Are Different Personality Traits in Young Women More Suceptible to Body Dissatisfaction When Exposed to ‘Normal’ Body Ideals of Female Media Images?

Are Different Personality Traits in Young Women More Suceptible to Body Dissatisfaction When Exposed to ‘Normal’ Body Ideals of Female Media Images?




In recent years there has been an increasing trend within fashion magazines, billboards and television advertisement displaying images of young super slim women, who have been airbrushed to unrecognisable limits. The media portray women’s bodies which are not only seen as ideal but as the norm (Dionne, Davis, Fox & Gurevich, 1995). This thin ideal is conveyed and reinforced by many social influences including; family peers, schools, athletics, businesses and healthcare professionals (Levine & Smolak, 1996, 1998; Smolak & Levine, 1996; Thompson & Stice, 2001, as cited in Groesz, Levine & Murnen, 2002). The average gap between women’s body size and their ideal is now larger than ever before (Stice, Mazotti, Krebs & Martin, 1999, as cited in Tiggemann & McGill, 2004).

Research suggests that these magazines advertisements are often used as a social comparison (Martin & Kennedy, 1993; Shawt & Waller, 1995, as cited in Groesz et al., 2002). The media plays on this by creating a dream world that portrays women’s hopes and high standards as well as the glorification of slenderness and weight loss (Kilbourne, 1999; Levine & Smolak, 1996; Pollay, 1986 as cited in Groesz et al., 2002). Due to the mass media’s persuasiveness and reach they are the single most powerful transmitter of sociocultural ideals (Tiggemann & McGill, 2004). There is a high corcordance of visual media such as magazines which document a proportionate amount of young, tall and extremely skinny women who epitomise the current beauty ideal (Malkin, Wornian & Chisler, 1999; Fouts & Burggraf, 1999, 2000, as cited in Tiggemann & McGill, 2004).

Through this media, women imagine the perfect body to have flawless skin, thin waist, long legs and well developed breasts (Thompson et al., 1999, as cited in Groesz et al., 2002).One study, even describes how adolescents described their ideal girl as 5ft 7 in., 100lb, size 5 feet, with long blonde hair and blue eyes (Nicher & Nicher, 1991, as cited in Groesz, et al., 2002). This may seem naive but it is suggest that when women can’t fit this unrealistic ideal of beauty it can lead to body dissatisfaction, negative effects, low self esteem or even eating disorders (Heinberg, 1996; Rodin, Siberstein & Striegel-Moore, 1985; Thompson & Stice, 2001, as cited in Groesz et al., 2002). It is unlike that most women will reach these over idealised slender shape, due to genetics and physicality of weight regulation. Thus, dieting, coupled with certain personality and family dynamics can induce all-consuming, dangerous body dissatisfaction leading to eating disorders such as anorexia (Polivy & Herman, 1999, as cited in Groesz et al., 2002)

It is further suggested that women are more susceptible to this type of advertising then men, and that magazine reading can predict negative body imaging (Botta, 2003). Therefore, suggesting that women are at high risk from this unrealistic representation of the normal body image within the media. Hence forward, Dionne et al. (1995), suggests that young women may learn their ideals of feminist attitudes from what the media portray and promote as the ‘Fear of Fat.’ These learned feminist attitude of looking at super slim model, may predict body dissatisfaction. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that mass-media culture of images of models and the associative pressures to be thin may have a greater impact on women than men and on women with susceptible or addictive personality type.

There is evidence to imply that magazine reading may predict body dissatisfaction and even eating disorders. Botta (2003) found that magazine reading, social comparisons and critical body image processing are important predictors of body image and eating disturbances for both men and women. However, the idea that it affects men the same way as women is not largely supported. Boys aren’t affected as girls are by body images, Borkolese, Polman & Levy (2010) found that some men are more likely to suffered lowered body dissatisfaction. Out of these men he found that they were more likely to be classified with a distressed personality type, as well as sedentary exercise habits.

It is inferred that women and girls most invested in or dissatisfied with their appearance may seek out particular and buy more fashion magazines. (Tiggemann & McGill, 2004) Therefore suggesting body dissatisfaction is the predictor of buying fashion magazine, instead of fashion magazine being causal to body dissatisfaction. Goesz et al. (2002) meta-analysis found a small but consistent negative effect on body dissatisfaction when initially exposed to thin idealised images.

