Sex Roles

, Volume 66, Issue 9, pp 677–694

Body Dissatisfaction and Disordered Eating in Three Cultures: Argentina, Brazil, and the U.S.

Authors

    • Millikin University
  • Jaehee Jung
    • University of Delaware
  • Juan Diego Vaamonde
    • Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Universidad Nacional de Rosario
  • Alicia Omar
    • Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Universidad Nacional de Rosario
  • Laura Paris
    • Universidad Nacional de Rosario
  • Nilton Soares Formiga
    • Universidade Federal da Paraiba
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11199-011-0105-3

Cite this article as:
Forbes, G.B., Jung, J., Vaamonde, J.D. et al. Sex Roles (2012) 66: 677. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0105-3

Abstract

Body dissatisfaction and associated attitudes were studied in 18–24 years old women from universities in Rosario, Santa Fe, Argentina (N = 118), João Pessoa, Paraíba, Brazil (N = 81), and mid-Atlantic U.S. (N = 102). Based on anecdotal reports, theoretical concerns, and empirical studies, we expected greater body dissatisfaction and negative body attitudes in our Argentine and Brazilian samples than in the U.S. sample. Body dissatisfaction was a significant problem in all samples, but we found few differences in levels of body dissatisfaction. The Argentine and Brazilian samples scored lower than the U.S. sample on measures associated with disordered eating, experienced less pressure to be thin, and were less likely to internalize the thin body ideal. Body shame was highest in the Brazilian sample and lowest in the Argentine sample. Cultural features in Argentina and Brazil that may offer some level of protection against the thin body ideal were discussed.

Keywords

Body dissatisfactionEating disordersThin idealCultural differencesArgentinaBrazil

Introduction

There has been substantial research and clinical interest in body dissatisfaction because of its recognition as an “essential precursor” to eating disorders (Polivy and Herman 2002, p. 192). However, until recent years nearly all of the research was done with samples from the U.S. This narrow focus on U.S. samples is unfortunate because it makes it impossible to determine which characteristics and theoretical models of body dissatisfaction are culturally limited and which have cross-cultural applicability (Laungani 2002). In the last 10 years there has been an increase in cross-cultural research on body dissatisfaction. However, most of this research has been limited by the use of single, narrow measures of body dissatisfaction and very little of the research has included samples from South America. The paucity of research in South American populations is unfortunate because there are good reasons to expect that high levels of body dissatisfaction are present in Argentina and Brazil. The present research employed multidimensional measures of body dissatisfaction and behaviors associated with disordered eating. It also included measures reflecting awareness or consequences of cultural appearance standards in samples of college women from Argentina, Brazil, and the United States.

It is important to recognize that the deleterious effects of body dissatisfaction are not limited to the relatively small group of women with clinically diagnosed eating disorders. Instead, the impact of body dissatisfaction is much broader and insidious. A large amount of research, much of it strongly influenced by feminist theory, indicates that body dissatisfaction is associated with social anxiety, body shame, reduced sexual intimacy, depression, and a wide variety of other experiences and feelings that undermine self-confidence, diminish self-esteem, and reduce the quality of life for large numbers of U.S. and Western European women of all ages and from all walks of life (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997; Grogan 2008; Wolf 1991).

Cultural Differences in Body Dissatisfaction

The long held belief that body dissatisfaction and related issues (e.g., eating disorders) were confined to affluent White women in the U.S. and Western Europe discouraged research with other populations (Brumberg 1988). It was not until the early 1990s that it was generally recognized that body dissatisfaction and eating disorders were found in many countries, and that their prevalence was increasing in developing countries (Gordon 2000, 2001; Nasser et al. 2001). Because most clinical work and empirical research have been done in the U.S., either implicitly or explicitly researchers and theoreticians have often made the assumption that the incidence of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating would be greatest in the U.S. Consistent with this assumption, U.S. samples have become the de facto standard of comparison for cross-cultural studies of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating (Holmqvist and Frisén 2010; Jung and Forbes 2010).

Just as researchers were not aware of eating disorders in many developing countries until they began to look for them, researchers had to do cross-cultural studies before they could discover populations that have greater body dissatisfaction than the U.S. The East Asian cultures that provided some of the first evidence that eating disorders were not limited to White women from the U.S. and Western Europe were also the first cultures to demonstrate levels of body dissatisfaction that exceeded those of U.S. comparison samples (Davis and Katzman 1998; Jung and Forbes 2006; Jung et al. 2008; Kowner 2002; Wardle et al. 2006). Recent reviews of cross-cultural differences in body dissatisfaction can be found in Holmqvist and Frisén (2010) and Jung and Forbes (2010).

Cross-cultural studies of body dissatisfaction and related issues are challenging because nearly all of the measures and the theoretical systems describing body dissatisfaction have been developed from the study of U.S. and Western European populations. This means that cross-cultural research will present difficult problems with translation, the cross-cultural equivalence of measures, and the appropriateness of applying theories outside of their culture of origin. These and related problems have been extensively discussed in the literature (e.g., Brislin 1976; 1986; van de Vijver and Leung 1997).

One of the first steps in the development of valid cross-cultural theories of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating is to identify cultures that differ in the incidence of these problems. Cultures that have a higher incidence of these problems than U.S. comparisons samples are of particular theoretical and practical importance.

Variables Contributing to High Levels of Body Dissatisfaction

Role of U.S. and Western European Media

Nearly all researchers agree that exposure to U.S and Western European appearance standards is an important contributor to body dissatisfaction (Grogan 2008). These standards present an unrealistically thin body ideal coupled with unrelenting pressure to attain it. It is generally agreed that mass media are the major vector for propagating these pathogenic appearance standards. The work of Becker and her associates is a widely cited and compelling illustration of media influences (Becker et al. 2002). These researchers found that the introduction of Australian television to a remote area of Fiji was associated with a rapid increase in body dissatisfaction and symptoms of disordered eating among young women. However, simple exposure to U.S. and Western European media is not the whole story (e.g., Anderson-Fye 2003, 2004). If body dissatisfaction was simply a function of the degree of exposure to these media, American women would have the highest level of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders in the world. Because this is not the case, other factors must also be present (Holmqvist and Frisén 2010). Among these factors, rapid social change and its consequences appear to be particularly important.

