The Journal of Psychology, Volume 118, First Half, September 1984, pp. 99-112.
Comparisons of Body Self-Concept
ABSTRACT. Body self-concepts of a stratified sample of 300 social nudists and 562 nonnudists were compared by using ratings on a 5-point Likert-type scale of 49 individual and one total body aspects. Of the other effects examined that might interact with nudity classification to influence body self-concept--sex, age, and satisfaction with interpersonal relationships--only sex was significant. The body self-concept ratings of nudists and males were higher than those of nonnudists and females, but nudity as a variable was more important than sex in determining body self-concept. Ratings on the total body self-concept question yielded the same body self-concept scores as the mean of ratings on the 49 individual body aspects. Reasons given for body self-concept ratings and open-ended responses to what body part was liked best and why and liked least and why also varied according to nudity and sex classification. Factor structures accounting for a majority of the variance in body self-concept ratings were identified for nonnudists but not for nudists.
RESEARCH DATING FROM the first body self-concept studies of Schilder (1935) and Secord and Jourard (1953) to more recent works in the area (Joesting & Clance, 1979; Padin, Lerner, & Spiro, 1981; Young & Reeve, 1980) has consistently supported the premise of the present study that body self-concept is an important part of overall self-concept. Little research, however, has been done examining the differences in body self-concept between subculture groups, such as social nudists, and their nonnudist counterparts in the United States. In studying preschool children, Story (1979) discovered social nudists had more positive body self-concepts than nonnudists did. Sussman (1917) found self-concept change scores were significantly greater (in a positive direction) for a group that spent only one day at a nudist camp than for two matched groups that had a nonnude outing and no treatment, respectively. Although the change scores did not reach significance, Sussman's nudist camp group became more positive on body-cathexis ratings than either of the other two groups. The present study tested the hypothesis that social nudists would have higher mean body self-concept ratings than nonnudists.
The literature was examined for other variables that might interact with nudism to influence body self-concept. Age was a variable in several studies, with a national survey of over 62,000 reporting that persons over 30 years old were happiest about their bodies (Berscheid, Walster, & Borhnstedt, 1973). A 1981 study (Padin, Lerner, & Spiro) found body attitudes were stable in adulthood, but the study was based on data from only a college-age population. In contrast, Kirkpatrick and Sanders (1978) found that persons or different ages viewed body types differently, and Posner (1977) concluded that attitudes toward the aging female body were negative. Because previous literature has produced conflicting results, I hypothesized that body self-concept ratings would not vary according to age.
A number of studies have shown differences between male and female body self-concept ratings, with males generally having the higher body self-concepts (Joesting & Clance, 1979; Lerner, Orlos, & Knapp, 1976; Secord & Jourard, 1953; Story, 1979). Story (1979) found an interaction between nudism and sex in preschool children's body self-concept ratings among social nudist females, nonnudist males, and nonnudist females. I hypothesized that not only would the total male sample have higher body self-concepts than the total female sample would but that ordering of body self-concept ratings according to nudism and sex should be the same in the adult sample of this study as in the earlier preschool sample.
Although the effects of body self-concept on interpersonal relationships and life adjustment have been common research topics (Douty, Modre, & Hartford, 1974; Young, 1980), Meares (1980) also theorized that body self-concept or "body feeling" is in turn influenced by one's interpersonal relationships. Therefore, the present study tested the hypothesis that subjects more satisfied with their interpersonal relationships would have higher body self-concepts than those less satisfied with their interpersonal relationships.
Differing ways of examining body self-concept ratings are also found in the literature. Originally, on all generally used body self-concept instruments, the rating of each body aspect was taken as the cathexis score for that aspect, and the mean rating of all body aspects was interpreted as the body self-concept score (Lerner, Orlos, & Knapp, 1976; Mahoney & Finch, 1976b; Secord & Jourard, 1953). Some recent studies (Young & Reeve, 1980; Young, Reeve, & Elliott, 1978) urge that instead of using a composite body self-concept score, a more appropriate approach to studying self-concept is a discriminant analysis on individual body aspect items. To further clarify the value of the mean rating of all body aspects, the present research tested the hypothesis that there would be no difference between the composite body self-concept ratings and ratings on one overall body self-concept question.
