The study aimed to test Menzel and Levine’s (2011) embodiment theory of positive body image in the context of belly dance. Participants were 213 women from Adelaide, South Australia. They comprised 112 belly dancers recruited from two belly dance schools, and a sample of 101 college women who had never participated in belly dance. Participants completed questionnaire measures of positive body image, body dissatisfaction, self-objectification, and enjoyment of sexualization. It was found that belly dancers scored higher on positive body image and lower on body dissatisfaction and self-objectification than the college students. There was, however, no difference between groups in enjoyment of sexualization. Importantly, in support of the embodiment model, the effect of belly dance group on positive body image was mediated by reduced self-objectification. It was concluded that belly dance represents an embodying activity, one associated with a number of benefits for its practioners, including positive body image.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Abraham, S. (1996). Eating and weight controlling behaviours of young ballet dancers. Psychopathology, 29, 218–222. doi:10.1159/000284996.
American Psychological Association. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the sexualization of girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Andrew, R., Tiggemann, M., Clark, L. (2014). Positive body image and young women’s health: Implications for sun protection, cancer screening, weight loss and alcohol consumption behaviours. Journal of Health Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/1359105314520814.
Attwood, F. (2007). Sluts and riot girls: Female identity and sexual agency. Journal of Gender Studies, 16, 233–247. doi:10.1080/09589230701562921.
Augustus-Horvath, C. L., & Tylka, T. L. (2011). The acceptance model of intuitive eating: A comparison of women in emerging adulthood, early adulthood, and middle adulthood. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 110–125. doi:10.1037/a0022129.
Avalos, L., & Tylka, T. (2006). Exploring a model of intuitive eating with college women. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 486–497. doi:10.1037/0022-022.214.171.1246.
Avalos, L., Tylka, T., & Wood-Barcalow, N. (2005). The Body Appreciation Scale development and psychometric evaluation. Body Image, 2, 285–297. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2005.06.002.
Baron, R. M., & Kenny, D. A. (1986). The moderator-mediator variable distinction in social psychological research: Conceptual, strategic, and statistical considerations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 1173–1182.
Bock, S., & Borland, K. (2011). Exotic identities: Dance, difference, and self-fashioning. Journal of Folklore Research, 48, 1–35. doi:10.2979/jfolkrese.48.1.1.
Brown, T. A., Cash, T. F., & Mikulka, P. J. (1990). Attitudinal body-image assessment: Factor analysis of the Body-Self Relations Questionnaire. Journal of Personality Assessment, 55, 135–144. doi:10.1080/00223891.1990.9674053.
Calogero, R. (2011). Operationalizing self-objectification: Assessment and related methodological issues. In R. M. Calogero, S. Tantleff-Dunn, & J. K. Thompson (Eds.), Self-objectification in women: Causes, consequences, and counteractions (pp. 23–49). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Cash, T. F. (2000). MBSRQ users’ manual. Available by order from Thomas Cash http://www.bodyimages.com/assessments/order.html.
Cash, T. F. (2004). Body image: Past, present, and future. Body Image, 1, 1–5. doi:10.1016/S1740-1445(03)00011-1.
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper and Row.
Daubenmier, J. J. (2005). The relationship of yoga, body awareness, and body responsiveness to self-objectification and disordered eating. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 207–219. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2005.00183.x.
Donaghue, N., Whitehead, K., & Kurz, T. (2011). Spinning the pole: A discursive analysis of the websites of recreational pole dancing studios. Feminism & Psychology, 21, 443–457. doi:10.1177/0959353511424367.
Downey, D. J., Reel, J. J., SooHoo, S., & Zerbib, S. (2010). Body image in belly dance: Integrating alternative norms into collective identity. Journal of Gender Studies, 19, 377–393. doi:10.1080/09589236.2010.514209.
Downs, D., James, S., & Cowan, G. (2006). Body objectification, self-esteem, and relationship satisfaction: A comparison of exotic dancers and college women. Sex Roles, 54, 745–752. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9042-y.
Fredrickson, B., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x.
Garrow, J. S., & Webster, J. (1985). Quetelet’s Index (W/H2) as a measure of fatness. International Journal of Obesity, 9, 147–153.
Gill, R. (2008). Empowerment/sexism: Figuring female sexual agency in contemporary advertising. Feminism & Psychology, 18, 35–60. doi:10.1177/0959353507084950.
Grogan, S. (2008). Body image (2nd ed.). London: Routledge.