On the other hand, some experimental studies only found negative effects in specific women. For example women who are heavier (Henderson –King & Henderson-King, 1997, as cited in Tiggemann & McGill, 2004). Also women who are responsive to personal cues (Wilcox & Laird, 2000, as cited in Tiggemann & McGill, 2004) and women who have a high level of trait body dissatisfaction (Prosvac, Prosvac & Prosvac, 1998 as cited in Tiggemann & McGill, 2004). Thus suggesting not all women are at high risk, from the media images, but women who compare themselves to other maybe at high risk.

In addition, it is suggested that boy’s experience body dissatisfaction due to socio-cultural pressure that encourage larger excessively muscular and powerful bodies (Pope & Gruber, 1997 as cited in Groesz et al., 2002).This is further supported by Milner-Rubino, Twenge & Fredrickson (2002), who found evidence proposing that women’s bodies are evaluated in a way that men are not. They also found that women report more concern with eating, weight and physical attractiveness (Franzoi, 1995; Pilner, Chaiken & Flett, 1990, as cited in Milner-Rubino et al., 2002).This concern may be attributed to magazines, television and films as through this it is implied that males and females infer that a female body is her most important attribute (Bumberg, 1997, as cited in Groesz et al., 2002).

Body image is a complex construct and there is a tremendous amount of theory and research on what the ‘thin’ ideal is conveyed by the media. Durkin & Paxton (2002) predicted a change in body satisfaction among girls in grade 7 and 10.There were two experimental conditions within the experiment where the girls looked at magazine images of either fashion accessories or idealised females bodies. The girls viewed the magazine images before and after completing the body satisfaction assessment. They found a decrease in body satisfaction for both grades after the girls viewed the magazines images of idealised female bodies. Also there is evidence to suggest that specific personality types are more susceptible to this media. However, there is very little research that has looked at the effects of personality and media susceptibility on body satisfaction.

Body dissatisfaction in severe forms can lead to eating disorders in the future. Leon, Lucas, Colligan & Ferdinande (1985) suggest that often women suffering with anorexia nervosa have severe body dissatisfaction and often suffer with obsessive-compulsive tendencies. There has been evidence to imply that insecure attachment in childhood are a possible predictor of eating disorder and body dissatisfaction whereas personality is a bad predictor of eating disorder (Abbate-Daga et al., 2010). On the other hand, other research within the area has suggested that specific personality types can be associated with body dissatisfaction. Leon et al. (1985) suggests that anorexic’s have a tendency towards extreme conscientiousness and a high degree of neuroticism, shyness and introversion (Bernis, 1978; Smart, Beumont & George, 1976; Warren, 1968 as cited in Leon et al., 1985). Thus, suggesting that women with these personality traits may be aggravated when exposed to idealised media images.

Body image and satisfaction has originally been studies in terms of self-esteem, perfectionism and masculinity/femininity (Cash, Flemming, Alindogan, Steadman & Whitehead, 2002). This is reinforced by Tiggemann & McGill (2004) who suggest that in the futile pursuit of happiness the consequence for women is likely to be lowered self-esteem and increased depression. As well as excessive dieting (Stice, Mazotti, Krebs & Martin, 1998, as cited in Tiggemann & McGil, 2004) and the emergence of clinical eating disorders. There has been little research in the way of basic personality traits like the Big 5 (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness) and how they correlate to with media images and body satisfaction. Personality is seen as “the complex organisation of cognition, affects, and behaviour that gives direction and pattern (coherence) to the person’s life” (Pervin, 2003, as cited Kvalem et al., 2006). It is interesting to see how different personalities affect susceptibility to media stimulus and body dissatisfaction.

