Stephen Franzoi and Dr. Stephanie Shields published the Body Esteem Scale. Based on their factor-analytic research involving numerous samples of young adults, Franzoi and Shields’ new measure of body esteem represented a significant departure in the way social scientists thought about and measured this aspect of self-concept.
One thing that was different about the Body Esteem Scale was that it was gender specific, meaning that women’s and men’s body esteem were conceived of as being qualitatively different from one another. The researchers arrived at this conclusion because their analysis of women’s and men’s evaluations of their body parts and body functions indicated that they often assign different meanings to various body aspects. For example, while women tend to evaluate their appetite, waist, and thighs in terms of an overall sense of “weight concern,” men are more likely to evaluate these same body aspects in terms of an overall sense of “physical condition.” Another thing that was different about the Body Esteem Scale was that it did not assume that people typically evaluate their bodies as a whole (“I like my body or I don’t like my body”), but rather that they evaluate it in terms of different dimensions (“I feel like I’m good looking, but I don’t like my physical fitness). The 35-item Body Esteem Scale identified three distinct dimensions of body esteem in women and three distinct dimensions of body esteem in men. In later research, Franzoi described the different ways in which women and men evaluate their bodies as being a “body as beauty object” outlook for women and a “body as instrument of action” outlook for men.
Over the past quarter century, the Body Esteem Scale has been used by many researchers throughout the world to study such issues as physical fitness, social physique anxiety, physical attractiveness standards, eating disorders, cultural influences on body esteem, and surgical effects on body image.
Recently, Dr. Franzoi and one of his doctoral students, Katherine Frost, have been working to prepare the Body Esteem Scale as a valuable research instrument for the next quarter century. Ms. Frost’s dissertation research involves a multi-study factor analysis of the Body Esteem Scale to determine whether the manner in which women and men think about and evaluate their bodies has changed since the 1980s. Preliminary findings suggest that while the manner in which young American women evaluate their bodies has not markedly shifted over the past 25 years, young American men’s body views have become more objectified, meaning they are more likely to be attentive to and concerned about their physical appearance than previous generations of men. One possible explanation for this cultural shift is the increased focus on the male body as a beauty object in our culture, perhaps partly fueled by women’s increased financial independence from men and their resulting increased expectation that men—as potential romantic partners—need to be more attentive to how their bodies look as beauty objects. If this reasoning is correct, men in the 21st century are more likely to increasingly have some of the same body-esteem issues that women have experienced for many generations.