Halliwell, E., & Dittmar, H. (2008). Does size matter? The impact of ultra-thin media models on women’s body image and on advertising effectiveness. In H. Dittmar (Ed.), Consumer culture, identity and well-being (pp. 121–146). New York: Psychology Press.
Iannantuono, A. C., & Tylka, T. L. (2012). Interpersonal and intrapersonal links to body appreciation in college women: An exploratory model. Body Image, 9, 227–235. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.01.004.
Kraus, R. (2009). Straddling the sacred and secular: Creating a spiritual experience through belly dance. Sociological Spectrum, 29, 598–625. doi:10.1080/02732170903051383.
Langdon, S., & Petracca, G. (2010). Tiny dancer: Body image and dancer identity in female modern dancers. Body Image, 7, 360–363. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.06.005.
Le Grange, D., Tibbs, J., & Noakes, T. (1994). Implications of a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa in a ballet school. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 15, 369–376. doi:10.1002/eat.2260150407.
Leit, R. A., Gray, J. J., & Pope, H. G. (2002). The media’s representation of the ideal male body: A cause for muscle dysmorphia? International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31, 334–338. doi:10.1002/eat.10019.
Levine, M. P., & Piran, N. (2004). The role of body image in the prevention of eating disorders. Body Image, 1, 57–70. doi:10.1016/S1740-1445(03)00006-8.
Liss, M., Erchull, M., & Ramsey, L. (2011). Empowering or oppressing? Development and exploration of the Enjoyment of Sexualisation Scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 55–68. doi:10.1177/0146167210386119.
McKinley, N. M. (1998). Gender differences in undergraduates’ body esteem: The mediating effect of objectified body consciousness and actual/ideal weight discrepancy. Sex Roles, 39, 113–123. doi:10.1023/A:1018834001203.
McKinley, N. M., & Hyde, J. S. (1996). The objectified body consciousness scale: Development and validation. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 181–215. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1996.tb00467.x.
Menzel, J. E., & Levine, M. P. (2011). Embodying experiences and the promotion of positive body image: The example of competitive athletics. In R. M. Calogero, S. Tantleff-Dunn, & J. K. Thompson (Eds.), Self-objectification in women: Causes, consequences, and counteractions (pp. 163–186). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Miller, C. T., & Downey, K. T. (1999). A meta-analysis of heavyweight and self-esteem. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 3, 68–84. doi:10.1207/s15327957pspr0301_4.
Moe, A. M. (2012). Beyond the belly: An appraisal of middle eastern dance (aka belly dance) as leisure. Journal of Leisure Research, 44, 201–233.
Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2014). Yoga and eating disorders: Is there a place for yoga in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating behaviours? Advances in Eating Disorders: Theory, Research and Practice, 2, 136–145. doi:10.1080/21662630.2013.862369.
Nowatzki, J., & Morry, M. M. (2009). Women’s intentions regarding, and acceptance of, self-sexualizing behaviour. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33, 95–107. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.01477.x.
Pierce, E. F., & Daleng, M. L. (1998). Distortion of body image among elite female dancers. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 87, 769–770. doi:10.2466/pms.19126.96.36.1999.
Piran, N. (2001). Re-inhabiting the body from the inside out: Girls transform their school environment. In D. L. Tolman & M. Brydon-Miller (Eds.), From subjects to subjectivities: A handbook of interpretative and participatory methods (pp. 218–238). New York: New York University Press.
Piran, N. (2002). Embodiment: A mosaic of inquiries in the area of body weight and shape preoccupation. In S. M. Abbey (Ed.), Ways of knowing in and through the body: Diverse perspectives on embodiment (pp. 211–214). Welland, Canada: Soleil.
Preacher, K. J., & Hayes, A. F. (2008). Asymptotic and resampling strategies for assessing and comparing indirect effects in multiple mediator models. Behavior Research Methods, 40, 879–891. doi:10.3758/BRM.40.3.879.
Prichard, I., & Tiggemann, M. (2008). Relations among exercise type, self-objectification, and body image in the fitness centre environment: The role of reasons for exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 9, 855–866. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2007.10.005.
Pruzinsky, T., & Cash, T. F. (2002). Understanding body images: Historical and contemporary perspectives. In T. F. Cash & T. Pruzinsky (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of theory, research, and clinical practice (pp. 3–12). New York: Guilford.
Rodgers, R., Chabrol, H., & Paxton, S. J. (2011). An exploration of the tripartite influence model of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among Australian and French college women. Body Image, 8, 208–215. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2011.04.009.
