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The meaning and experience of body image : women feeling comfortable with their bodies Tempest, Maureen 1993

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THE MEANING AND EXPERIENCE OF BODY IMAGE:WOMEN FEELING COMFORTABLE WITH THEIR BODIESbyMAUREEN TEMPESTB.H.E., University of British Columbia, 1974A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIESCounselling PsychologyWE ACCEPT THIS THESIS AS CONFORMINGTHE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIASeptember, 1993© MAUREEN TEMPEST, 1993In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.Department ofThe University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate^2c6e.e.t_. /3, M93DE-6 (2/88)AbstractA qualitative phenomenological paradigm was utilized to explore the experienceand meaning of body image for women feeling comfortable with their bodies. Sevenwomen who felt comfortable with their bodies participated in this study. Duringindividual, in-depth interviews, which were audio-taped, the women described theirexperience of bodily comfort past and present. The women reported that theyexperienced becoming comfortable with themselves and their bodies as a developmentalprocess. Five common themes were extrapolated from the data using a thematic analysisprocedure devised by Colaizzi (1978). The themes describe the women's experiences offeeling personal validation, of developing increased self worth, of integrating all aspectsof themselves, of rejecting some external standards for appearance and behavior, anddeveloping a sense of being at home in their bodies.i iTABLE OF CONTENTSAbstract^  i iAcknowledgements ^ v iCHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION ^  1Statement of the Problem ^  1Definitions ^  5Purpose of the Study ^  8CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ^ 10Evidence of Women's Discomfort with their Bodies 10Body Image Development^ 13Sociocultural Influences 13Interpersonal Influences ^  18Intrapsychic Influences 19CHAPTER THREE: METHODOLOGY ^ 23Design ^ 23Bracketing 24Participants ^ 26Procedure 28Data Analysis^ 31CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS ^ 33The Women's Stories ^ 33111ivLiz^ 3 3Robyn 3 6Angela^ 3 8Clara 4 0Moy Moy^ 4 3Anne 4 5Tillie ^ 4 8Common Themes 5 2The Context and Process ^ 5 3Discussion of the Themes 5 4Sense of Validation ^ 5 4Sense of Self Worth 5 8Experience of Rejection of External Standards ^ 6 3Sense of Integration ^ 6 8Sense of Being at Home in Their Bodies ^ 7 2Conclusion^ 7 5CHAPTER FIVE: DISCUSSION ^ 76Narrative of the Women's Experience of Comfort with Their Bodies ^ 7 6Discussion of the Findings^ 7 9Body Image Development 7 9Sociocultural Factors ^ 8 5Interpersonal Factors 8 8Intrapsychic Factors^ 91VLimitations of the Study^ 9 3Implications for Future Research ^ 9 5Implications for Counselling 9 9REFERENCES ^ 1 04APPENDICESAppendix A: Recruitment Article ^  1 1 2Appendix B: Research and Interview Questions ^  1 13Appendix C: Consent Form ^ 1 1 5AcknowledgementsI am grateful for the encouragement and support of my friends and familythroughout the duration of my Masters degree, and especially during this researchprocess.My thesis supervisor, Judith Daniluk, guided me, encouraged me and believedthat I would complete a thesis that I could be proud of. I feel very priveleged to havebeen the recipient of her knowledge and experience. Her enthusiasm, support andprofessional guidance enabled me to not only achieve my goal of an M.A., but toexperience another step in my journey of self discovery.I would like to thank my committee members, Dr. Bonnie Long and Dr. GwenChapman, for their support and also their contributions to improving the quality of thisresearch.Without the seven women who generously volunteered to participate in this studymy research would not have been possible. I appreciate their openness and honesty andfeel honored to have met them. I hope that their valuable contributions will inspirecontinued exploration of the development of women's comfort with their bodies.viCHAPTER ONEIntroductionStatement of the Problem Body image is often considered one component of a person's sense of self (Fisher,1986; Frey & Carlock, 1989; Hutchinson, 1985; Rosen & Ross, 1968; Ussher, 1989).In recent years research has particularly focused on women's body image. This attentionmay be a reflection of the degree of distress many women are experiencing with theirbodies (Cash, Winstead, & Janda, 1985; Jackson, Sullivan, & Rostker, 1988;Thompson, 1986). This distress is evidenced by an increase in the numbers ofadolescent girls and women who express dissatisfaction or discomfort