Role of Social Change

From the initial recognition of anorexia nervosa in the 1870s, it has been clear that disordered eating is often associated with rapid social change and the resulting sense of personal helplessness and lack of control. As Brumberg (1988) suggested, growing insecurities associated with rapid social change in the 1870s was probably the reason why anorexia nervosa was recognized almost simultaneously by physicians in the U.S., England, and France. Similar factors probably played an important role in the sharp increase in eating disorders seen in the U.S. during the social unrest of the 1960s and 1970s (Silverstein and Perlick 1995). Although the concepts clearly overlap, therapists and personality theorists have tended to emphasize the importance of a decrease in personal control (e.g., Bruch 2001), whereas researchers and social theorists have been more likely to emphasize the role of social change in the development of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating (e.g., Bemporad 1997). Rapid social change plays a particularly important role in the influential work of Nasser (1997, 2003; Nasser et al. 2001) and Gordon (1990, 2000, 2001).

Feminist Theory and Social Change

U.S. feminist theory provides a structure that may help to understand the link between social change and body dissatisfaction. Like nearly all other theoretical viewpoints, U.S. feminist theory recognizes the importance of U.S. and Western European mass media. Feminist theory states that the intense media and social interest in women’s bodies result in women learning to view their bodies from the perspective of an external observer (Bartky 1990; McKinley and Hyde 1996). That is, women began to perceive their body as an object and subject it to constant scrutiny and evaluation. This process is described as body objectification (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) or body surveillance (McKinley and Hyde 1996). This self-awareness and evaluation almost inevitably results in unfavorable comparisons between one’s own body and unrealistic cultural appearance standards. This, in turn, produces body shame (McKinley and Hyde 1996). A feminist theoretical framework that describes the pervasive consequences of this process is provided by the influential work of Fredrickson and Roberts (1997).

Importantly, feminist theory looks beyond media images and their consequences for individual women and addresses the social and political purposes these images serve. The theoretical foundations for this approach are found in the writings of Dworkin (1974), Faludi (1991), and especially Bordo (1993). According to these authors, the purpose of unrealistic body ideals is to oppress women and perpetuate gender inequality. This is accomplished by keeping perceptions of women narrowly focused on superficial aspects of their appearance. Through this mechanism, perceptions are diverted from both women’s accomplishments and their legitimate concerns with gender inequality. As a result, women’s self-confidence is systematically and insidiously undermined by an exhausting, expensive, shame producing, and usually futile effort to achieve unobtainable appearance standards. As Wolf (1991) observed, “The more legal and material hindrances woman have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us” (p. 10). Making a similar argument, Silverstein and Perlick (1995) argued that it was no coincidence that the two decades in the 20th century when American women made their greatest strides toward gender equality, the 1920s and the 1960s, were also the times when the thin body ideal was at its most oppressive extreme. Recent studies have provided empirical support for a link between beauty ideals and the oppression of women (Forbes et al. 2007; Swami et al. 2010).

Body Dissatisfaction in Argentina and Brazil

Although the only identified populations that have higher levels of body dissatisfaction than the U.S. are found in East Asia, this may be because these societies have received much more systematic examination than other societies. In the cross-cultural study of body dissatisfaction two entire continents have received little systematic interest: Africa and South America. The relative neglect of South America is particularly unfortunate because there is a substantial amount of anecdotal evidence, good theoretical reasons, and limited empirical evidence to expect high levels of body dissatisfaction in Argentina and Brazil, two of the largest and among the richest countries in South America (Central Intelligence Agency 2010).

Women in both countries are socialized in cultures that are often described as “obsessed” with women’s bodies (e.g., Meehan and Katzman 2001; Secchi et al. 2009; Valente 1995). One of the most obvious manifestation of this obsession (Meehan and Katzman 2001) or “body cult” (Morais and Horizonte 2002, p. 137) is the popularity of cosmetic surgery. Both countries have large, thriving, world class cosmetic surgery industries. In Argentina these procedures are affordable and widely available because of heavily promoted installment payment plans and prices that are much lower than in the U.S. or Western Europe. Even greater availability occurs in Brazil where cosmetic surgery is covered under national health insurance, the only country in the world providing this benefit (Edmonds 2007a). Like the U.S., both Brazil and Argentina have very high rates of cosmetic surgery (International Association for Aesthetic/Cosmetic Surgery 2010). On a population adjusted basis Brazil has the second highest number of cosmetic procedures in the world, and Argentina is not far behind with the sixth highest rate. The U.S., with the third highest rate, falls between Brazil and Argentina (International Association for Aesthetic/Cosmetic Surgery 2010). To the extent that the decision to have cosmetic surgery is a response to real or perceived appearance flaws or undesirable features, these statistics suggest a high level of body dissatisfaction must be present in Brazil and Argentina, as well as in the U.S. Although Argentina and Brazil both share an obsession with women’s appearance and high rates of cosmetic surgery, they each have unique cultural features that would be expected to promote body dissatisfaction and disordered eating.

Argentina

Unlike its neighboring countries, the majority of Argentines are descendents of White European immigrants, primarily from Italy and Spain (Meehan and Katzman 2001). Argentines perceive themselves as different from their neighbors and emphasize these differences through what Meehan and Katzman (2001, p.151) described as an “over-identification” with Europe. As part of this over-identification, Argentines have embraced an exaggerated form of the U.S. and Western European thin body ideal (Meehan and Katzman 2001). Consistent with this description, Argentine women have been described as being especially likely to believe that their hips and thighs are too large (Facchini 2006).

Argentina is known for its extremely thin fashion models and it has been estimated that 10% of Argentine adolescent girls experience some form of eating disorder (García Terán 2005). As both a cause and a consequence of this exaggerated thin body ideal, Argentina has long been notorious for the very restricted range of sizes available in women’s clothing. In 2005 the difficulty in finding teen clothing larger than metric 38 (U.S. 8) resulted in the province of Buenos Aires taking the unusual step of requiring that stores stock teen fashions in metric sizes 38–48 (U.S. 8–18: García Terán 2005). Because of continued pressure from women’s groups, in 2009 a similar law was passed for adult clothing (Acevedo Díaz 2010).

Argentina has had a turbulent history with a series of oppressive military dictatorships, severe economic reversals (including massive foreign debts and a default in 2001), and very high unemployment (Central Intelligence Agency 2010). To the extent that insecurity, a sense of helplessness, and a loss of personal control are contributors to body dissatisfaction, a high level of body dissatisfaction and behaviors associated with disordered eating would be expected among Argentine girls and women (e.g., Bruch 2001; Brumberg 1988; Nasser, Katzman & Gordon 2001).