Rodin, J., Silberstein, L., & Streigel-Moore, R. (1985). Women and weight: A normative discontent. In T. B. Sonderegger (Ed.), Psychology and gender (pp. 267–307). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Satinsky, S., Reece, M., Dennis, B., Sanders, S., & Bardzell, S. (2012). An assessment of body appreciation and its relationship to sexual function in women. Body Image, 9, 137–144. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2011.09.007.
Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2010). “Uncool to do sport”: A focus group study of adolescent girls’ reasons for withdrawing from physical activity. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11, 619–626. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2010.07.006.
Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2011). Gender differences in adolescent sport participation, teasing, self-objectification and body image concerns. Journal of Adolescence, 34, 455–463. doi:10.1016/j.adolescence.2010.06.007.
Smolak, L., Murnen, S. K., & Ruble, A. E. (2000). Female athletes and eating problems: A meta-analysis. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 27, 371–380. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-108X(200005)27:4<371::AID-EAT1>3.0.CO;2-Y.
Smolak, L., Murnen, S. K., Myers, T. A. (2014). Sexualizing the self: What college women and men think about and do to be “sexy”. Psychology of Women Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi:10.1177/0361684314524168.
Stice, E. (2002). Risk and maintenance factors for eating pathology: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 825–848. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.128.5.825.
Swami, V., & Tovée, M. J. (2009). A comparison of actual-weight discrepancy, body appreciation, and media influence between street-dancers and non-dancers. Body Image, 6, 304–307. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2009.07.006.
Swami, V., Airs, N., Chouhan, B., Leon, M. A. P., & Towell, T. (2009). Are there ethnic differences in positive body image among female British undergraduates? European Psychologist, 14, 288–296. doi:10.1027/1016-9040.14.4.288.
Swami, V., Frederick, D.A., Aavik, T., Alcalay, L., Allik, J. Anderson, D., … Zivcic-Becirevic, I. (2010). The attractive female body weight and female body dissatisfaction in 26 countries across 10 world regions: Results of the International Body Project I. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 309–325. doi:10.1177/0146167209359702
Tabachnick, B. G., & Fidell, L. S. (1996). Using multivariate statistics. New York: Harper Collins.
Tiggemann, M. (2004). Body image across the adult life span: Stability and change. Body Image, 1, 29–41. doi:10.1016/S1740-1445(03)00002-0.
Tiggemann, M. (2011a). Sociocultural perspectives on human appearance and body image. In T. F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 12–19). New York: Guilford.
Tiggemann, M. (2011b). Mental health risks of self-objectification: A review of the empirical evidence for disordered eating, depressed mood, and sexual dysfunction. In R. M. Calogero, S. Tantleff-Dunn, & J. K. Thompson (Eds.), Self-objectification in women: Causes, consequences, and counteractions (pp. 139–159). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Tiggemann, M. (2013). Objectification theory: Of relevance for eating disorder researchers and clinicians? Clinical Psychologist, 17, 35–45. doi:10.1111/cp.12010.
Tiggemann, M., & Polivy, J. (2010). Upward and downward: Social comparison processing of thin idealized media images. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 356–364. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2010.01581.x.
Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2001). A test of objectification theory in former dancers and non dancers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 25, 57–64. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.00007.
Tiggemann, M., & Williams, E. (2012). The role of self-objectification in disordered eating, depressed mood, and sexual functioning among women: A comprehensive test of Objectification Theory. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 66–75. doi:10.1177/0361684311420250.
Tylka, T. L. (2011). Positive psychology perspectives on body image. In T. F. Cash & L. Smolak (Eds.), Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention (2nd ed., pp. 56–64). New York: Guilford.
Wasylkiw, L., MacKinnon, A. L., & MacLellan, A. M. (2012). Exploring the link between self-compassion and body image in university women. Body Image, 9, 236–245. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.01.007.
Wertheim, E. H., Paxton, S. J., & Blaney, S. (2009). Body image in girls. In L. Smolak & J. K. Thompson (Eds.), Body image, eating disorders, and obesity in youth (2nd ed., pp. 47–76). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Yost, M. R., & McCarthy, L. (2012). Girls gone wild? Heterosexual women’s same-sex encounters at college parties. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 36, 7–24. doi:10.1177/0361684311414818.
About this article
Cite this article
Tiggemann, M., Coutts, E. & Clark, L. Belly Dance as an Embodying Activity?: A Test of the Embodiment Model of Positive Body Image. Sex Roles 71, 197–207 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-014-0408-2