Contextualizing Lesbian Body Image: Comparisons with Heterosexual Women and Lesbian-Specific Factors
Alvy, Lisa M.
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Body image is an important component of women’s physical and mental health. Body dissatisfaction, a negative subjective evaluation of one’s body, has long been associated with disordered eating, obesity, depression, and low self-esteem. Body dissatisfaction is prevalent among women generally but may be less so among lesbian women as the result of a lower emphasis on physical appearance within lesbian culture, a greater valuing of larger body types among lesbian women, and lesbian women feeling less subject to male-defined standards. If so, understanding lesbian and heterosexual differences and lesbian-specific influences on body dissatisfaction could have important implications for body image research and women’s health efforts. Many studies that have explored lesbian and heterosexual differences in body dissatisfaction have suffered from methodological limitations and have not been theoretically based. Additionally, key variables known to influence other aspects of lesbian health, such as minority stress and sexual identity development, have not been well explored. I addressed both empirical and theoretical limitations of past research within a community sample of 879 lesbian and heterosexual women. I contrasted the two sexual identity groups on several widely used body dissatisfaction measures, controlling for clinician-collected data on BMI and key demographic covariates. As predicted, lesbian women reported significantly less body dissatisfaction than did heterosexual women on three of four measures. A structural equation model of proposed risk and protective factors for body dissatisfaction among lesbian women did not reveal significant relationships between these predictors and body dissatisfaction. This study represents a first attempt at modeling theoretically-derived, culturally-specific influences on lesbian women’s body image. Given demonstrated differences in lesbian and heterosexual women’s body dissatisfaction it is important to continue to explore body image among this sexual minority group. I discuss implications for future research.
structural equation modeling