Results of the limited available empirical studies are consistent with this hypothesis. For example, McArthur et al. (2005) found that 80% of adolescent girls from Buenos Aires were dissatisfied with their weight, the highest proportion among samples from six Latin American countries. Holmqvist et al. (2007) found that adolescent Argentine and Swedish girls did not differ on measures of body attitudes, but Argentine girls, although they had a smaller BMI than Swedish girls, were more likely to have dieted or tried to lose weight. Other studies of adolescents and young women have found evidence suggesting high levels of body dissatisfaction and symptoms of disordered eating in Argentine samples (e.g., Galarsi et al. 2010; Murawski et al. 2009; Rivarola 2003)

Brazil

According to Morais and Horizonte (2002), a body cult surrounding the young and perfect body is deeply imbedded in the Brazilian culture. Early Europeans perceived Brazil as an earthy paradise. This perception continues today in images of topical sunshine, samba, “Carnaval”, and beautiful bikini-clad bodies displayed on endless beaches. However, unlike the U.S. slender, large-breasted “Barbie” ideal, the traditional Brazilian ideal body, the result of the intermingling of indigenous, African, and European genes, is different. Commonly described as um corpo de violão, a guitar-shaped body, it is characterized by full hips, thighs, and buttocks and relatively small breasts (Finger 2003; Rohter 2007). However, in the 1990s the “Siliconadas”, stars of steamy telenovelas, models, socialites, and other celebrities who eagerly displayed surgically augmented breasts, ushered in a new Brazilian body ideal (Edmonds 2007a, b; Karp 2001). This new ideal is exemplified by the Brazilian model, Gisele Bündchen, whose 36-24-35 figure has been displayed in fashion magazines around the world. With the influence of the Siliconadas surgically augmented breasts were soon heralded as a “new national passion” (Karp 2001, p. 1). As surgical breast augmentation became increasingly popular, the size of implants became progressively larger as Brazil began to embrace the thin, larger-breasted U.S. and Western European beauty ideal, which Harrison (2003) described as curvaceously thin, (Finger 2003; Karp 2001).

An obsessive quest for the perfect body has become a lifestyle for many Brazilians, especially middle class women (Oliveira and Hutz 2010). Thinness is now associated with a feminine image of success, perfection, and sexual attractiveness (Oliveira and Hutz 2010). This emphasis on a thin figure is reflected in reports that Brazil has the highest per capita use of “slimming” medications in the world (Osava 2008). In addition, reports of fatal cases of anorexia nervosa have began to appear in the mass media (Rohter 2006). To the extent that the curvaceously thin body ideal has replaced the traditional guitar-shaped ideal, Brazil would be expected to have high levels of body dissatisfaction and behaviors associated with disordered eating. (For recent anthropological perspectives on the role of the body in Brazilian culture, see Edmonds 2007a, b, 2009 and Goldenberg 2010).

Traditionally Brazil has had a strongly patriarchal society, but under the new constitution in 1988 women received the same legal rights as men (Hudson 1997). In the years since the new constitution women have made substantial educational progress and are now well-represented in professions such as medicine, law, and engineering; however, women continue to experience marked inequality and much overt sexism (Htun 2002; Simões and Matos 2008). As both a manifestation and a cause of this inequality, most women believe that a beautiful body is an important, probably essential, factor in romantic, social, economic, and vocational success (Goldenberg 2010; Osava 2008; Schultze 2011). This is particularly true in the service professions where 70% of women are employed and job qualifications include such specifications as “excellent figure” and “excellent physical appearance” (Meehan and Katzman 2001; Schultze 2011).

To the extent that a less than ideal body is a realistic impediment to personal and vocational success, high levels of appearance concern and body dissatisfaction would be expected among Brazilian women. The limited empirical evidence is consistent with this hypothesis. For example, Etcoff and her associates (Etcoff et al. 2004, 2006) reported that Brazilian women were second only to Japanese women in their level of body dissatisfaction. In a study with 2402 female university students of different Brazilian regions, dos Santos Alvarenga et al. (2010) found that 64% desired a smaller body, and even young women of normal weight chose smaller healthy and ideal figures in their responses to the Figure Rating Scale. Similarly, Costa and Vasconcelos (2010) found that almost half of college women wanted to lose weight. Consistent with reports of widespread body dissatisfaction, surveys have found that almost 70% of Brazilian women would like to have cosmetic surgery (Finger 2003). In fact, Secchi et al. (2009) found that 10% of college women had already undergone some kind of cosmetic surgery, and 50% planned to pursue cosmetic surgery in the future. This high level of body dissatisfaction is not limited to adults. Pinheiro and Giugliani (2006) reported that 82% of 9–11 years old children in Porto Alegre, Brazil were dissatisfied with their weight. Taken as whole, reported levels of body dissatisfaction among Brazilian girls and women appears to be at least as high as those reported in comparable U.S. samples (e.g., Wertheim et al. 2009).

Limitations of Available Studies

Unfortunately, with only occasional exceptions (e.g., Etcoff et al. 2004, 2006; Holmqvist et al. 2007), studies of body dissatisfaction in Argentina and Brazil have not used comparison samples from other countries. Among studies employing comparison groups, only Holmqvist et al. (2007) was limited to college women, the demographic group with one of the highest levels of body dissatisfaction and the target population of our study (Grogan 2008). In addition to lacking comparison samples, most studies have failed to control for body size (BMI) in their analyses. This is an important limitation because body size is usually correlated with body dissatisfaction and differences in body size are common in cross-cultural studies (Ackard et al. 2002; Forbes 2010). Nearly all available studies have also been limited by the use of only a single, relatively narrow, measure of body dissatisfaction. This is an important issue because body dissatisfaction is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon. Under these circumstances, methodologists advise the use of multiple measures (Campbell and Fiske 1959). Multiple measures are particularly important in cross-cultural studies because these studies typically use measures that require translation and are employed outside of their culture of origin. Such translations are always challenging and problems with construct validity or other issues are common. The use of multiple measures, particularly if they produce similar results, increases confidence that the results are not artifacts of translation errors or conceptual problems (Forbes 2010). (For recent discussions of the many methodological issues in cross-cultural research on body dissatisfaction see Holmqvist and Frisén 2010; Jung and Forbes 2010; and Soh et al. 2006).

The Present Study

The limited information on body dissatisfaction in South American countries is difficult to interpret because cross-cultural comparison groups are absent, researchers have usually relied on single, often unidimensional, measures of body dissatisfaction, and researchers have often failed to control for body size. To address these limitations, we used statistical controls for body size and multidimensional measures of body dissatisfaction and behaviors associated with disordered eating in samples of college women from Argentina and Brazil. Measures of body dissatisfaction included the discrepancy between self and ideal body mass (BMI), discrepancies between self and ideal figures on a figure rating scale, and scores on a three-factor body esteem scale. The results from these countries were then compared with identical measures from previously reported data collected from U.S. college women.

