153453 “Real women have curves:” Body image paradox among Latina women in the US

Monday, November 5, 2007: 10:30 AM

Anahi Viladrich, PhD , Immigration and Health Initiative, Urban Public Health Program, The School of Health Sciences, The Schools of the Health Professions, Hunter College of the City University of New York, New York, NY
Nancy Bruning, MPH , Immigration and Health Initiative, Hunter College, New York, NY
Ming-Chin Yeh, PhD , Nutrition and Food Science Program, CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College, Hunter College, City University of New York, New York, NY
Rachael Weiss , Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging & Longevity, Hunter College/CUNY, The Schools of the Health Professions, Hunter College of the City University of New York, New York, NY

This presentation examines the relationship between Latinas' body image and their ability to maintain a desired weight. Research questions addressed the psychosocial and cultural factors that influence body image and their possible conditioning effect on self-esteem and self-efficacy.


Six focus groups of Latinas were conducted in New York City, two consisting of physically active women and four of non-physically active ones. A multi-method data collection system was used based on individual instruments and group guidelines. Questions addressed Latinas' cultural and personal factors related to their desired body image vis-à-vis their weight control efforts.


Women in both samples mentioned health maintenance and body image as strong motivators for physical activity and balanced eating. However, participants from the non-physically active sample presented a body image paradox, expressed as a contradictory interpretative framework regarding body image. These participants acknowledged the influence of mainstream stereotypes that portray the fit/thin woman as synonymous with the Caucasian body type, but also introduced the “Latina” curvy shape as a counter-image to which they subscribe. This contradiction was reflected in their stated struggles to keep a desired body weight and in their mixed feeling regarding the benefits of physical activity. Implications of these results are discussed. Particularly, health messages should challenge a uniform model of womanhood, which may have a negative impact on Latinas' efforts to control weight. The promotion of more realistic body types that are in tune with women's differences may be more effective in targeting non-physically active Latino women in the US.

Learning Objectives:
1. List five psychosocial and cultural factors that influence body image among Latinas. 2. Describe the body image paradox and its influence on Latina women’s health maintenance efforts. 3. Articulate the rationale for health messages aimed at promoting more realistic body types in targeting non-physically active Latino women.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.