The Big Five personality model is suggested as the best measure of personality traits. However, there has been decade of factor analysis previous to this in an attempt to bring order to personality scales, for example; Cattell and Eysneck. Cattell began an extensive look into personality and reviewed approx 4,500 trait descriptions (Yik, Russell, Ahn, Fernandez & Suzuki, 2002). Even though Cattell claimed to identify a dozen factors, others have only found five factors to be replicable (Yik et al., 2002). It was Tupes and Christal (1961, as cited in McCrae & John, 1992) who found five recurrent factors which have been supported by numerous psychologists (Golberg, 1990; McCrae & Costa, 1987, 1989, as cited in Yik et al, 2002). It must be noted that Eyseneck was crucial in developing Extroversion and Neuroticism. Wiggins (1968, as cited in McCrae & John, 1992) named this the ‘Big Two’, which inspired Goldberg (1981, as cited in McCrae & John, 1992) to rename the FFM (Five Factor Model) as the ‘Big 5’.The FFM is a version of trait theory that views human nature from the perspective of consistency and enduring individual differences (McCrae and John, 1992). Furthermore, Costa and McCrae were intrinsic in developing the dimension openness, then later agreeableness and conscientiousness. The Big 5 questionnaire is divided into five personality traits; extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.

These Big 5 questionnaire measures the five personality traits. The trait extroversion measures how active, assertive, energetic, enthusiastic, outgoing and talkative an individual is. The trait agreeableness measures how appreciative, forgiving, generous, kind, sympathetic and trusting an individual is. The trait Conscientiousness measures how organised, planful, reliable, responsible, thorough an individual is. The trait neuroticism measures how anxious, self-pitying, tense, touchy, unstable and worrying an individual is. The last trait openness measures to what extent an individual is curious, imaginative, insightful, original and their level of wide interest.

These traits represent individual reactions or behaviours to a situation; they are strongly correlated to different experiences (Clark & Watson, 1999 as cited in Kvalem, 2006). Hence, it is reasonable to assume that these personality traits will influence the evaluation of body image/satisfaction. As body image is the overall evaluation of a women’s satisfaction/dissatisfaction with their appearance stemming from their perceived actual appearance and their ideal (Cash et al., 2002)

Psychologists have long maintained that individuals’ personalities can influence their social experiences and the way they interact and related to the social world (Miner-Rubino et al., 2002). Also the social world may also affect personality development and subjective experiences (Miner-Rubino et al., 2002). An example of this would be: The way a woman perceives her own body may be influenced by larger cultural influences and meaning associated with her body. In western society women are often treated and viewed by others as sexual objects, with beauty and thinness highly viewed (Miner-Rubino et al., 2002).

Few studies focus solely on the five personality traits as predictors of body satisfaction. Davis, Claridge & Brewer (1996, as cited in Kvalem et al., 2006, found that high scores of neuroticism predicted negative appearance evaluations. The notion that personality could predict body satisfaction was explored by Courneya & Hellsten (1998). They applied the five factor model of personality and found that participants who displayed neurotic personality types were more likely to exercise in excess. It could be inferred that those with neurotic traits may also be more likely to be obsessive with other activities.

Primarily women’s body dissatisfaction is predicted by general reactions negative affectivity (neuroticism) and by reclusiveness and caution (introversion), however the evidence is sparse. Research is also lacking in the area of personality traits and the effects idealised media images have on body satisfaction. Although, there are plenty of studies exploring the effects of personality traits on body image and the effects of media on body image, the three are sparsely looked at together. Miner-Rubino et al. (2002) found a positive correlation between self-objectification (Tendency for women to evaluate themselves based on physical appearance because they believe this is how others judge them) and the negative effects they have. He suggested high scores of neuroticism are related to women of an observer’s perspective of their body and not their own.

Based on the evidence of previous studies it is expected that women who test higher for extroversion traits, will evaluate their physical appearance more positively than those who are introverted (therefore scoring lower for extroversion traits). As neuroticism is related negatively to body image, over and over again within the literature, it is predicted that individuals who score higher for neurotic personality traits will rate themselves negatively for body dissatisfaction. There is little research that comments on the other three personality traits, however they will be analysed accordingly. The current study will adopted a similar methodology to that used by Durkin & Paxton (2002), in order to see whether different personality traits in young women are more susceptible to body dissatisfaction when exposed to thin body ideals of female media images.



The study used a between participants design using only women. It consisted of two questionnaires which were used for analysis. In between these two questionnaire participants were given a short PowerPoint consisting of 10 images, which they rated on paper (Appendix A). Participant received either images of models or popular fashion accessories. The key variables that were being measured were personality traits from The Big Five Inventory (BFI) (Appendix B) and responses to the Body Image Satisfaction Scale (BISS) (Appendix C). The purpose of the study was to establish whether women who differ in personality types are more susceptible to models in media images. It is predicted that there will be a greater reduction in BISS scores between the women who view the images of models and the women who view fashion accessories, over all personality traits. It is also predicted that this reduction will be greater in women who score higher for neuroticism traits than in women who score lower for neuroticism traits. This will be similar for the difference between women who score higher for extroversion traits than in women who score lower for extroversion traits.


