chapter  6
49 Pages

Age, social class, ethnicity and sexuality

Previous chapters have identified gender-related differences in body satisfaction. The participants in many of these studies have been groups of white, middle-class college students between the ages of 18 and 25 years, and of unspecified sexuality. Although most psychological research relies on this participant group due to convenience for the academic investigator (Christensen, 1997), results are necessarily limited in generalisability. This chapter focuses on studies that have compared groups differing in age, social class, ethnicity and sexuality. First, we will review evidence for changes in body dissatisfaction throughout the lifespan, to identify critical periods for dissatisfaction and to look at development and change in body dissatisfaction in both women and men. This will be followed by a discussion of the historical links between ‘slenderness’ and the middle and upper classes, with a review of studies of class differences in body dissatisfaction. Following this, work on the effects of ethnicity on body satisfaction will be evaluated, in particular considering the negative effects of white Western values on body image in black sub-cultures. Finally, the impact of sexuality on body image will be investigated, looking at differential pressures on men and women to be sexually attractive, and establishing links between heterosexual, gay and lesbian subcultures and body image.