Body Image in Middle-aged Mormon Women : A Comparative Case Study
Salt Lake City, UT
University of Utah
Ph. D. Dept. of Health Promotion and Education, University of Utah 2010
Body image is a multifaceted construct developed from perceived experiences and personal and cultural attitudes towards the body. Women are more vulnerable than men to internal and external influences regarding negative body image. A qualitative comparative case study design was utilized to explore how 10 lifelong, middle-aged LDS women, either married (n=5) with children or single, never married (n=5), experienced body image through their perceptions of religiosity and spirituality. The participants lived along the Wasatch Front in Utah and were recruited through known LDS gatekeepers. Each participant completed three in-person interviews and three audio or paper journals, which were transcribed and analyzed for themes. The main themes included the influence of the birth and/or marriage family, the constant comparison between three theoretical ideals and reality, choice vs. chosen relating to marital status, and spirituality. Fathers and brothers were especially important in teaching an acceptable body appearance, while mothers tended to teach verbal and physical behaviors associated with body appearance. The spouses of four participants were positive influences of body image but one participant experienced profound negative influences. For all ten participants, marital status was both an act of choosing to be in a particular marriage status and being chosen, or not, by a spouse. The majority of the single participants struggled with not being chosen for marriage and did not have a moderating influence of a spouse, like the married participants, for their body image. Both groups expressed more happiness when they chose to be in their marital status group instead of relying on a spouse to choose them. The participants constantly compared their perceived reality to three theoretical ideals: God's teaching, the LDS Church's organization and culture, and the influence of the world. Spiritually or a connect to God was a positive influence and moderating factor for body image perception for each participant. Implications of these findings, limitations, and directions for health educators, resilience, and spiritual research are discussed.