Little attempt has been made to identify a small number of factor groupings, that would account for the variance in body self-concept ratings or to determine whether such factors vary by sex or cultural group. In an exploratory study, Mahoney and Finch (1976a) tried to reduce their body-cathexis scale items to a few factor groupings. Story (1979) employed a similar component analysis in categorizing body self-concept responses of 3- to 5-year-old nudist and nonnudist children. The present study further explored the question of what factor groupings account for the variance in body self-concept according to sex and nudist/nonnudist classification.
Other ways of researching body self-concept are
through body aspects liked best and least and reasons for liking
or disliking a body aspect. Berscheid, Walster, and Borhnstedt
(1973) found hips (females) and chest (males), not breasts and
penis, to be sites of greatest dissatisfaction. Lerner, Orlos,
and Knapp (1976) concluded that males were more likely to rate a
body aspect according to its effectiveness, but females were more
likely to rate it according to its attractiveness. Story's (1979)
preschool sample differed on parts liked best and least and on
reasons given for ratings according to nudity classification and
sex. I hypothesized that body parts liked best and least and
reasons given for liking or disliking body aspects would also
differ according to nudity classification and sex in this study's
Data for this research were collected from 862 persons comprising three distinct groups. Group 1 participants (n = 300) were social nudists drawn from eight midwestern United Slates nudist camps who belonged to the American Sunbathing Association. The social nudist group was stratified by sex (150 males and 150 females) and age (100 each, 25-34 years, 35-44 years, and 45-59 years). The length of time Group 1 subjects reported being social nudists ranged from 2 years to 39 years, with a mean of 11.2 years.
Group 2 participants (n = 300) were nonnudists matched with the social nudists on the variables of sex and age. In an attempt to equate them with the educational and socioeconomic background of the social nudists, Group 2 subjects were taken from midwestern United States university and community-college continuing-education classes.
Group 3 participants (n = 262) were midwestern United States university students in various sections of a human relationships and sexuality class, a course carrying general education credits with a potential for a cross-section enrollment or university students. This group contained 122 males and 140 females, all ages 18-24 years.
I developed a Body Self-Concept Questionnaire containing 49 individual body aspects and one item labeled total body self-concept, each of which was rated by subjects on a Likert-type scale with the following five described points:
Subjects also marked a reason for each of their 50 ratings. The following four reasons were listed by each rating scale:
In addition to the 50 rated items and reasons for each rating, The questionnaire contained two open-ended questions, "What part of your body do you like best? Why?" and "What part of your body do you like least? Why?" and demographic information used to identify and match sample groups.
The questionnaire items combined all those used in previous standard body-cathexis questionnaires, plus relationship items and sexual and elimination body parts not used in previous instruments. Three relationship items--ability to establish meaningful relationships, ability to keep meaningful relationships, and number of meaningful relationships--were included along with the sex activities item used by Secord and Jourard (1953) to cover a more complete range of relationships. Sexual and elimination parts were viewed as possibly important aspects of body self-concept and were included in spite of Secord and Jourard's fear that "their presence in the scale might give rise to an evasive attitude which would transfer to other items, resulting in an avoidance of the two-answer categories representing negative feelings toward the body" (1953, p. 344). Two forms of the questionnaire for this study, one including sexual and elimination parts and one without these items, were each pilot tested on 100 midwestern United States university students. Because there were no differences between the groups' mean ratings of any item common to both forms or between the overall mean rating of the two groups, Secord and Jourard's fears were not supported. In contrast to Mahoney and Finch's (1976b) questionnaire, the questionnaire in this study was the same for both sexes. Sex-differentiated parts were listed together as penis/vagina and chest/breasts so that differences between male and female body self-concept aspects could be more clearly tested.
The questionnaire was reviewed by midwestern United States university students (n = 68) to detect items difficult to understand, items difficult to rate, and items to add or delete. The final form was pilot tested on 65 students. A retest 2 weeks after the original pilot test yielded a test-retest reliability coefficient of .91.
