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Strong Ethnic Identity Can Bolster Girls’ Body Image

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on December 6, 2013

Strong Ethnic Identity Can Bolster Girls' Body ImageFor young women, the media barrage of thin and beautiful can be disastrous. But a new study suggest a strong ethic identity helps Latina girls withstand such pressure of needing an model-like appearance although even this group can easily become dissatisfied with their body image.

Researchers say that identification and pride in a person’s ethnic background can act as a partial buffer against a deluge of advertisements, magazines, television shows and movies that show white women in sexualized roles.

An improved sense of self helps teenage girls feel more comfortable with themselves and their appearance.

Some past research has suggested that women of color were less vulnerable to concerns about body image, but the latest studies found that Latina girls are reporting body dissatisfaction at a rate similar to that of Caucasian girls.

“We’re in a perfect storm of dissatisfaction,” said Dr. Elizabeth Daniels, an assistant professor of psychology at Oregon State University–Cascades.

“This is a serious problem among girls, and our media environment and consumer culture has been making it worse for some time,” said Daniels, a researcher on gender, body image and youth development.

“The issue of young teenagers feeling bad about their appearance is so prevalent that we now call it normative. In other words, it’s normal to feel dissatisfied with your body.”

Most adults have more real-life experience to help protect them, Daniels said, but impressionable adolescents too often feel seriously unhappy with their appearance, think about their bodies constantly, and are easily persuaded to buy the latest beauty products that advertisers tell them will help.

For some, severe dissatisfaction can turn into an eating disorder.

Researchers studied 118 Latina girls ages 13-18 and found that a stronger sense of ethnic identity helped some girls feel positive about themselves.

The analysis was done by showing images of white women taken from advertisements to separate groups of girls.

Some images were “sexualized” in settings, such as wearing bikinis or lingerie; and others had more conventional, fully-clothed poses. The girls then created statements about how they visualized themselves.

But Daniels pointed out that while the association with ethnicity appears to be helpful and partially protective, it’s not a panacea.

“Media images are typically very idealized, done with white women, using lots of makeup and photo techniques, and they create a great pressure on young women to live up to this ideal,” Daniels said.

“They see more than five hours a day of this unrealistic depiction on television and elsewhere, and it’s a tall order for them to just ignore it. Even the model Cindy Crawford once said that ‘I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.’”

However, this study indicates that cultural pride can help. One participant in the study wrote in her statements that “I am a proud Latina” and “I am not a skinny toothpick and proud of it.”

The new findings were recently published in the journal Body Image.

However, the insights on the benefit of maintaining a cultural identity may be challenged if models are of the same ethnicity.

Researchers caution that the buffering effect of ethnic identity might not stand up when Latina girls are exposed to Latina media models – instead of the white women that dominate traditional advertising.

Girls with strong ethnic identity might be especially vulnerable to the negative effects of viewing idealized media images of Latina women, the report concluded.

Source: Oregon State University

Young Latina girl smiling photo by shutterstock.

 

APA Reference
Nauert, R. (2013). Strong Ethnic Identity Can Bolster Girls’ Body Image. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/12/06/strong-ethnic-identity-can-bolster-girls-body-image/62920.html