Positive Body Image Among Female Emerging Adults: A Mixed Methods Design
Norwood, Sarah Jane
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Recent research has highlighted the importance of considering positive body image (e.g., Swami, Hadji-Michael, & Furnham, 2008) that is not simply the absence of negative body image, but also the extent to which one appreciates and accepts one’s body as a whole (Avalos et al., 2005). Using a mixed-methods design, I sought to better understand positive body image (PBI) by examining the individual strengths associated with PBI and how PBI may protect against depressive symptoms over time. Study 1 was a quantitative investigation examining groups of strengths and barriers among female emerging adults (EAs) to examine characteristics that are associated with PBI and how PBI may protect against depressive symptoms. Participants (N = 1,464) completed a battery of measures at Time 1 (Mage = 20.23, SDage = 2.32) and a subset of participants completed the same measures three months later at Time 2 (n = 215, Mage = 20.01, SDage = 2.26). Results of the latent profile analysis revealed distinct groups of female EAs who differed on their levels of strengths and barriers. As hypothesized, women who reported higher strengths and lower barriers had higher levels of PBI and, in turn, lower levels of depressive symptoms. Further, women who reported lower levels of strengths and greater barriers reported lower levels of PBI. These findings suggest that it is not just the absence of barriers, but also the presence of strengths that are associated with emotional well-being. Study 2 was a qualitative analysis of female EAs with PBI (n = 16, Mage = 20.94, SDage = 2.14) that was conducted to understand how female EAs with self-reported PBI describe their feelings towards their body and what strengths they identify as most important with respect to their overall self and their body. Women reported an overall appreciation and acceptance for their body. With respect to one’s overall self, women most frequently identified specific traits as their greatest strengths, and with respect to their body, women most frequently spoke of internal attributes. Findings are discussed in terms of implications for future mental health promotion and intervention programs.