with their bodies(Feldman, Hodgson, Corber, & Quinn, 1986; Health & Welfare Canada, 1991; Storz &Greene, 1983), experience eating disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1987;McCreary Center Society, 1989), obtain cosmetic surgery to change their appearance(Greenberg, 1990; MacDonald, 1986; Schwartz, 1992; Smith, 1990; Wolf, 1991) andattend weight reduction programs ("Tough Diet", 1991).Most researchers and theorists studying body image suggest that the concept ofbody image is complex and multidimensional. The general consensus is that one's bodyimage is composed of an affective response to a visual perception of one's body, inrelationship to an ideal cultural standard (Brouwers, 1990; Brown, Cash, & Lewis,1988; Butters & Cash, 1987; Fisher, 1986; Frey & Carlock, 1989; Hutchinson,1985). Many women may be dissatisfied with their own bodies when they comparethemselves to cultural standards for an ideal woman's body. This dissatisfaction, or12discomfort, is often defined as having a negative body image (Butters & Cash, 1987;Brouwers, 1990; Rodin, 1992). Much of the information currently available aboutbody image is in reference to the experience of negative body image.Body image has often been studied in the context of its relationship to eatingdisorders (Brouwers, 1990; Brown et al., 1988; Chernin, 1986; Fabian & Thompson,1989; Wolchik, Weiss, & Katzman, 1986; Woodman, 1982). So much of what is knownabout body image development is in terms of the formation of negative body image. Anegative body image has been identified as one of the major risk factors in thedevelopment of eating disorders (Boskind-White & White, 1983; Butters & Cash,1987; Fallon & Rozin, 1985), which is most prevalent among adolescent girls.There are a number of factors that influence body image development;sociocultural (Bartky, 1990; Chernin, 1986; Fisher, 1986; Garner, Garfinkel,Schwartz, & Thompson, 1980; Orbach, 1979; Ussher, 1989), interpersonal (Fisher,1986; Kegan, 1982; Martin, 1987; Rubin, 1979), and intrapsychic (Fisher, 1986;Kegan, 1982; Ussher, 1989). Gender differences have been implicated in the way theseinfluences affect body image formation (Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Heinberg & Thompson,1992; Jackson et al., 1988; Mintz & Betz, 1986). Jackson et al. (1988) examined theresults of several studies of the relationship between gender role and body image andfound that,3Compared to men, women evaluate their bodies less favorably, express moredissatisfaction with their bodies (particularly their weight), view physicalappearance as more important, perceive a greater discrepancy between bodyimage and body ideal, and are more likely to suffer from eating disordersassociated with a negative or distorted body image (p. 430).Although discomfort among women about their bodies appears to be a pervasivephenomenon, there is evidence that body image development is a process and that aperson's body image is not static and can be changed. Some literature suggests thatchange of body image is a process that takes time (Bergner, Remer, & Whetsell,1985;Frey & Carlock, 1989; Hutchinson, 1985; Katzman, Weiss, & Wolchik, 1986).Hutchinson (1985) describes the process of improving body image in these words,The task of coming to a place of union within yourself involves a life long processof listening to your body, of respecting and trusting its messages...It is a processnot of changing your body but of changing your outlook (p.16).The link between physicality and personal perceptions is emphasized.In order to address the discomfort some women experience with their bodies,many therapeutic techniques have been developed to improve body image, or to providetreatment for eating disorders (Bergner et al., 1985; Butters & Cash, 1987;Greenspan, 1983; Hutchinson, 1985; Katzman et al., 1986). Short term evidence fromoutcome studies indicates that body image can be improved (Hutchinson, 1982;McNamara,1989; Wolchik et al., 1986), but little evidence of long term persistance of4these changes is available. There is not yet a consensus about an overall effectiveapproach to improving women's comfort with their bodies.Most research examining change in body image has been with women who haveexperienced eating disorders. The visible symptoms of an eating disorder provide someevidence of the consequences of negative body image for these women (e.g., amenorrhea,malnutrition). It is known that women other than those with eating disorders may alsohave negative body images, however the consequences of a negative body image for thesewomen are not clearly understood. Some research has been done with therapeuticinterventions