Body Image Dissertation Abstracts and
Summaries

Author: Angela K. Picot
Title: The Relationship Among Community Affiliation, Self-Esteem, and Eating Disorder Symptomatology in Gay and Lesbian Individuals
Dissertation completed April 2004, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA (Advisor/Supervisor: Lisa R. Lilenfeld)



Foundation and rationale of the research

   Previous research has indicated that sexual orientation may be relevant in understanding vulnerability to eating disorder symptomatology. Specifically, gay men are generally believed to be at increased risk, and lesbian women at decreased risk, for developing negative body image and disordered eating. The role of gay and lesbian community affiliation in influencing levels of eating disorder symptomatology has recently begun to be examined and merits further investigation. Furthermore, due to the understudied nature of this population, an examination of identified risk factors for eating disorder symptomatology, including self-esteem, media internalization, gender role identification, and ethnicity is indicated among gay and lesbian individuals.

Hypotheses

   (1) Gay men will have greater eating disorder symptomatology than straight men, and lesbian women will have similar or less eating disorder symptomatology than straight women. (2) Gay men will have greater eating disorder symptomatology than lesbian women. Among the gay and lesbian individuals only: (3) Affiliation with the gay and lesbian community will moderate level of eating disorder symptomatology; (3a) Increased community affiliation will be associated with high eating disorder symptomatology among gay men; (3b) Increased community affiliation will be associated with low eating disorder symptomatology among lesbian women. (4) Self-esteem will be negatively associated with eating disorder symptomatology. (5) Self-esteem will be negatively related to community affiliation for gay men and positively related to community affiliation for lesbian women. (6) Media internalization, femininity, and Caucasian identity will be positively associated with eating disorder symptomatology.

Methodology

   Participants consisted of 389 gay men, 381 lesbian women, 39 straight men, and 73 straight women who attended the 2002 Gay Pride Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, and completed a self-report questionnaire comprised of several standardized measures and demographic items. Measures included the Eating Attitudes Test-26, the drive for thinness and body dissatisfaction subscales of the Eating Disorder Inventory-2, the Drive for Muscularity Scale, the Internalization subscale of the Multidimensional Media Influence Scale, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. Community affiliation was assessed using a measure of participation and involvement created for the current study. Sexual orientation was assessed using a seven point Likert item based on the Kinsey scale.

   Univariate general linear models and ANCOVAs, as appropriate, were conducted to examine differences in eating disorder symptomatology between groups. To address the moderation hypothesis of the study, four separate hierarchical multiple regression (HMR) analyses were conducted for gay men and lesbian women separately, assessing all four dependent variables (e.g., EDI-2 body dissatisfaction, EDI-2 drive for thinness, drive for muscularity, and eating pathology). Multiple linear regression analyses and univariate general linear models were used to evaluate additional hypotheses separately among gay men and lesbian women.

Results

   Gay men had similar levels of body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, and eating pathology as straight men, and a trend approaching significance for a higher drive for muscularity (n2=.009, Fchange(1, 410)=3.660, p=.056). Lesbian women had similar levels of body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness, drive for muscularity, and eating pathology as straight women. Gay men had similar levels of drive for thinness and eating pathology as lesbian women, yet were found to have greater drive for muscularity (R²change =.083, Fchange(1,718)=66.96, p<.01) and less body dissatisfaction (R²change=.05, Fchange(1,738)=48.96; p<.01) than lesbian women.

   Results of the moderation hypothesis found that among lesbian women, there was a trend toward an interaction between gender and community affiliation accounting for a significant portion of the variance in drive for thinness (R2change=.006, Fchange (1, 420)=3.7, p=.055). No significant differences in eating disorder symptomatology were found among gay men at differing levels of community affiliation.

   Among gay men, self-esteem accounted for a significant proportion of the variance in body dissatisfaction (R2change=.132, Fchange (1,365)=70.0, p<.01), drive for thinness (R2change=.097, Fchange (1,365)=40.9, p<.01), drive for muscularity (R2change=.155., Fchange (1,364)=70.56, p<.01), and eating pathology (R2change=.097, Fchange(1,368)=40.0, p<.01). The same relationships held true for lesbian women, in that self-esteem accounted for a significant proportion of the variance in body dissatisfaction (R2change=.110, Fchange (1,348)=54.17, p<.01), drive for thinness (R2change=.148, Fchange (1,342)=62.09, p<.01), drive for muscularity (R2change=.093, Fchange (1,335)=35.96, p<.01), and eating pathology (R2change=.123, Fchange (1,340)=49.38, p<.01). Community affiliation was unrelated to self-esteem among both gay men and lesbian women.

   When the first subhypothesis was examined, media internalization explained a significant proportion of the variability in body dissatisfaction (R2change=.067, Fchange (1,365)=32.32, p<.01), drive for thinness (R2change=.145, Fchange (1,365)=64.41, p<.01), drive for muscularity (R2change=.169, Fchange (1,368), p<.01) and eating pathology (R2change=.092, Fchange (1,372)=37.57, p<.01) in gay men. Similarly, media internalization accounted for a significant proportion of the variability in body dissatisfaction (R2change=.082, Fchange (1,351)=38.95, p<.01), drive for thinness (R2change=.120, Fchange (1,346)=49.10, p<.01), drive for muscularity (R2change=.108, Fchange (1,340)=42.93, p<.01), and eating pathology (R2change=.073, Fchange (1,344)=27.89, p<.01) in lesbian women.

   Results of the second subhypothesis revealed that femininity accounted for a significant proportion of the variance in body dissatisfaction, (R2change=.018, Fchange (1,372)=8.53, p<.01) among gay men. Femininity was found to account for a significant proportion of the variability in drive for muscularity (R2change=.021, Fchange(1,341)=7.65, p<.01) among lesbian women.

   Among gay men, Caucasian identity significantly accounted for higher levels of body dissatisfaction (n2=.014, Fchange(1,281)=3.83, p=.05) and eating pathology (n2=.02, Fchange(1,76)=5.47, p<.05), than African American identity. Among lesbian women, Caucasian identity significantly accounted for higher levels of eating pathology, (n2=.011, Fchange(1,301)=4.05, p<.05) than did African American identity.

Conclusions and Implications

   In summary, this study found few differences in eating disorder symptomatology based on sexual orientation. It could be that differences noted in previous studies could have been exaggerated due to the fact that gay and straight individuals were dissimilar demographically. It is also possible the straight sample in the current study may have not been representative of the larger straight population.

   The degree to which an individual participated in, and identified with, their community did not appear to have a large influence on the expression of eating disorder symptomatology among gay men or lesbian women. The risk or protective components of community affiliation that have been suggested may be quite minimal, at least in the context of a festival where affiliation is generally high. Rather than community affiliation, self-esteem emerged as the more crucial construct in understanding how an individual felt about his or her body. Additionally, internalization of high standards of physical appearance, gender role identity, and ethnicity each contributed in some way to our understanding of eating disorder symptomatology among both gay men and lesbian women.

   This study underscores that the effect of sexual orientation on eating disorder symptomatology should not be overestimated. Also, this study highlights topics, such as self-esteem and the influence of the media, which may inform prevention programs targeting general health and body perception in both men and women, regardless of sexual orientation.

References

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