137 undergraduate students participated in this study, with an age range of 18 to 40 years old. The sample consisted of all females (Mean age = 20.85, SD=3.29). The participants were selected via opportunity sampling, where students in classrooms or other such places were asked to participate in order to obtain a high number of participation.


An internet enabled computer was required in order for participants to complete the Big Five Inventory (Appendix B). Also to complete the second questionnaire, the Body Image Satisfaction Scale (Cash et al., 2002) (Appendix C). As both questionnaires required access the Bristol Online Survey.

Also required was access to a computer the held the specific images PowerPoint as without this PowerPoint, participants would be unable to complete the study correctly. In addition participants would require the information sheet, which would direct them to the study and inform them as to which PowerPoint they should select (1 or 2) which corresponds the condition they were in. Furthermore they would require the scoring sheet to rate the models or accessories in the PowerPoint, between the two online questionnaires.


An internet enabled computer was required in order for participants to be able to access the Bristol Online Survey, and also the machine had to have the Images PowerPoint loaded onto it. Firstly participants were given an information sheet to enable consent (Appendix D), this also told them which PowerPoint to select (1 or 2) which corresponded to whether they would view images of the models or the fashion accessories. After opening the PowerPoint participants were directed to the Big Five Inventory (BFI), a 45 item questionnaire (Appendix B). The BFI instructed participants to answer statements about themselves using a 5 point Likert scale, where 1 related to ‘Strongly Disagree’ and 5 relating to ‘Strongly Agree’. Each question related to openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The participant’s responses where then scored and calculated under these personality types.

After this participants were directed back to the PowerPoint where they proceed to view either the 10 images of the models or fashion accessories. They were asked to rate the images on ‘The style of the image appeals to me?’, ‘The fashion suits my style’, ‘The image catches my eye’ (Appendix A) using a 5 point Likert scale 1 relating to ‘Strongly Disagree’ and 5 relating to ‘Strongly Agree’.

Lastly the once participants had rated the images they were instructed via the PowerPoint to click on the link to take them to the Body Image Satisfaction (Appendix C) via the internet on the Bristol Online Survey website. The BISS instructed participants to answer statements about their body image using 9 point answer scale which was specific to the question. The questions measured participants responses to their physical appearance, body size and shape, weight, physical attractiveness, their looks normally and their looks at that time.


The results of the questionnaires (Appendix B & C) were totalled and analysed in SPSS. Table 1 reports the mean and standard deviations for each personality score from the BFI and participants overall score from the BISS questionnaire. Information of the coding for each of these questionnaires can be seen within Appendix B & C.

Table 1
Means and Standard Deviations from Participants Personality Trait Scores and Body Image Satisfaction Scores within Each Experiment.

Accessories (n=67)
Models (n=70)

Total Score M SD M SD
Extroversion 27.55 4.682 28.37 5.220
Agreeableness 33.96 4.336 34.71 5.077
Conscientiousness 31.66 4.987 32.30 5.218
Neuroticism 23.91 5.825 24.80 6.159
Openness 34.75 5.719 34.27 5.474
BISS 30.07 8.654 29.59 9.034

The mean and standard deviation were higher for condition looking at models than at accessories for all measures of personality, except for openness, which scored very marginally higher for in condition one compared to condition two. When looking at extroversion across the two conditions Model scored higher but not higher on condition two (M= 28.37, SD=5.220) compared to condition one (M= 27.55, SD=4.68). In addition women scored higher for neuroticism in condition two (M=24.80, SD=6.15) compared to women in condition one (M=23.91, SD=5.82). Overall, women scored higher on the BISS within condition one (M=30.07, SD=8.65) compared to condition two (M=29.59, SD=9.03).

The BFI and the BISS have been validated and used in previous studies. However, the reliability was tested to be sure the cronbach’s alpha indicated that the internal consistency for the 9–item BISS scale .840, which is high enough to be considered reliable scale. The sub-scales for the BFI were also checked and for all five sub-scales the internal consistency was above .7 (Extroversion = .803; Agreeableness = .792; Contentiousness = .795; Neuroticism = .852 & Openness; .764).