Hypotheses

  1. H1:

    The Argentine and Brazilian samples will have greater body dissatisfaction than the U.S. sample.

     
  2. H2:

    The Argentine and Brazilian samples will report more behaviors associated with disordered eating than the U.S. sample.

     
  3. H3:

    The Argentine and Brazilian samples will report experiencing more pressure to be thin, be more likely to internalize the thin body ideal, and experience more body shame than the U.S. sample.

     

Method

Participants and Procedure

The participants from Brazil were women in psychology or nutrition courses from a public university in João Pessoa, Paraíba. The participants from Argentina were women in social science classes from one public and one private university in Rosario, Santa Fe. All participants from Argentina and Brazil were volunteers who gave written consent to participate. They ranged in age from 17 to 54 years, and they were not compensated. The U.S. sample consisted of 102 18–24 years old women from a university in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. All participants were uncompensated volunteers. Results from the U.S. sample have been reported elsewhere by Forbes and Jung (2008) and Jung and Forbes (2006).

Because body size, amount of body dissatisfaction, and type of body dissatisfaction vary with age (Forbes et al. 2005; Tiggemann 2004) and because the U.S. comparison sample ranged in age from 18 to 24 years (mean age = 19.59), data from Argentine or Brazilian participants over the age of 24 years were discarded. This left a total of 118 participants (mean age = 20.73) from Argentina and 81 participants (mean age = 20.59) from Brazil.

The English version of the anonymous self-report questionnaire used by Jung and Forbes (2006) and Forbes and Jung (2008) was translated into Spanish and Portuguese by bilingual native speakers and then back translated by other bilingual native speakers in Argentina and Brazil. This questionnaire contained demographic items and a number of scales measuring body dissatisfaction and related attitudes. With a few exceptions noted below, items were answered on a 5-point Likert-type scale anchored by 1 = strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree and scales were scored by summing the items.

Discrepancy Measures of Body Dissatisfaction

Body Mass Index

The participant’s self-reported height, weight, and ideal weight were used to compute their actual and their ideal body mass index (BMI) using the standard formula [weight (kg)/height2 (m)]. A discrepancy measure of dissatisfaction with body size was computed by subtracting the person’s ideal BMI from their actual BMI. A positive difference score indicated a desire for a smaller body.

Figure Rating Scale (FRS; Stunkard et al. 1983)

The FRS consisted of nine numbered line drawings of female bodies. The drawings ranged from very slender (1) to obese (9). Participants were asked to Please choose the body type the most clearly matches your own (your current figure), Please choose the body type that you would most like to have (your ideal figure), Please choose the body type that most women would like to have (the cultural ideal) and Please choose the body type that you believe most men would like best (the attractive figure to men). Three discrepancy measures of body dissatisfaction were computed by subtracting the number of the figure representing the three body ideals from the number of the figure representing the participants’ actual body. For each of these measures, a positive score indicated that their actual body was larger than the ideal.

Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults

The Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults (BESAA; Mendelson et al. 2001) was administered as a measure of attitudes about one’s body. The BESAA consisted of 23 statements reflecting affective evaluation of body appearance and function. It has three factor-analytically derived measures: Appearance (e.g., I like what I look like in pictures), Weight (e.g., I am satisfied with my weight), and Attribution, a measure of the perception of how others evaluate one’s body and appearance, (e.g., People my age like my looks). Higher scores on each scale indicate higher body satisfaction. The range of scores were Appearance, 10–50; Attribution, 5–25, Weight, 8–40. Coefficient alphas were: Appearance, Argentina = .88, Brazil = .80, U.S. = .90; Attribution, Argentina = .68, Brazil = .76, U.S. = .92; Weight, Argentina = .89, Brazil = .89, U.S. = .78.

Measures Suggesting Disordered Eating

Two measures from the Eating Disorders Inventory (EDI; Garner et al. 1983) were administered. These were the Drive for Thinness scale (DFT) (e.g., I am terrified of gaining weight) and the Bulimia scale (e.g., I have gone on eating binges where I felt that I could not stop). The range of scores for both measures was 7–35. Coefficient alphas were: Drive for Thinness, Argentina = .78, Brazil = .89, U.S. = .85; Bulimia, Argentina = .87, Brazil = .79, U.S. = .82.

Measures Reflecting Cultural Appearance Standards

Perceived Sociocultural Pressure Scale (PSPS; Stice et al. 1996)

This 8-item scale is a measure of perceived pressure from significant others and the media to lose weight and be slender (e.g., I’ve felt pressure from people I’ve dated to lose weight). The range of scores was 8–40. Coefficient alphas were Argentina = .82, Brazil = .71, U.S. = .87.

Sociocultural Attitudes Toward Appearance Questionnaire (SATAQ; Heinberg et al. 1995)

The SATAQ contains the 6-item Awareness scale (e. g., People think that the thinner you are, the better you look in clothes) and the 8-item Internalization scale (e.g., I tend to compare my body to people in magazines and on TV). Coefficient alphas were: Awareness, Argentina = .60, Brazil = .41, U.S. = .76; Internalization, Argentina = .75, Brazil = .72, U.S. = .90. Because the reliabilities of the Awareness scale were below acceptable levels, a result that has been reported by others (e.g., Bagnara et al. 2004), the data from this scale were discarded. The range of scores for the Internalization scale was 8–40.

Objectified Body Consciousness Scale (OBCS; McKinley and Hyde 1996)

The OBCS contains the 8-item Surveillance scale (e.g., During the day, I think about how I look many times), the 8-item Body Shame scale (e.g., I feel like I must be a bad person when I don't look as good as I should), and the 8-item Control Beliefs scale (e. g., I think a person can look pretty much how they want to if they are willing to work at it). Coefficient alphas were: Surveillance, Argentina = .16, Brazil = .62, U.S. = .81; Body Shame, Argentina = .75, Brazil = .73, U.S. = .83; Control Beliefs, Argentina = .65, Brazil = .51, U.S. = .65. Because the reliabilities for the Surveillance scale were below acceptable limits, data from the Surveillance scale were discarded. Reliabilities for the Control Beliefs scale also fell below acceptable levels and were discarded. The later results were consistent with other data suggesting reliability problems with the Control Beliefs scale (e.g., Forbes et al. 2006). The range of scores for the Body Shame scale was 8–40.

The original English and the Portuguese and Spanish translations of all measures appear in Appendix 1.

