Sex Roles

, Volume 25, Issue 7–8, pp 469–484 | Cite as

Gender role typing, the superwoman ideal, and the potential for eating disorders

  • Bill Thornton
  • Rachel Leo
  • Kimberly Alberg


The interactive effects of gender role typing and adherence to a superwoman ideal (desiring to excel in many diverse roles) on the potential for disordered eating were examined among a nonclinical sample of women. Results indicated that both masculine and feminine gender-typed women who strongly adhered to a superwoman ideal were at greater risk for eating disorders than androgynous superwomen. In contrast, androgynous superwomen had relatively low potential for disordered eating and appeared comparable to women who, regardless of gender typing, rejected the superwoman ideal. Women undifferentiated with regard to gender type, whether superwomen or not, also had reduced potential for disordered eating. Findings are discussed with regard to gender role socialization and expectations, and the implications for mediating the potential for eating disorders are considered.


Interactive Effect Social Psychology Great Risk Gender Role Eating Disorder 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barnett, L. R. (1986). Bulimarexia as symptom of sex-role strain in professional women. Psychotherapy: Theory, Practice, and Research, 23, 311–315.Google Scholar
  2. Beller, A. S. (1977). Fat and thin: A natural history of obesity. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.Google Scholar
  3. Bem, S. L. (1975). Sex role adaptability: One consequence of psychological androgyny. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 31, 634–643.Google Scholar
  4. Bem, S. L. (1977). On the utility of alternative procedures for assessing psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45, 196–205.Google Scholar
  5. Bem, S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88, 354–364.Google Scholar
  6. Bem, S. L., & Lenney, E. (1976). Sex typing and the avoidance of cross-sex behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33, 48–54.Google Scholar
  7. Emmett, S. W. (1985). Future trends. In S. W. Emmett (Ed.), Theory and treatment of anorexia nervosa and bulimia: Biomedical, sociocultural, and psychological perspectives. New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  8. Fallon, A. E., & Rozin, P. (1985). Sex differences in perceptions of desirable body shape. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 94, 102–105.Google Scholar
  9. Fenigstein, A., Scheier, M., & Buss, A. (1975). Public and private self-consciousness: Assessment and theory. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 43, 522–527.Google Scholar
  10. Garfinkel, P. E., & Garner, D. M. (1982). Anorexia nervosa: A multidimensional perspective. New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  11. Garner, D. M., Olmstead, M. P., & Polivy, J. (1983). Development and validation of a multidimensional eating disorder inventory for anorexia nervosa and bulimia. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 2, 15–34.Google Scholar
  12. Hart, E. A., Leary, M. R., & Rejeski, W. J. (1989). The measurement of social physique anxiety. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 11, 94–104.Google Scholar
  13. Helmreich, R. L., Spence, J. T., & Holahan, C. K. (1979). Psychological androgyny and sex role flexibility: A test of two hypotheses. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1631–1644.Google Scholar
  14. Herman, C. P., & Polivy, H. (1980). Restrained eating. In A. Stunkard (Ed.), Obesity. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders.Google Scholar
  15. Hsu, L. K. G. (1990). Eating disorders. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  16. Katzman, M. A., & Wolchik, S. A. (1984). Bulimia and binge eating in college women: A comparison of personality and behavioral characteristics. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 52, 523–428.Google Scholar
  17. Lewis, L. D., & Johnson, C. (1985). A comparison of sex role orientation between women with bulimia and normal controls. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 4, 247–257.Google Scholar
  18. Linville, P. W. (1985). Self-complexity and affective extrenity: Don't put all of your eggs in one cognitive basket. Social Cognition, 3, 94–120.Google Scholar
  19. McBride, A. B. (1990). Mental health effects of women's multiple roles. American Psychologist, 45, 381–384.Google Scholar
  20. Orbach, S. (1978). Fat is a feminist issue: The anti-diet guide to permanent weight loss. New York: Paddington Press.Google Scholar
  21. Orbach, S. (1986). Hunger strike: The anorectic's struggle as a metaphor for our age. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  22. Palazzoli, M. S. (1978). Self-starvation: From individual to family therapy in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. New York: Jason Aronson.Google Scholar
  23. Pliner, P., Chaiken, S., & Flett, G. L. (1990). Gender differences in concern with body weight and physical appearance over the life span. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, 263–273.Google Scholar
  24. Polivy, J., Garner, D. M., & Garfinkel, P. E. (1986). Causes and consequences of the current preference for thin female physiques. In C. P. Herman, M. P. Zanna, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Physical appearance, stigma, and social behavior: The Ontario symposium (Vol. 3). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  25. Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (1983). Breaking the diet habit. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  26. Root, P. P. (1990). Disordered eating in women of color. Sex Roles, 22, 525–536.Google Scholar
  27. Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Ryckman, R. M., Robbins, M. A., Thornton, B., & Cantrell, P. (1982). The development and validation of a physical self-efficacy scale. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 891–900.Google Scholar
  29. Schwartz, D. M., Thompson, M. G., & Johnson, C. L. (1985). Anorexia nervosa and bulimia: The sociocultural context. In S. W. Emmett (Ed.), Theory and treatment of anorexia nervosa and bulimia: Biomedical, sociocultural, and psychological perspectives. New York: Brunner/Mazel.Google Scholar
  30. Selvini-Palazzoli, M. (1974). Self-starvation: From the intrapsychic to the transpersonal approach to anorexia nervosa. London: Chaucer Publishing.Google Scholar
  31. Sitnick, T., & Katz, J. L. (1984). Sex role identity and anorexia nervosa. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 3, 81–87.Google Scholar
  32. Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. L. (1978). Masculinity and femininity: Their psychological dimensions, correlates, and antecedents. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  33. Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. L. (1980). Masculine instrumentality and feminine expressiveness: Their relationship with sex-role attitudes and behavior. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 5, 147–163.Google Scholar
  34. Steiner-Adair, C. (1986). The body politic: Normal female adolescent development and the development of eating disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 14, 95–114.Google Scholar
  35. Timko, C., Striegel-Moore, R. H., Silberstein, L. R., & Rodin, J. (1987). Femininity/masculinity and disordered eating in women: How are they related? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 6, 701–712.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bill Thornton
    • 1
  • Rachel Leo
    • 1
  • Kimberly Alberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of Southern MainePortland

Personalised recommendations