Research: Feeling Loved by God Buffers Body Esteem in Men—But Not Women
March 7, 2018
Two psychologists at Hope College respond to Christian young adults who struggle with body satisfaction.
Throughout history, women’s bodies portrayed in the media of the day— from billboard ads to TV screens to mobile phones—have influenced what we think about our identities.
According to Mary Inman, a psychologist at Hope College, the early 1970s marked a new age for female body image. The fashion model Twiggy took the stage and the norm of Marilyn Monroe, who had substantially more body fat, started fading.
In 1979, Jean Kilbourne’s lecture-based film Killing Us Softly (and later, Jackson Katz’s work) documented the connection between media and “young women and men to think that the perfect body shape is thin for women and muscular for men,” said Inman. These messages “also communicate that the function of the body is to be an object of sexual desire for women and a tool of dominance for men.”
Although today’s body-positive movement provides some pushback (and also attracts critique), nonetheless the same problems persist. In studying the issue, Inman and her colleague at Hope College, Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet, wanted to know: Does faith buffer a negative body image?
In a recent study published in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Inman and Witvliet measured body esteem in college-aged men and women in relation to their understanding of God’s love.
They spoke to CT about what they found.
What led you to research body esteem?
Witvliet: Our bodies are good gifts; a biblical view is that we are embodied souls, ensouled bodies. We are called to value, respect, and care for our bodies—neither devaluing nor idolizing them. Many people struggle with low body esteem and related distress and disorders. We wanted to better understand body esteem in relationship …