After checking the internal consistency for both scales, a two- way independent ANOVA was undertaken on each of the five sub-scales within the BFI. A new variable was computed to group high and low scores within each of the personality sub-sets. This was decided by looking at the means and anything equal to or greater than the mean was classed as a high score and coded as 1 and anything below the mean was classed as a low score and coded as 0.

The low and High extroversion scores were checked for skew and both high and low scores weren’t significantly different from the norm (Low W (59) = .972, p=.189; High W (78) =.977, p=.164). The data was then subject to statistical analysis across both conditions for the main effect of Extroversion. As previously stated 67 participants viewed images of accessories (condition 1) and 70 participants viewed images of models (condition 2). There were 59 women who classified as having a low extroversion personality type (< 28 derived from the mean of extroversion scores) and 78 women classified as having a high extroversion personality type (=>28). There is a slight difference in the size of the groups but not enough to show concern. Variances where heterogeneous (f (3,133) = 4.81, p= .696), as Levene’s was insignificant. No significant difference was found on the main effect condition (f (1,133) =.153, p = .696) on BISS scores and the same was found on the main effect of extroversion (High and low) scores (f (1,133) = .693, p = .407. For the main effect of interaction of condition (accessory images and model images) and extroversion scores (High and low) on BISS scores no significant interaction was found (f (1,133)= 0.36, p = .850).

Looking at low and high agreeableness scores the data was checked for normality and both weren’t significantly different from the norm (Low = W (56) = .957, p = .044; High= W (81) = .985, p = .442). It was found that 56 women classified as having low agreeableness (defined as 34 from the mean of agreeableness) personality types and 81 women were classified as having high agreeableness personality types (when defined as =>34). Variances were shown to be heterogeneous (f (3,133) = 1.023, p =.385). There was also no significant difference found for the main effect of condition (f (1,133) = .084, p =.773) as well as for the main effect of agreeableness scores (High and Low), (f (1,133) = .321, p = .572). This was also the case for the main interaction between which condition you were in and agreeableness score (f (1, 133) = .037, p = .848.

Similar examining low and high conscientiousness scores weren’t significantly different from the norm (Low= W (58) = .971, p = .176; High W (79) = .969, p .053). It was discovered that 58 women were found to have low levels of conscientiousness within their personalities (when defined < 32 derived from the mean conscientiousness scores) and 79 were found to have high a level of conscientiousness within their personality types (defined as => 32).Variances were heterogeneous (f (3,133) = 1.023, p = .385). For the main effect of condition on BISS scores no significant difference was found (f (1,133) = .211, p = .693. However for the main effect of conscientiousness score (High and low level), it was found that there is a significant difference in BISS scores between the low and high conscientiousness scores (f (1,133) = 5.597, p =0.019. Overall, though the main effect on the interaction between condition and conscientiousness scores there was no significant interaction between the two (f (1,133) = .092, p = .762).

When looking at the high and low scores for neuroticism they weren’t significantly different from the norm (Low = W (63) = .973, p = .179; High = W (74) = .979, p = .271), and therefore there was no evidence of skew. There were 63 women was classified as having low levels of neuroticism within their personality type and 74 women who classified with high levels. Variances were heterogeneous (f (3,133) = 1.189, p = .179. The main effect of condition on BISS score, there was no significant difference (f (1,133) = .004, p = .947). On the other hand there was a significant difference of neuroticism score (high and low) on BISS scores (f (1,133) = 7.918, p = .006), However there was no significant difference found for the main interaction between condition and neuroticism scores (f (1,133) = .405, p = .526).

The low and high scores for openness weren’t significantly different from the norm, hence no evidence of skew (Low = W (52) = .969, p = .185; High W (85) = .977, p =.129). There were 52 (determined from the mean < 34) women who showed low levels of openness in their personality type and 85 women showed high levels of openness within their personality (= >34). Variance were heterogeneous (f (3,133) = .737, p = .532). The main effect of condition on BISS score was non- significant (f (1,133) = .073, p = .788) and also for the main effect of openness score on BISS scores (f (1,133) = 2.440, p =.12). The main interaction between the two was also non- significant (f (1,133) = 0.87, p = .769).


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