Results

Because measures of body dissatisfaction and related attitudes are usually influenced by body size, all group comparisons, with the exception of measures of actual and ideal BMI, were made with multivariate analysis of covariance (MANCOVA) or analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) with BMI as covariate. Pair-wise comparisons among the samples were made using sequential Bonferroni corrections (Holm 1979) to maintain the family-wise alpha at .05.

BMI and FRS Measures

Means, standard deviations, F-values, and partial eta squared for actual BMI, ideal BMI, and each of the four questions from the FRS are shown in Table 1. These measures were used to compute the discrepancy measures of body dissatisfaction reported below. For the two BMI measures, the MANOVA was not significant, Wilks’ lambda = 1.40, F (4, 594) = 1.40. The significant MANCOVA for the four FRS measures was followed by separate ANCOVAs for each measure, Wilks’ lambda = .846, F (8, 588) = 5.89, p < .001, ηp2 = .080. The individual ANCOVAs for each of the 4 measures are shown in Table 1. Although the samples did not differ on the number of the drawing representing the participant’s actual body or the body she thought that other women would find ideal, differences were found on the participant’s own ideal and the body she thought men would find most attractive. The results indicated that the Argentine and Brazilian samples chose larger ideal bodies than the U.S. sample. All three samples differed from each other on the body the participants thought men would find most attractive. The sample from Brazil chose the largest body and the sample from the U.S. chose the smallest body.
Table 1

Means, standard deviations, F’s, partial ETA squared, and significance levels for actual and ideal BMI and FRS body ratings from the Argentine, Brazilian, and U.S. samples. Comparisons for actual and ideal BMI are from ANOVAs. All FRS comparisons are from ANCOVAs with BMI as covariate with unadjusted values in parentheses

 

Argentina

Brazil

US

  

M

SD

M

SD

M

SB

F(2,298)

\( \eta_{\text{p}}^2 \)

BMI measures

 Actual BMI

21.82

2.83

22.19

3.30

21.77

3.78

.43

 

 Ideal BMI

20.54

1.71

20.63

1.67

20.18

2.69

1.25

 

FRS bodies

 Actual

3.60 (3.58)

.94

3.45 (3.51)

1.10

3.43 (3.40)

1.08

2.11 (.42)

 

 Self Ideal

2.89a (2.88)

.68

2.84b (2.86)

.74

2.52ab (2.51 ab

.73

9.74*** (8.84***)

.061 (.056)

 Women’s ideal

2.21 (2.21)

.78

2.29 (2.28)

.75

2.38 (2.38)

.73

1.38 (1.34)

 

 Men’s ideal

2.76ab (2.76ab)

.72

3.02bc (3.02bc)

.77

2.57ac (2.57ac)

.68

8.68*** (8.95***)

.055 (.057)

BMI (Body Mass Index) range: actual 15.10–43.28, ideal 15.10–30.40; FRS (Figure Rating Scale: Stunkard et al. 1983) range: actual 1–7, self ideal. 1–6, women’s ideal 1–5, men’s ideal 1–5

Means with the same subscript are significantly different using sequential Bonferroni corrections (Holm 1979) to maintain a family-wise alpha level of .05

*** p < .001

Tests of Hypothesis 1

Hypothesis 1 predicted that the samples from Argentina and Brazil would have greater body dissatisfaction than the U.S. sample. This hypothesis was tested by both discrepancy and attitude measure of body dissatisfaction.

BMI Discrepancy Measures

As shown in Table 2, the ANCOVA on the actual-ideal BMI measure of body dissatisfaction was not significant. This result failed to confirm hypothesis 1.
Table 2

Adjusted means, standard deviations, and the results of ANCOVAs (unadjusted values in parentheses) for measures of body dissatisfaction in the samples from Argentina, Brazil, and the U.S.

 

Argentina

Brazil

US

  

M

SD

M

SD

M

SD

F(2,297)

\( \eta_{\text{p}}^2 \)

Discrepancy measures

 Actual-Ideal BMI

1.32 (1.28)

1.73

1.43 (1.56)

2.39

1.65 (1.69)

1.65

2.39

 

 FRS actual—ideal

.715 (.703)

.84

.612 (.654)

1.01

.912 (.892)

.79

4.10*

.027

 FRS actual—women’s

1.39a (1.37)

1.07

1.16 (1.23)

1.37

1.05a (1.02)

1.24

3.92*

.026

 FRS actual—men’s

.840 a (.822)

1.11

.430 ab (.494)

1.36

.863 b (.833)

1.12

5.91**

.038

BESAA

 Appearance

31.40 (31.44)

6.77

33.35 (33.18)

5.96

32.67 (32.35)

7.10

2.37

 

 Attribution

15.22a (15.23)

3.06

15.96b (15.93)

3.59

17.55ab (17.57)

3.01

15.11***

.092

 Weight

24.73 (24.81)

6.57

24.90 (24.61)

6.97

24.36 (24.50)

7.32

.19

 

Range of discrepancy measures: actual-ideal BMI -8.22–15.15; FRS (Figure Rating Scale: Stunkard et al. 1983) actual-ideal (-2)—3, actual-women’s ideal (-2)—6, actual- men's ideal (-2)—5. Range of BESAA (Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults: Mendelson, Mendelson, and White, 2001) measures: Appearance Scale 11–48, Attribution Scale 8–25, Weight Scale 8–40

Means with the same subscript are significantly different using sequential Bonferroni corrections (Holm 1979) to maintain a family-wise alpha level of .05

* p < .05. ** p < .01, *** p < .001

FRS Discrepancy Measures

The significant MANCOVA for the FRS discrepancy measures was followed by separate ANCOVAs for each measure, Wilks’ lambda = .873, F (6, 592) = 6.92, p < .001, ηp2 = .066. The results are shown in Table 2

Actual—Ideal Discrepancy Measure

When body dissatisfaction was measured by the difference between the number of the drawing representing the participant’s actual body and the number of the drawing representing her ideal body, the ANCOVA was significant but none of the subsequent pair-wise comparisons were significant. This result failed to confirm hypothesis 1.

Actual—Women’s Ideal

When body dissatisfaction was computed by subtracting the number of the drawing representing the body the participant thought other women would find ideal from the number of the drawing representing her actual body, the sample from Argentina had greater body dissatisfaction than the sample from the U.S. This result confirmed hypothesis 1. Although the comparison between Brazil and U.S. was also in the direction predicted by hypothesis 1, the difference was not significant.