Subjects were given the questionnaire either at
a nudist camp (Group 1) or in a class (Groups 2 and 3) and
returned the completed form to a common collection box. No names
were used on any questionnaires, and subjects were assured of
both the voluntary nature and the confidentiality of their
Results and Discussion
Analyses of variance and t tests were used to determine whether there were differences in body self-concept scores (using the mean rating on the 49 body aspects) according to (a) nudism, (b) age, (c) sex, or (d) satisfaction with interpersonal relationships. As hypothesized, no difference was found by analysis of variance according to age groups, either in the total sample or within either the nudist or nonnudist or male or female subsamples. Because the oldest persons in this study were only 59, they may have not yet internalized the negative attitudes toward aging female bodies found by Posner (1977). The fact that subjects in the current study were rating their attitudes toward their own body may explain the difference in results from those of a study by Kirkpatrick and Sanders (1978) in which subjects rated their attitudes toward generalized body types. A person's attitude toward others' bodies or generalized body types may change with age, although his or her own body self-concept may still not be affected by age.
The age effect was further examined within the nonnudist subsample by using analysis of variance to compare age groups on ratings of each of the 49 individual body aspects. Because there were also no differences on individual body aspects according to age, Groups 2 (age 25-59) and 3 (age 18-24.) were combined as one nonnudist group (n = 562, 272 males and 290 females) for reporting other results.
Contrary to Meares's theory (1980) and the correlations between body self-concept and interpersonal relationships found in other literature (Douty, Modre, & Hartford, 1974; Young, 1980) no difference in body self-concept scores was found according to ratings on any of the four relationships questions. Nudists' ratings and males' ratings on the relationships questions tended to be lower than nonnudists' and females' ratings, but the differences were not significant. When nudism and sex were treated as covariants with relationships ratings, there was no change in results. To maximize the difference in degree of satisfaction with interpersonal relationships between groups, a second analysis was done between only those persons rating themselves a 5 on all four questions (n = 86) and those rating themselves a 1 or 2 on all four questions (n = 60). The resulting t(145) of .86 was still not significant, rejecting the hypothesis for this sample that persons more satisfied with their interpersonal relationships would have higher body self-concepts than would those less satisfied with their interpersonal relationships.
As hypothesized, body self-concept ratings differed according to both nudism and sex. Results from t tests showed that nudists had higher body self-concepts than nonnudists (p < .001) in the entire sample and within the male and the female subgroups, but males had higher body self-concepts than females (p < .01) in the entire sample and within the nudist and nonnudist subgroups. An analysis of variance between the body self-concept ratings of nudist males, nudist females, nonnudist males, and nonnudist females showed a difference between the ratings of the four groups, F(3, 858) = 4.62, p < .01, with nudist males having the highest body self-concept, followed in order by nudist females, nonnudist males, and nonnudist females. A Tukey's test of significance between means found the difference between each of the four groups' body self-concept ratings to be significant (p < .05). These results support the hypothesis that the same ordering of body self-concept ratings according to nudity and sex variables would occur in this adult sample as in the earlier preschool sample (Story, 1979), with nudity being a more important variable than sex in determining body self-concept.
Chi-square analyses were used to determine whether reasons given for ratings of 50 body aspects (49 individual aspects and one overall body self-concept question) differed. Differences were found in the reasons according to (a) nudity classification [x 2(2) = 1,222.85, p < .001], (b) sex [x 2(2) = 440.60, p < .001], and (c) sex-within-nudity classification [x2(6) = 1,860.15, p < .001]. No subjects used the other category when giving reasons for ratings, so it was dropped in the analysis of the results. Social nudists and males were more likely to list effectiveness than attractiveness, but the reverse pattern was true for nonnudists and females. The both category was listed approximately the same proportion of times by all groups. In a further breakdown of sex and nudism variables, nudism was again found to be a more important variable than sex. Social nudist males had the most effectiveness ratings, followed in order by social nudist females nonnudist males, and nonnudist females. The, reverse ordering was true for the most attractiveness ratings. These findings generally support those of other studies on reasons for body self-concept ratings (Lerner, Orlos, & Knapp, 1976; Story, 1979) and indicate that persons with higher body self-concepts are likely to judge their body aspects more on effectiveness than on attractiveness.
To test the hypothesis that no differences exist between the composite body self-concept ratings and ratings on the overall body self-concept question, t tests were calculated between the mean of the 49 individual body aspect questions and the mean of the overall body self-concept question for each of the nudity and sex groupings. None of the t values were significant. For this sample, the same composite body self-concept ratings gained from 49 questions could have been obtained by one overall body self-concept question. Differences on individual body aspect ratings tended to cancel each other in an overall mean rating. Therefore, although the rating of individual body aspects may be needed for discriminant-item analysis or factoring approaches, it does not appear to be an expedient way to gain an overall body self-concept rating.
