Women´s body image and the role of culture: A review of the literature


  • Savita Bakhshi


Body image can be described as a combination of a person’s perceptions, feelings and thoughts about his/her body and their general physical appearance. Self-perceptions are important to examine because they can have implications for a person’s psychological and physical health. Past research has shown that culture plays a significant role in forming appearance ideals and that these vary for women of different cultures. The purpose of this article was to review the present literature on the prevalence of negative body image in women of different ethnic groups living in Western cultures. The similarities and differences between cultures in terms of negative body image in women were discussed followed by an examination of the role of acculturation in the development of negative body image. The findings showed that a significant proportion of women of different ethnicities are dissatisfied with their bodies and many are dieting to lose weight. The similarities between the groups indicated that the effect of non-Western cultures that previously promoted larger, more realistic body ideals is now diminishing. Thinner body ideals are now being reinforced for all women regardless of culture and ethnicity, thereby increasing the vulnerability towards developing a negative body image. The role of individual differences and the implications of this change are also discussed in this article.