Actual—Men’s Ideal

When body dissatisfaction was computed by subtracting the number of the drawing representing the body the participant thought men would find most attractive from the number of the drawing representing the participant’s actual body, the sample from Argentina did not differ from the sample from the U.S. However, the sample from Brazil had a lower level of body dissatisfaction than the samples from either the U.S. or Argentina. The results for Brazil were contrary to hypothesis 1 and the results for Argentina were inconsistent with hypothesis 1.

Summary of Discrepancy Measures

There were a total of 8 comparisons testing hypothesis 1. One comparison directly confirmed the hypothesis; one comparison was directly contrary to the hypothesis; and no significant differences were found for the other comparisons.

Body Esteem Scale for Adolescents and Adults

Unlike the discrepancy measures which indicated levels of body dissatisfaction, the BESAA scales were scored so that higher scores indicated greater levels of body satisfaction. The significant MANCOVA for the BESAA measures was followed by separate ANCOVAs for each measure, Wilks’ lambda = .872, F (6, 590) = 6.95, p < .001 ηp2 = .066. The results are shown in Table 2.

For the Appearance scale, a measure of the participant’s satisfaction with her physical appearance, the ANCOVA was not significant. This result was inconsistent with hypothesis 1.

On the Attribution scale, a measure of the perception of how others evaluate the participant’s body, the samples from Argentina and Brazil scored lower than the U.S. sample. This indicates less body satisfaction (i.e., greater dissatisfaction) and confirms hypothesis 1.

For the Weight scale, a measure of the participant’s satisfaction with her weight, the ANCOVA was not significant. This result was inconsistent with hypothesis 1.

Summary of BESAA

As predicted by hypothesis 1, a significant ANCOVA indicated that women from Brazil and Argentina were less likely to believe that other people found them attractive. Comparisons for the other BESAA measures were not significant.

Tests of Hypothesis 2

Hypothesis 2 predicted that the samples from Argentina and Brazil would have more behaviors associated with disordered eating than the U.S. sample. This hypothesis was tested with two measures from the EDI. On both of these measures higher scores indicate more behaviors and attitudes associated with disordered eating. A significant MANCOVA for the two measures was followed by separate ANCOVAs for each measure, Wilks’ lambda = .959, F (4, 590) = 3.15, p < .05 ηp2 = .021. The results are shown in Table 3.
Table 3

Adjusted means, standard deviations, and the results of ANCOVAs (unadjusted values in parentheses) for other measures in samples from Argentina, Brazil, and the U.S.

 

Argentina

Brazil

US

  

M

SD

M

SD

M

SD

F(2,297)

\( \eta_{\text{p}}^2 \)

EDI measures

 Drive for thinness

21.59 (21.52)

5.79

20.08a (20.30)

7.43

22.61a (22.52)

6.78

3.77*

.025

 Bulimia

13.97a (13.94)

5.02

14.45 (14.56)

4.80

15.72a (14.69)

5.73

3.37*

.022

Other measures

 Social pressure

13.50a (13.44)

5.26

14.64b (14.86)

7.11

18.91ab (18.80)

6.78

25.33***

.146

 SATAQ internalization

22.75ab (22.74)

5.12

20.65bc (20.71)

6.50

27.37ac (27.33)

7.23

28.64***

.162

 OBCS body shame

18.21ab (18.17)

5.26

24.37bc (24.53)

6.12

20.36ac (20.28)

6.14

29.91***

.168

Ranges of EDI (Eating Disorders Inventory: Garner et al. 1983) scales: Drive for Thinness Scale 7–35, Bulimia Scale 7–35. Ranges for other measures: Social Pressure (Perceived Sociocultural Pressure Scale; Stice et al. 1996) 8–40; SATAQ (Sociocultural Attitudes Toward Appearance Questionnaire; Heinberg et al. 1995); Internalization Scale 8–40; OBCS (Objectified Body Consciousness Scale; McKinley and Hyde 1996) Body Shame Scale 8–40

Means with the same subscript are significantly different using sequential Bonferroni corrections (Holm 1979) to maintain a family-wise alpha level of .05

* p < .05. ** p < .01, *** p < .001

EDI Drive for Thinness Scale

On the Drive for Thinness scale, a measure of concerns with being slender and a fear of gaining weight, the sample from Brazil reported fewer concerns with being thin than the U.S. sample. This result was directly contrary to hypothesis 2. The comparison between the Argentine and U.S. samples was not significant.

EDI Bulimia Scale

On the Bulimia scale, the sample from Argentina reported fewer fears that their eating was out of control than the U.S. sample. This result was directly contrary to hypothesis 2. The comparison between the Brazilian and U.S. samples was not significant.

The results for the two EDI subscales were either directly contrary to hypothesis 2 or inconsistent with hypothesis 2.

Tests of Hypothesis 3

Hypothesis 3 predicted that the samples from Argentina and Brazil would experience more pressure to be thin, be more likely to internalize the thin body ideal, and experience more body shame than the U.S. sample.

To test this hypothesis, the Social Pressure scale, SATAQ Internalization scale, and the OBCS Body shame scale were administered. A significant MANCOVA for the three measures was followed by separate ANCOVAs, Wilks’ lambda = .562, F (6, 588) = 32.71, p < .001 ηp2 = .250. The results are shown in Table 3.

Perceived Social Pressure Scale

Although they did not differ from each other, the Argentine and Brazilian samples scored lower than the U.S. sample. These results indicated that the Brazilian and Argentine groups perceived less pressure to be thin than the U.S. sample and were directly contrary to hypothesis 3.

SATAQ Internalization Scale

On the SATAQ Internalization scale there was less internalization in the Brazilian sample than the U.S. sample and less internalization in the Argentine sample than the Brazilian sample. These results were contrary to hypothesis 3.

OBCS Body Shame Scale

As predicted by hypothesis 3, the Brazilian sample had greater body shame than the U.S. sample. Contrary to hypothesis 3, the Argentine sample had less body shame than either the Brazilian or U.S. sample.

Summary of Tests of Hypothesis 3

Although all 6 tests of hypothesis 3 were significant, only one of them confirmed hypothesis 3. The results of the other 5 comparisons were contrary to hypothesis 3.

