Sex Roles

, Volume 69, Issue 7–8, pp 469–479 | Cite as

“Only Girls Who Want Fat Legs Take the Elevator”: Body Image in Single-Sex and Mixed-Sex Colleges

  • Bettina Spencer
  • Caitilin Barrett
  • Gina Storti
  • Mara Cole
Original Article

Abstract

Because women at single-sex colleges are constantly surrounded by other women with whom they can visually compare themselves, and because we believed that physical appearance-based social comparison would impact body ideals and self-objectification, we predicted that students at a women’s college would endorse thinner body ideals and display more self-objectification as compared to female students at a mixed-sex college, and that these differences would be especially prominent between upper grade level students. Surveys were completed by 175 undergraduate female students at a women’s college and a mixed-sex college located in the same U.S. Midwestern city. Results were opposite of what we predicted; women at the women’s college were more likely to endorse larger body ideals, whereas women at the mixed-sex college were more likely to endorse thinner ideals. As predicted, there was a significant difference in scores between the upper college year students; lower college year students did not show significant differences in ideals, suggesting that although female students may enter college with similar body ideals, 4 years in a mixed-sex or single-sex setting can drastically alter how women think about body types. There were no differences between schools for self-objectification or physical appearance social comparison, and physical appearance social comparison did not correlate to body ideals. Taken together, this pattern of results suggests that social comparison does not influence body ideals, but rather, other characteristics of a single-sex and mixed-sex environment do. What these characteristics may be (e.g. presence of men, exposure to counterstereotypic role models) are discussed.

Keywords

Body image Women’s colleges Single-sex schooling Body dissatisfaction Social comparison 

