A recent study by Colorado College psychology professor Tomi-Ann Roberts took a new approach to examining women’s body image.
Roberts had female and male university students wear either swimsuits or sweaters while taking tests and compared the results. Women wearing swimsuits reported feeling disgusted, ashamed or disgraced by having to wear the swimsuit, and their scores were negatively affected. Men wearing swimsuits mentioned feeling silly and foolish, but their performance was unaffected.
The study assesed the consequences of women being raised in an atmosphere that stresses the importance of how their bodies look rather than how they function. “Women are so preoccupied with how their bodies look that they use up mental resources that they could spend on other things,” said Roberts.
The 350 Duke University and University of Michigan students that participated in the study were placed in a dressing room and asked either questions about bodily shame or mathematics. Each subject was also offered cookies, and the women who showed the highest degree of bodily shame were most likely to decline the sweets.
Roberts hopes that the results of her study will help girls to focus more on their bodies’ functioning, and less on how their bodies look. Simple things such as wearing comfortable shoes and avoiding the purchase of a “Wonder Bra” are important, Roberts said. “Little acts of rebellion every day, so their bodies belong less to the public and more to themselves.”