The correlation matrices for responses to the 49 individual body parts or processes from each of the nudity and sex groupings (nonnudist males, nonnudist females, nudist males, and nudist females) were subjected to a principal-component factor analysis. Factors were extracted using Joreskog's (1979) varimax procedure with orthogonal rotation. For nonnudist males, seven factors were extracted that accounted for 68.2% of the variance in body self-concept scores. Factor 1, Legs, accounted for 15.9% of the variance; loadings indicated body aspects of hips (.752), thighs (.719), feet (.705), knees (.685), and legs (.631). Factor 2, Weight., accounted for 12.2% of the variance; loadings on this variable were weight (.838), waist (.800), stomach (.761), body build (.651), and appetite (.571). Factor 3, Relationships, accounted for 9.3% of the variance; loadings were ability to establish meaningful relationships (.849), ability to keep meaningful relationships (.835), number of meaningful relationships (.835), and sex activities (.735). Factor 4, Face, accounted for 9.2% of the variance; loadings were face (.782), mouth (.760), lips (.744), skin color (.682), and eyes (.617). Factor 5, Sex, accounted for 8.8% of the variance; loadings were male sex (gender) (.865) and penis (.754). Factor 6, Health, accounted for 8.1 % of the variance; loadings were energy level (.792), health (.679), and age (.573). Factor 7, Height/Torso, accounted for 5.8% of the variance; loadings were height (.836), arms (.615), shoulders (.582), and chest (.576).
For nonnudist females, six factors were extracted, accounting for 63.5% 1 of the variance. Factor 1, Weight, accounted for 23.9% of the variance; loadings were weight (.837), thighs (.820), stomach (.719), hips (.718), and buttocks (.637). Factor 2, Relationships, accounted for 10.9% of the variance and consisted of ability to keep meaningful relationships (.819), ability to establish meaningful relationships (.798), number of meaningful relationships (.767), and sex activities (.564). Factor 3, Legs, accounted for 8.2% of The variance and consisted of legs (. 754), ankles (.637), feet (.605), and knees (.592). Factor 4, Face, accounted for 8.1% of the variance and consisted of face (.753), neck (.715), ears (.712), eyes (.650), and mouth (.615). Factor 5, Sex, accounted for 7.1% of the variance and consisted of female sex (gender) (.804), vagina (.671), and breasts (.599). Factor 6, Health, accounted for 5.3% of the variance and consisted of energy level (.742) and health (.654). No other factor accounted for more than 5% of the variance for either, males or females.
Considering the additional items in this Body Attitudes Questionnaire compared to previous instruments, the extracted factors for both males find females are similar to those supported by previous literature (Mahoney & Finch, 1976a, 1976b). The Relationships, Sex, and Health factors were formed from items not included by Mahoney and Finch. Because they were extracted factors for both nonnudist males and females, the need to include these types of items in body self-concept questionnaires is reinforced. The increased importance of the Weight factor since the Mahoney and Finch study (1976a), which accounted for more than twice the variance of any other factor for nonnudist females (23.9%), illustrates the increasing emphasis women are giving to weight in body self-concept. Considering the relatively small amount of body self-concept variance (5.3%) accounted for by the Health factor, this increased emphasis on weight may directly relate to the increased female incidence of eating disturbances reported in recent literature.
Differences and similarities between the nonnudist male and female factors in this study generally parallel previous sex comparisons on body self-concept (Lerner, Orlos, & Knapp, 1976; Mahoney & Finch, 1976b, Story, 1979). Hips and thighs loaded on a Leg factor for males but on a Weight factor for females. Relationships was a more important factor for females, but sex activities had a higher loading on this factor for males. Breasts loaded on a Sex factor for females, but chest loaded on a Height/Torso factor for males. Age was associated with a Health factor for males but not for females. Many of these sex differences may be explained by males being more likely to rate an aspect by its effectiveness and females more likely to rate according to attractiveness (Lerner, Orlos, & Knapp, 1976; Story, 1979).
