Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Dayna Pizzigoni, L. Mickey Fenzel, Ph.D., Kari A. O'Grady, Ph.D.

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The Effect of God Image and Spirituality on Body Esteem

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Body image is a widespread, pervasive issue of concern for adolescent girls that extends well beyond simply a benign psychological disturbance or developmental issue. Body image is central to women's self-esteem and therefore overall well-being (Boyatzis et al., 2007). Body image disturbances are risk factors for disordered eating, more general psychopathology, and decreased well-being (Stice, 2002; Wertheim et al., 2009). Concerns that adolescent girls have about their body image cannot be assumed to be a non-threatening part of growing up (Wertheim et al., 2009). This study addresses the potential contribution theistic affirmations of the body and spiritual exercises can have on enhancing body image in adolescent girls through a longitudinal pilot study with a quasi-experimental design. In addition, this study contributes to budding literature on the relation between body image and spiritual variables.

The sample of participants was a cohort of adolescent females at an inner-city, all-girls, Catholic high school. Due to the longitudinal nature of the study, the size of the sample changed as the population of the cohort decreased at the school. The initial, pre-test sample consisted of 76 participants between the ages of 14 and 15. About 66% of the pre-test sample  identified as Caucasian, about 12% identified as Black, about 11% responded to more than one racial category, about 4% responded as Asian, and 3% identified as Hispanic. Four percent of the pre-test sample chose to identify as “Other” and 1 % did not respond to a racial category. The religious affiliation of the pre-test sample was as follows: 75% Catholic, about 14% Other Christian, about 9% Atheist or Agnostic, and about 3% did not select an affiliation. Sixty adolescent girls completed the post-test survey and 57 of those participants completed surveys at the follow-up collection 20 months following the program. There was no statistically significant difference between the race of participants in the initial, pre-test sample and the post-test and follow-up sample.

Results demonstrated that body esteem about weight and appearance had positive, significant correlations with religious involvement and prayer fulfillment that were small to moderate in size. The perception of acceptance from God and presence of God both positively correlated with body esteem relating to appearance and weight. Body esteem about appearance and weight had significant, negative correlations of moderate size with religious crisis. Contrary to expectation, results of the one-tailed, dependent t test showed a significant decrease of body esteem-weight from pre-test to post-test. No other change was statistically significant.  The magnitude of perception of God’s presence predicted change in body esteem-weight from the pre-test to post-test. Additionally, religious crisis was found to be a significant predictor of body esteem-appearance and body esteem-weight. This study refines the understanding of the relationship between body image and spirituality and religious variables. Moreover, these results suggest the need for God image and religious crisis to be explored with adolescent girls who are struggling with their body image.