273999 Lesbian women demonstrate less body dissatisfaction in a large community sample of middle-aged women

Monday, October 29, 2012

Lisa Alvy, MA , Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Poor body image is an important risk factor for women, contributing to disordered eating, obesity, and depression. Body dissatisfaction is prevalent among women generally but may be less common among lesbian women. Although the empirical literature trends toward this conclusion when samples are well-matched and body mass index (BMI) is controlled for, many studies do not exhibit these characteristics. Data come from the Epidemiological Study of Health Risk in Women (ESTHER) Project, a study of heart disease risk factors among women ages 34 to 65. The final analytic sample included 478 lesbian and 400 heterosexual women. I used ANCOVA analyses to compare the groups on four established measures of body dissatisfaction, controlling for clinician-collected data on BMI and key demographic characteristics. Lesbian women reported significantly less body dissatisfaction than did heterosexual women on the Body Size Drawings (BSD; p = .006), the Body Dissatisfaction subscale of the EDI-2 (p > .001), and the MBSRQ Body Areas Satisfaction Scale (p = .001). The two groups did not differ on the MBSRQ Appearance Evaluation subscale, p = .121. On the BSD, lesbians reported a larger ideal figure size than did heterosexual women, p > .001. These findings support the hypothesis that lesbian women experience enhanced body image compared to heterosexual women, and report a larger body ideal, using more methodologically rigorous methods than past studies. This apparent “buffering” effect of lesbian identity on body dissatisfaction has important implications for public health efforts aimed at prevention for lesbian women and women more broadly.

Learning Areas:
Diversity and culture
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Identify methodological limitations of the literature on body image among lesbian women. Describe sexual identity differences in rates of body dissatisfaction among women. Discuss sociocultural explanations for sexual identity differences in women’s body image. Name public health implications of better understanding body image phenomena among lesbian women.

Keywords: Women's Health, Lesbian Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have been working in the field of LGBT health for the past six years as a graduate research assistant on several NIH- and CDC-funded studies, and have served as first author on numerous research papers, presentations, and posters emanating from these projects. I have received several departmental and university-based awards for my research work in LGBT health, and in April 2012 I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation on body image among lesbian women.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

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.