Absolute Level of Dissatisfaction with Body Size

Our measures of body dissatisfaction examined relative levels of body dissatisfaction, but they did not provide information on the absolute level of body dissatisfaction. One way to obtain this information, at least with respect to body size, is to determine the number of women in each sample who desired a different body size. It is important to note that this is a global and nondirectional measure. That is, it measures total body dissatisfaction and, unlike the discrepancy scores reported earlier, is not a measure of the desire for a smaller body. The results, based on the absolute value of the discrepancies between the participant’s actual and ideal BMI and ratings of the participant’s actual and ideal body on the FRS, are shown in Table 4.
Table 4

Percent (with number in parentheses) of participants desiring a change or no change in body size as measured by the discrepancy between their actual and ideal BMI or their actual and ideal body on the FRS

 

Argentina

Brazil

US

X2 (N = 301, df = 2)

BMI discrepancy

 Change

79.6% (94)

92.6% (75)

88.2% (90)

7.31*

 No change

20.4% (24)

7.4% (6)

11.8% (12)

 

FRS actual-ideal

 Change

67.8% (80)

70.4% (57)

71.6% (73)

.39

 No change

32.2% (38)

29.6% (24)

28.4% (29)

 

** p < .01

Depending on the measure and the sample, between 68% and 93% of the participants were dissatisfied with their body size. When body dissatisfaction was defined as the discrepancy between the participant’s actual and ideal BMI, the significant Chi Square indicated that the Brazilian sample had the highest level of dissatisfaction (93%) and the Argentine sample had the lowest level (80%). When body dissatisfaction was defined as the discrepancy between actual and ideal body size as measured by the FRS, no differences were found. It is important to note that even in the sample with the lowest level of body dissatisfaction (Argentina), over 2/3rds of the participants were dissatisfied with the size of their bodies. The results indicated that on both measures body dissatisfaction was the norm for all three samples.

Discussion

We found only weak support for the hypothesis that the Argentine and Brazilian samples would have greater body dissatisfaction than the U.S. sample. Not all of the differences were in the hypothesized direction and our three groups had more similarities than differences. The most important similarity was that 80% or more of each sample was dissatisfied with their body size on the BMI discrepancy measure of body dissatisfaction. Because body dissatisfaction has been linked to a wide variety of experiences and feelings that undermine self-confidence, diminish self-esteem, and reduce the quality of life, any society in which body dissatisfaction is normative has a serious social and mental health problem (Jeffreys 2005). Our results are consistent with the feminist argument that body dissatisfaction impacts the quality of life for large numbers of women in many countries.

Behaviors Associated with Disordered Eating

Because disordered eating is a common consequence of body dissatisfaction, we examined the Drive for Thinness and the Bulimia scales from the EDI. Although we hypothesized that both the Argentine and Brazilian samples would have a stronger drive for thinness and report more behaviors associated with disordered eating, this was not the case. In fact, both countries scored lower than the U.S. on both measures, although the differences on the Drive for Thinness scale were significant only for Brazil and differences on the Bulimia scale were significant only for Argentina. Consistent with these results, we found that both Argentina and Brazil scored lower than the U.S. on the Perceived Social Pressures scale. Taken as a whole, these results indicate that the Argentine and Brazilian samples had fewer symptoms of disordered eating and reported fewer social pressures to be thin than the U.S. sample. However, it is important to keep these results in perspective. The high incidence of body dissatisfaction in both countries clearly demonstrates that fewer problems than the U.S. comparison sample does indicate the absence of problems. In addition, media reports suggest that anorexia and bulimia may be increasing in both countries.

Attitudes Associated with Body Dissatisfaction

Two of the most widely used measures of attitudes associated with body dissatisfaction are the SATAQ and the OBCS. For this reason, we were interested in how the three samples might differ on these measures. Unfortunately, there were reliability problems with both measures. The poor reliability of the SATAQ Awareness scale was not unexpected because this problem has been reported by others and this scale was dropped from the most recent revision of this measure (Thompson et al. 2004). Similarly, the poor reliability of the OBCS Control Beliefs scale has been reported by others. However, the reliability problems for the Surveillance scale of the OBCS was not expected. When translated measures fail to perform as expected it is usually difficult to determine the reason (van de Vijver and Leung (1997). Although the poor reliability of the OBCS Surveillance scale could have been the result of translation problems, this seems unlikely because there were reliability problems with both the Spanish and Portuguese translations. Instead, the poor reliability was probably the result of problems with conceptual validity. This is because the OBCS is based on American feminist theory, and there are numerous cautions and criticisms directed at efforts to apply this theory outside of its culture of origin (e.g., Bulbeck 1998: Weedon 1999).

The reliability problems with the SATAQ and OBCS were disappointing because a sizeable amount of research has demonstrated that sociocultural theory, particularly as reflected in the SATAQ, and feminist theory, particularly as reflected in the OBCS, have been powerful tools for understanding and predicting body dissatisfaction and related phenomena in U.S. populations. If it is possible to demonstrate that these measures have satisfactory cross-cultural conceptual validity, they may also prove to be useful in other cultures. Even if this is not the case, identifying when, how, and why these measures are not useful outside of their culture of origin may provide important information about the role of culture in the development of body dissatisfaction. For these reasons, it is important for future research to investigate both the validity and the utility of the OBCS and the most recent version of the SATAQ (Thompson et al. 2004) in cross-cultural applications.

Traditional Body Preferences and Modernization

In cultures with food shortages slender women’s bodies are often associated with physical weakness, illness, and reduced reproductive fitness (Cassidy 1991). In these societies, there is a strong preference for relatively heavy women, particularly women with heavy hips and legs (Brown and Konner 1987). With the increased availability of food associated with economic development and modernization, along with increased exposure to U.S. and Western European media and culture, usually body preferences slowly change to more slender bodies (Brewis and McGarvey 2000; Brown and Konner 1987). During this transition, it is likely that women will be aware of the thin body ideal before they internalize it. That is, the traditional preference for larger female bodies will delay the adoption of the thin body idea and offer some measure of protection against it.

Implications for Brazil

A version of this process probably serves as at least a partial explanation for why our results failed to support the hypothesis of greater body dissatisfaction in the Brazilian sample than in the U.S. sample. The traditional Brazilian um corpo de violão had its origins in the genetic and cultural blending of indigenous, African, and European populations. In recent years this body ideal has begun to be challenged by the U.S. and Western European curvaceously thin body ideal. However, this transition is not complete, and it has been argued that many Brazilians, particularly men, have not accepted the new standard (Finger 2003). Consistent with this argument, on the FRS the Brazilian sample picked a larger figure to represent their perception of the woman’s body that men find most attractive than did either the Argentine or U.S. samples. In addition, the Brazilian sample had the lowest level of internalization of the thin body ideal, scored lowest on the Drive for Thinness scale, and reported less pressure to be thin than the U.S. sample. All of these results are consistent with evidence that the transition from the traditional body ideal, with its emphasis on curvaceous buttocks, hips, and thighs, to the thin body ideal is incomplete. That is, it appears that the traditional Brazilian body ideal is offering some protection against acceptance of the U.S. and Western European thin body ideal.

