The relationship between the super woman construct and eating disorder symptoms and body image dissatisfaction among graduate students, medical students, and law students
Lochner, Laura Myers
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Rates of eating disorder problems and body dissatisfaction among women have risen in the West since the 1960s (Hoek, 1993; Stice, 1994; Vandereycken & Hoek, 1992; Klemchuk, Hutchinson & Frank, 1990). Of the numerous theories available to explain this situation, the sociocultural theory appears to be the most robust as it contends that the unrealistically thin standard for a female body, promulgated by Western cultures, promotes eating disorder and body image problems (Bordo, 1993; Fallon, 1990; Waller et al., 1994). Research suggests that acceptance of sociocultural messages for a thin body is related to eating disorder symptoms and body dissatisfaction (Stice, Schupak-Neuberg, Shaw & Stein, 1994; Stormer & Thompson, 1996). Researchers have examined whether certain women are more affected by sociocultural messages and are thus more likely to experience body dissatisfaction and eating disorder symptoms (Hamilton & Waller, 1993; Stormer & Thompson; Waller, Hamilton & Shaw, 1992). This dissertation examined the intemahzation of sociocultural messages for a thin body in women pursuing professionallevel education; graduate students, medical school students, and law school students. An aspect of the sociocultural theory that has received a fair amount of attention in the literature is the Super Woman Constmct (SWC; Steiner-Adair, 1986), which is defined as: (a) valued autonomy, (b) focused on their physical appearance, (c) valued involvement in numerous roles, and (d) valued masculine personality characteristics. This dissertation expanded on Steiner-Adair's definition of the SW and study the SWC in women more likely to be engaged in a "Super Woman" lifestyle; graduate-level female students. SW appear to be driven to excel in both masculine (career) and feminine (relationships, children) pursuits. The SWC, as operationalized in this dissertation, is comprised of: (a) adherence to sociocultural standards of attractiveness, (b) adherence to masculine and (c) feminine traits, (d) independence in adult attachment relationships, and (e) greater achievement motivation. A questionnaire survey, comprised of a demographic sheet, and measures of body image dissatisfaction, eating disorder symptoms, adult attachment and achievement motivation was mailed to 761 currently enrolled professional-track women at Texas Tech University and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. Four hundred and thirty-six complete and usable questionnaires were retumed for an overall response rate of 57%. Results indicated that greater adherence to the SWC was associated with higher reported symptoms of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction in professional-track women. Greater intemahzation of the socioculturally imposed thin body ideal was found to be associated with more eating disorder symptoms and greater body dissatisfaction. Achievement motivation was not foimd to serve as a moderating variable in the relationship between acceptance of sociocultural pressures to be thin and eating disorder symptoms and body dissatisfaction.