No strong factors were found for either social nudist males or females. The strongest factor, Relationships (with the same loading items as with nonnudists) accounted for 7.8% of the variance in nudist males' stores and 5.8% of the variance in nudist females' scores. No other factor accounted for more than 5% of the variance for either nudist males or females. The lack of ability to extract strong factors from the body self-concept ratings of social nudists seems to indicate that nudist body self-concept is either so variable from individual to individual that it follows no pattern structures or so general that it does not relate to particular perceptual groupings of body aspects. The pattern of nudist responses to the questions "What part of your body do you like best?" and "What part of your body do you like least?" in this study, as well as in Story's (1979) study of preschool children from nudist families, supports a general body self-concept theory.
Answers to the questions "What part of your body do you like best?" and "What part of your body do you like least?" were categorized according to body self-concept factor groupings similar to those found by Mahoney and Finch (1976a). Because of response patterns obtained, categories of no body part and most or all body parts had to be added to groupings for both the best- and least-liked parts. A symbolic parts category (soul, heart, brain, etc., as symbolic of such qualities as goodness, love, intelligence, etc.) had to be added to groupings for the best-liked body part. Three judges independently placed responses to body parts liked best and least into the factor categories with 100% agreement between their placements.
Chi-square analyses showed differences in both body parts liked best and body parts liked least: (a) nudism [liked best, x2(7) = 158.76, p < .001, and liked least, x2(6) = 233.17, p < .001], (b) sex [liked best, x2(7) = 133.74, p < .001, and liked least, x2(6) = 33.87, p < .001], and (c) sex-within-nudity classification [liked best, x2(21) = 300.30, p < .001, and liked least, x2(18) = 278.91, p < .0011. Nudists and males most often said they liked most or all body parts best with sexual parts being named as best-liked second most often. In contrast, nonnudists and females most often named face or overall build as best-liked. Nudists and males most often listed no body part as least-liked, but males almost as often listed sexual parts as least-liked. Nonnudists and females most often said they least-liked their trunk or sexual parts. These differences parallel those found by Story (1979) in preschool children. Responses of sex-within-nudity classification more closely followed nudity than sex groupings, with nudist females answering more like nudists than females and nonnudist males answering more like nonnudists than males. The difference in body self concept according to nudity classification was also emphasized by the fact that none of the nudist subjects responded they best-liked no body part or least-liked most or all body parts, although several nonnudist subjects made these responses. This holistic thinking is probably the same characteristic that prevented strong factor structures in the social nudists' body self concept-ratings.
Open-ended reasons given for liking a body part best or least were independently categorized by three judges into six possible reason-groupings:
There was 100% agreement between the three judges' categorizations, and the last three reason-groupings were not used. These groupings were used to categorize reasons in Story's (1979) study of preschool children's body self-concept. Male and female sex role concepts may, however, be developmental factors not as important to adult thinking as they are in earlier years. Similarly, situational reasons may illustrate young children's short-term, concrete thinking but may not be as important to adult reasons for liking or disliking a body part.
Chi-square analyses showed differences in reasons given for body parts liked best and least according to nudity classification [liked best, x2(2) = 106.68, p < .001, and liked least x2(2) = 130.29, p < .001] and sex-within-nudity classification [liked best, x2(6) = 107.43, p < .001, and liked least, x2(6) = 175.66, p < .001]. Similar to the previous preschool sample (Story, 1979), social nudists in this study were more likely to give reasons in effectiveness or both categories, but nonnudists were more likely to give reasons in the attractiveness category. Chi-square analyses showed no differences in reasons given for body parts liked best or least according to sex. Although all males, compared to all females, were found to give more effectiveness reasons in rating all body aspects, their reasons for liking a body part best or least were as likely as those of females to be in the attractiveness category.
This study found that body self-concept ratings and reasons for these ratings varied more according to nudity classification than according to traditional sex differences. The body self-concept ratings of social nudists were higher than those of nonnudists and were based more on effectiveness and holistic thinking than those of their nonnudist counterparts.
The results from this study's nonnudist sample
generally reinforced the belief that a small number of factor
structures accounts for a majority of the variance in body
self-concept ratings. The failure, however, to extract strong
factors from the body self-concept ratings of social nudists
should indicate that body self-concept factors, may vary or may
even become nonexistent within different subcultures.
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