Interestingly, we found that the Brazilian sample scored higher than either the Argentine or U.S. samples on the OBCS Body Shame scale. At least in part, the high level of Body Shame in Brazil may be the result of the two coexisting but contradictory body ideals. Given the long standing Brazilian body cult described by Morais and Horizonte (2002), these conflicting ideals place the Brazilian woman in an impossible situation: if she fulfills the traditional body ideal, of necessity she falls far short of the new body ideal; if she achieves the curvaceously thin ideal, she falls far short of um corpo de violão. The best she can do is fail one standard and, because both standards are unrealistic for many women, it is likely that she will fail both. Regardless of the outcome, and consistent with Fredrickson and Robert’s (1997) feminist Objectification Theory, the result will be guilt and body shame.

Implications for Argentina

Argentina has been described as having adopted an exaggerated version of the U.S. and Western European thin body ideal. Consistent with this hypothesis, the Argentine sample had greater body dissatisfaction than the U.S. sample on two measures. However, the groups did not differ on the other measures of body dissatisfaction. In addition, the groups did not differ on the Drive for Thinness scale and the Argentine sample reported less social pressure to be slender, had less internalization of the thin body ideal, and had less body shame than the U.S. sample. These results indicate that although the two countries do not differ on most measures of body dissatisfaction, the endorsement of the thin body ideal is less extreme in Argentine sample than in the U.S. sample. Contrary to the results with our Brazilian sample, the hypothesis that a traditional body ideal is offering some protection against the influence of the thin body ideal cannot be applied to the Argentine sample. This is because Argentina, unlike many of its neighbors, is primarily a nation of White European immigrants, principally from Italy and Spain (Central Intelligence Agency 2010). As a consequence, the Argentine body ideal has always been the White European ideal.

Our failure to find consistent evidence that the Argentine sample had higher body dissatisfaction than the U.S. sample suggests that both our hypothesis and Meehan and Katzman’s (2001) assertion that Argentines had adopted an exaggerated version of the thin body ideal were probably wrong. However, this is not necessarily the case. Examination of scores on the BESAA Attribution Scale and ratings on the FRS suggest an alternative explanation. The Argentine sample scored lower than the U.S. sample on the BESAA Attribution scale, a measure of the belief that other people find one’s body attractive. On the FRS the three countries did not differ on the discrepancy between the figure representing the participant’s actual body and the figure representing her ideal body; but the discrepancy between the participant’s actual body and the body she perceived as other women’s ideal body was larger in the Argentine sample than in the U.S. sample. In other words, the groups did not differ in their body dissatisfaction when they judged their bodies by their own standards, but when they judged their bodies by what they perceived as the standard of other women in their culture, the Argentine sample had greater body dissatisfaction than the U.S. sample. Viewed from this perspective, the FRS self-other women’s ideal discrepancy measure and the BESAA Attribution scale, where the Argentine sample was less likely to believe that other people find them attractive, seem to be measuring similar processes. These results suggest that the Argentine participants were very much aware of their culture’s extremely thin body ideal, but they accepted a self ideal that was less extreme. The finding that they were less likely to internalize the thin body ideal and had less body shame, like the existence of the Buenos Aires size laws, are consistent with this interpretation.

This suggests that Argentine women tend to create and follow their own body ideals despite their perception that as a result others may see them as less attractive. That is, there appears to be features of the Argentine culture that offer some degree of protection against the internalization, but not the awareness, of the thin body ideal. Unfortunately, our results do not offer any way to determine what these features may be. It is important that future research attempts to identify these features. The important work of Anderson-Fye (2003, 2004) in Belize offers a possible model for how this might be accomplished.

Limitations

Like nearly all cross-cultural studies, we used measures outside of their culture of origin. This raises the possibility of problems with translation, conceptual equivalence, and a host of other complexities. As has been discussed in detail by van de Vijver and Leung (2000) and many others (e.g., Brislin 1986), most of these problems have no easy solution. To minimize the problems inherent in any cross-cultural study, we used native speaking bilingual translators. To improve the construct validity of the translations, the translators were Ph. D. psychologists who were familiar with theories and methods for research on body image. In addition, we followed the general advice of Campbell and Fiske (1959) for measurement of complex constructs and the specific advice of Forbes (2010) for measurement in cross-cultural studies by the use of multiple measures of body dissatisfaction and related phenomena. Nevertheless, like most cross-cultural studies, the results need to be replicated using different samples.

A small number of the Brazilian sample were students in nutrition classes. It is possible that these students might be more or less concerned with body image than the general student population and that this concern may have, in some manner, influenced their responses. Unfortunately, we are unable to identify the data from these participants and cannot determine if or how they differed from the other Brazilian participants.

All of our participants were young college women. In all three countries, this population is economically and educationally advantaged. As a consequence, the results should not be generalized to other segments of their societies. This is an appropriate caution for studies of college students in almost all countries, but it is particularly important in Brazil because of its extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth and power (Central Intelligence Agency 2010). On the other hand, college women are arguably one of the first segments of society to be exposed to and internalize the U.S. and Western European thin body ideal. To the extent that this is true, body attitudes among young college women may foreshadow the body attitudes that will eventually be seen in other segments of their societies (Goldenberg 2010).

Summary

We compared samples of Argentine, Brazilian, and U.S. college women on a series of measures associated with body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, and negative body attitudes. Although we hypothesized that the Argentine and Brazilian samples would have greater body dissatisfaction than the U.S. sample, we found little support for this hypothesis. In fact, our most common finding was that there were no differences among the three samples. Similarly, we found no support for the hypothesis that the Argentine and Brazilian samples would report more behaviors and attitudes associated with disordered eating. In fact, the only differences that were found indicated that these samples had fewer of these behaviors and attitudes than the U.S. sample. Our final hypothesis stated that the Argentine and Brazilian samples would report more social pressure to diet and be thin, be more likely to internalize the thin body ideal, and have greater levels of body shame. Although we did find greater body shame in the Brazilian sample, the other comparisons failed to support our hypotheses. Our results suggested that there may be unique features in both the Argentine and Brazilian cultures that offer some level of protection against the thin body ideal.

There is little comfort in our finding that problems with body dissatisfaction and behaviors associated with disordered eating in the Argentine and Brazilian samples were not as severe as in our U.S. sample. This is because the vast majority of college women in all three samples were dissatisfied with the size of their bodies. This indicates that in Argentina and Brazil, as in the U.S. and Western European countries, body dissatisfaction is a serious social and personal problem that influences the quality of life for many women.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011