References

  1. Bigler, R. S., & Signorella, M. L. (2011). Single-sex education: New perspectives and evidence on a continuing controversy. Sex Roles, 65, 659–669. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0046-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Calogero, R. M. (2004). A test of objectification theory: The effect of the male gaze on appearance concerns in college women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28, 16–21. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2004.00118.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Chisuwa, N., & O’Dea, J. A. (2010). Body image and eating disorders amongst Japanese adolescents. A review of the literature. Appetite, 54, 5–15. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2009.11.008.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Choma, B., Visser, B., Pozzebon, J., Bogaert, A., Busseri, M., & Sadava, S. (2010). Self-objectification, self-esteem, and gender: Testing a moderated mediation model. Sex Roles, 63, 645–656. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9829-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chouinarda, R., Vezeau, C., & Bouffard, T. (2008). Coeducational or single-sex school: Does it make a difference on high school girls’ academic motivation? Educational Studies, 34, 129–144. doi:10.1080/03055690701811180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cohn, L. D., & Adler, N. E. (1992). Female and male perceptions of ideal body shapes: Distorted views among Caucasian college students. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 16, 69–79. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1992.tb00240.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Coomber, K., & King, R. M. (2008). The role of sisters in body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Sex Roles, 59, 81–93. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9413-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dasgupta, N., & Asgari, S. (2004). Seeing is believing: Exposure to counterstereotypic women leaders and its effect on the malleability of automatic gender stereotyping. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 642–658. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2004.02.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davey, Z., Jones, M. K., & Harris, L. M. (2011). A comparison of eating disorder symptomatology, role concerns, figure preference and social comparison between women who have attended single sex and coeducational schools. Sex Roles, 65, 751–759. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-9942-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dion, K. L., Dion, K. K., & Keelan, J. P. (1990). Appearance anxiety as a dimension of social-evaluative anxiety: Exploring the ugly duckling syndrome. Contemporary Social Psychology, 14, 220–224.Google Scholar
  11. Dyer, G., & Tiggemann, M. (1996). The effect of school environment on body concerns in adolescent women. Sex Roles, 34, 127–138. doi:10.1007/BF01544800.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Egbochuku, E. O., & Aihie, N. O. (2009). Peer group counselling and school influence on adolescents’ self-concept. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 36, 3–12. doi:10.1007/BF01544800.Google Scholar
  13. Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117–140. doi:10.1177/001872675400700202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flicek, K., & Urbas, B. (2003). Coed versus single-sex residence halls: Correlates of disordered eating behavior. UW-L Journal of Undergraduate research, 6, 1–6.Google Scholar
  15. Franzoi, S. L., & Klaiber, J. R. (2007). Body use and reference group impact: With whom do we compare our bodies? Sex Roles, 56, 205–214. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9162-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T.-A. (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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fredrickson, B. L., Roberts, T., Noll, S. M., Quinn, D. M., & Twenge, J. M. (1998). That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating, and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 269–284. doi:10.1037/h0090332.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Glauert, R., Rhodes, G., Byrne, S., Fink, B., & Grammer, K. (2009). Body dissatisfaction and the effects of perceptual exposure on body norms and ideals. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 42, 443–452. doi:10.1002/eat.v42:510.1002/eat.20640.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gluck, M. E., & Geliebter, A. (2002). Racial/ethnic differences in body image and eating behaviors. Eating Behaviors, 3, 143–151. doi:10.1016/S1471-0153(01)00052-6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2006). Ethnicity and body dissatisfaction among women in the United States: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 132, 622–640. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.4.622.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2009). Body objectification, MTV, and psychological outcomes among female adolescents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 2840–2858. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2009.00552.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Grogan, S., Williams, Z., & Conner, M. (1996). The effects of viewing same-gender photographic models on body-esteem. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 569–575. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1996.tb00322.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Halpern, D. F., Eliot, L., Bigler, R. S., Fabes, R. A., Hanish, L. D., Hyde, J., & Martin, C. L. (2011). The pseudoscience of single-sex schooling. Science, 333, 1706–1707. doi:10.1126/science.1205031.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Harker, R. (2000). Achievement, gender and the single-sex/coed debate. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 21, 203–218. doi:10.1080/713655349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Harriger, J., Calogero, R., Witherington, D., & Smith, J. (2010). Body size stereotyping and internalization of the thin ideal in preschool girls. Sex Roles, 63, 609–620. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9868-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Heinberg, L. J., & Thompson, J. K. (1992). Social comparison: Gender, target importance ratings, and relation to body image disturbance. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 7, 335–344.Google Scholar
  27. Hutchinson, D. M., & Rapee, R. M. (2007). Do friends share similar body image and eating problems? The role of social networks and peer influences in early adolescence. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 1557–1577. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2006.11.007.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jackson, T., & Chen, H. (2010). Sociocultural experiences of bulimic and non-bulimic adolescents in a school-based chinese sample. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 69–76. doi:10.1007/s10802-009-9350-0.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jones, D. C. (2001). Social comparison and body image: Attractiveness comparisons to models and peers among adolescent girls and boys. Sex Roles, 45, 645–664. doi:10.1177/0743558403258847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kessels, U., & Hannover, B. (2008). When being a girl matters less: Accessibility of gender-related self-knowledge in single-sex and coeducational classes and its impact on students’ physics-related self-concept of ability. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 78, 273–289. doi:10.1348/000709907X215938.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lam, T. H., Lee, S. W., Fung, S., Ho, S. Y., Lee, P. W. H., & Stewart, S. M. (2009). Sociocultural influences on body dissatisfaction and dieting in Hong Kong girls. European Eating Disorders Review, 17, 152–160. doi:10.1002/erv.900.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lavine, H., Sweeney, D., & Wagner, S. (1999). Depicting women as sex objects in television advertising: Effects on body dissatisfaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25, 1049–1058. doi:10.1177/01461672992511012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lee, V. E., & Bryk, A. S. (1989). Effects of single-sex schools: Response to Marsh. Journal of Education and Psychology, 81, 647–650. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.81.4.647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Marsh, H. W. (1989). Effects of attending single-sex and coeducational high schools on achievement, attitudes, behaviors, and sex differences. Journal of Education and Psychology, 81, 70–85. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.81.1.70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mensinger, J. (2001). Conflicting gender role prescriptions and disordered eating in single-sex and coeducational school environments. Gender and Education, 13, 417–429. doi:10.1080/09540250120081760.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Morrison, T. G., Kalin, R., & Morrison, M. A. (2004). Body-image evaluation and body-image investment among adolescents: A test of sociocultural and social comparison theories. Adolescence, 39, 571–572.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Myers, T. A., & Crowther, J. H. (2009). Social comparison as a predictor of body dissatisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118, 683–698. doi:10.1037/a0016763.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Digest of education statistics: 2010. U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/
  39. Neighbors, L. A., & Sobal, J. (2007). Prevalence and magnitude of body weight and shape dissatisfaction among university students. Eating Behaviors, 8, 429–439. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2007.03.003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Noll, S. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). A mediational model linking self-objectification, body shame, and disordered eating. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22, 623–636. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.1998.tb00181.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Quinn, D. M., Kallen, R. W., & Cathey, C. (2006). Body on my mind: The lingering effect of state self-objectification. Sex Roles, 55, 869–874. doi:10.1007/s11199-006-9140-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Rodgers, R. F., Faure, K., & Chabrol, H. (2009). Gender differences in parental influences on adolescent body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Sex Roles, 61, 837–849. doi:10.1007/s11199-009-9690-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Sabik, N. J., Cole, E. R., & Ward, L. M. (2010). Are all minority women equally buffered from negative body image? Intra-ethnic moderators of the buffering hypothesis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 34, 139–151. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2010.01557.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sanchez, D. T., & Crocker, J. (2005). How investment in gender ideals affects well-being: The role of external contingencies of self-worth. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29, 63–77. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2005.00169.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sanftner, J. L., Ryan, W. J., & Pierce, P. (2009). Application of a relational model to understanding body image in college women and men. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 23, 262–280. doi:10.1080/87568220903167182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schutz, H. K., Paxton, S. J., & Wertheim, E. H. (2002). Investigation of body comparison among adolescent girls. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 1906–1937. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2002.tb00264.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Shomaker, L. B., & Furman, W. (2007). Same-sex peers’ influence on young women’s body image: An experimental manipulation. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 26. doi:871-895.10.1521/jscp.2007.26.8.871.
  48. Stunkard, A. J., Sorensen, T., & Shulsinger, F. (1983). Use of the Danish adoption register for the study of obesity and thinness. In S. Kety (Ed.), The genetics of neurological and psychiatric disorders (pp. 115–120). New York: Raven.Google Scholar
  49. Sullivan, A., Joshi, H., & Leonard, D. (2010). Single-sex schooling and academic attainment at school and through the lifecourse. American Education Research Journal, 47, 6–36. doi:10.3102/0002831209350106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Thompson, J. K., Heinberg, L. J., & Tantleff, S. (1991). The physical appearance comparison scale (PACS). Behavior Therapy, 14, 174.Google Scholar
  51. Tiggemann, M. (2001). Effect of gender composition of school on body concerns in adolescent women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 29, 239–243. doi:10.1002/1098-108X(200103)29:2<239::AID-EAT1015>3.0.C O;2-A.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Tiggemann, M., & Miller, J. (2010). The Internet and adolescent girls’ weight satisfaction and drive for thinness. Sex Roles, 63, 79–90. doi:10.1007/s11199-010-9789-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. 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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Trampe, D., Stapel, D. A., & Siero, F. W. (2007). On models and vases: Body dissatisfaction and proneness to social comparison effects. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 106–118. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.1.106.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tsiantas, G., & King, R. M. (2001). Similarities in body image in sisters: The role of sociocultural internalization and social comparison. Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 9, 141–158. doi:10.1080/10640260127717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Want, S. C., Vickers, K., & Amos, J. (2009). The influence of television programs on appearance satisfaction: Making and mitigating social comparisons to “Friends”. Sex Roles, 60, 642–655. doi:10.1007/s11199-008-9563-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wardle, J., Haase, A. M., & Steptoe, A. (2006). Body image and weight control in young adults: International comparisons in university students from 22 countries. International Journal of Obesity, 30, 644–651. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0803050.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Werner, C. M., Sansone, C., & Brown, B. B. (2008). Guided group discussion and attitude change: The roles of normative and informational influence. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 28, 27–41. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.10.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wertheim, E. H., Paxton, S. J., Schutz, H. K., & Muir, S. L. (1997). Why do adolescent girls watch their weight? An interview study examining sociocultural pressures to be thin. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 42, 345–355. doi:10.1016/S0022-3999(96)00368-6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Wildes, J., Emery, R., & Simons, A. (2001). The roles of ethnicity and culture in the development of eating disturbance and body dissatisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 21, 521–551. doi:10.1016/S0272-7358(99)00071-9.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Williams, L. K., Ricciardelli, L. A., McCabe, M. P., Waqa, G. G., & Bavadra, K. (2006). Body image attitudes and concerns among indigenous Fijian and European Australian adolescent girls. Body Image, 3, 275–287. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.06.001.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Williamson, D. A., Davis, C. J., Bennett, S. M., Goreczny, A. J., & Gleaves, D. H. (1989). Development of a simple procedure for assessing body image disturbances. Behavioral Assessment, 11, 433–446.Google Scholar
  63. Young, D. J., & Fraser, B. J. (1990). Science achievement of girls in single-sex and co-educational schools. Research in Science & Technological Education, 8, 5–20. doi:10.1080/0263514900080102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bettina Spencer
    • 1
  • Caitilin Barrett
    • 1
  • Gina Storti
    • 1
  • Mara Cole
    • 1
  1. 1.Saint Mary’s CollegeNotre DameUSA

Personalised recommendations