Sex Roles, Vol. 53, Nos. 3/4, August 2005 (
Body Dissatisfaction in College Women and Their Mothers:
Cohort Effects, Developmental Effects, and the Inﬂuences
of Body Size, Sexism, and the Thin Body Ideal
Gordon B. Forbes,
Rebecca L. Jobe,
Kay B. White,
and Alessandra Pokrajac-Bulian
A study of body dissatisfaction, as measured by the Figure Rating Scale (Stunkard, Soren-
son, & Schlusinger, 1983) and the Body Esteem Scale (Franzoi & Shields, 1984), in 75 college
women and their mothers indicated that both daughters and mothers experienced body dis-
satisfaction. When body size was statistically controlled, either no difference was found be-
tween the groups or daughters were found to have greater body dissatisfaction than mothers.
The results supported the hypotheses that (1) there are generational differences in body dis-
satisfaction, (2) both cohort and developmental effects contribute to these differences, and
(3) that a developmental effect (mothers’ greater body size) may obscure a cohort effect
(daughters’ greater exposure to the thin body ideal). Body dissatisfaction measures based on
the mothers’ retrospective ratings of how they felt at their daughters’ age were consistent with
these hypotheses. Relationships between body dissatisfaction and the Sociocultural Attitudes
Toward Appearance Questionnaire (Heinberg, Thompson, & Stormer, 1995) were stronger
and more frequent for daughters than for mothers and for the Internalization Scale than
for the Awareness Scale. Relationships between the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (Glick &
Fiske, 2001) and body dissatisfaction were stronger for mothers than for daughters and for
Benevolent Sexism than for Hostile Sexism.
KEY WORDS: body dissatisfaction; generation difference; thin body ideal.
Body dissatisfaction is an important variable
because of its established association with low
self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders (e.g.,
Silverstein & Perlik, 1995). In turn, these prob-
lems are implicated in a plethora of personal, so-
cial, and medical pathologies (Smolak, Levine, &
Striegel-Moore, 1996). Unfortunately, the presence
of high levels of body dissatisfaction and associ-
ated pathologies among young women should not
Millikin University, Illinois.
Illinois Central College, Illinois.
University of Rijeka, Croatia.
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of
Behavioral Sciences, Millikin University, 1184 West Main Street,
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be surprising. As numerous researchers and social
commentators have observed, women are constantly
bombarded with media messages stating that they
must be thin. The frequency and strength of these
messages and the slenderness of ideal female bod-
ies have greatly increased over the last four decades.
In a well-known study Garner, Garﬁnkel, Schwartz,
and Thompson (1980) showed that both Playboy
centerfolds and Miss America contestants became
progressively thinner between 1959 and 1978. Wise-
man, Gray, Mosimann, and Ahrens (1992) showed
that this trend continued for the next 10 years. The
ﬁndings of Garner et al. (1980) and Wiseman et al.
(1992) were elaborated and extended by Spitzer,
Henderson, and Zivian (1999). Evidence of simi-
lar trends among fashion models was reported by
2005 Springer Science+Business Media, Inc.