Single session can improve women's feelings about their bodies, study finds

July 28, 2003

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. -- A single, two-hour workshop can make a positive change in women's feelings about their bodies, a Mount Holyoke College study has found. The findings could have significance for the 72 to 85 percent of college-age women who experience some level of discomfort with the size and shape of their bodies, the study's author says.

Jill Anne Matusek, who received her bachelor of arts degree in psychology and English from Mount Holyoke in May, conducted the research in February and March with the help of 84 female undergraduates. Twenty-four attended a single session of a traditional, "healthy behavior" workshop, in which participants were given information about nutrition and the consequences of unhealthy behavior, while 26 took part in a single session of a "thin ideal" workshop, in which participants were encouraged to challenge their internalized belief in the ideal of an unrealistically thin body. The remaining participants attended neither workshop, to test for outside factors that might influence the results.

Follow-up surveys four weeks later showed that both types of workshops improved the participants' eating behavior, and that the "thin ideal" session left the women with more positive body images and improved self-esteem as well. The results are encouraging, Matusek said, since it is often difficult to see a shift in attitudes on the basis of one session. "The findings suggest that a single-session contact, which may be of high utility with a college student population, can positively influence young women's body image," she said.

Matusek was advised by Sally Wendt, a visiting assistant professor of psychology and education. The sessions were led by health educators Karen Jacobus of Mount Holyoke and Denise McGoldrick of Amherst College. "The workshop protocols were modified versions of those used by Eric Stice and his colleagues at University of Texas, Austin," Wendt said.

Studies consistently have shown that people with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.

Mount Holyoke College

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