College Women Can Have Positive Body Image

Tracy Tylka
Assistant Professor of Psychology
The Ohio State University at Marion

In a recent Glamour survey, young women reported an average of 13 negative thoughts about their body each day.  Given Western media’s emphasis on physical appearance and projecting a flawless ideal, it is not surprising that women can pinpoint their imperfections at a rapid and frequent rate. Can women have a positive body image in this culture?

According to recent survey findings, yes they can.  Tylka and her co-authors interviewed college women who like their body.  80% of these women had a negative body image at one point but were able to turn this image around.  These women notice and appreciate what their body is able to do (its functions) rather than being critical of its appearance.  Even though they may not be satisfied with all aspects of their body, they express love and respect for their body by engaging in healthy behaviors such as regular exercise and nutritious eating.  They emphasize their body’s assets and choose to accept its flaws.  They do not define beauty according to Western standards – a variety of weights and shapes can be beautiful. They let negative comments or threats to their body image “bounce off” and instead accept positive comments and information that enhances their body image.

These women feel that family, friends, and romantic partners accept their body – emphasizing the need to end weight discrimination and promote body acceptance.