designed to improve the body images of "normal weight" women who havea negative body image, but do not have an eating disorder (Bergner et al., 1985;Dworkin & Kerr, 1987; Hutchinson, 1985; McNamara, 1989). However, empiricaldata showing long term results of positive change to body image through thesetherapeutic interventions for women without eating disorders, is lacking. In womenwith eating disorders, visible changes in behavior and bodily symptoms can be measuredbefore and after therapy and may be used as indicators that positive change in body imagehas occurred through therapeutic intervention. There may be difficulty in measuringoutcomes of treatment for women without eating disorders who have a negative bodyimage because it is not clear what the indicators of positive body image are for thesewomen. There may also be difficulty in measuring outcomes of any treatment designed toimprove body image because of the number of factors influencing a person's body imageat any given time, the subjective/affective component of body image, and the lack ofclear understanding of what the components of a positive body image are.5There is an absence of literature describing the experience of body imagedevelopment for women who are comfortable with their bodies, and the factors whichmight contribute to the development of bodily comfort. Most of the information availabledescribes negative body image development, primarily in women (Fisher, 1986;Martin, 1987; Ussher, 1989; Wolf, 1991). The purpose of this study is therefore tobegin to describe the experience of body image for women who are comfortable withtheir bodies. Given the pervasiveness of dissatisfaction and discomfort expressed bymany women about their bodies and the lack of understanding about how women mightdevelop a more positive attitude towards their bodies, more information is needed abouthow women meaningfully construct a positive body image and how this relates to theirexperience of self and others.DefinitionsThe terms body image, and negative body image are defined in several ways in theliterature on body image development. The term "positive body image" is not mentioned,leaving the reader to assume that positive body image might mean the absence of anegative body image, or in other words, might mean a general sense of feelingcomfortable with one's body (Brouwers, 1990; Brown et al., 1988; Butters & Cash,1987; Fisher, 1986; Frey & Carlock, 1989; Hutchinson, 1982, 1985; Katzman et al.,1986; Rodin, 1992). Although some researchers attend to the person's cognitiveperception of their physical characteristics to define body image (Brown et al., 1988;Fisher, 1986; Frey & Carlock, 1989), others include the affective componentassociated with the perception of one's body and believe this affective element to be6critical in definitions of body image (Brouwers, 1990; Butters & Cash, 1987;Hutchinson, 1982, 1985; Katzman et al., 1986; Rodin, 1992). Most agree that theconcept of body image and body image development are multidimensional and areinfluenced by a number of factors; interpersonal, intrapsychic, and sociocultural.The feelings, attitudes and beliefs a person has about their body are referred toby Hutchinson (1985) as their body image. This includes a mental picture orrepresentation of the person's body at any moment (Frey & Carlock, 1989;Hutchinson, 1982). Hutchinson has developed this definition of body image throughleading group therapy sessions for women who identifed themselves as having a negativebody image. Her group participants were 30 normal weight, psychologically healthywomen, ages 24 to 40, who attended her seven, weekly, two-hour sessions focused on"Transforming Body Image". Hutchinson (1982) suggests that,Body image is not the same as the body, but is rather what the mind does to thebody in translating the experience of embodiment into its mentalrepresentation. This translation from body to body image and from there tobody-cathexis [value laden aspect of body image] is a complex and emotionallycharged process (p.59).The term negative body image, sometimes called a poor body image, is not clearlynor universally defined in the literature, although the use of this term is common indescribing a person's sense of dissatisfaction with their body. Brouwers (1990) usedthe term body image dissatisfaction to describe an emotional reaction towards the bodythat is negative. Butters and Cash (1987) reviewed eight studies that described men and7women who have a negative body image. The individuals in these studies were fromclinical and non-clinical samples. These people were described as "perceivingthemselves as unattractive" and reported "negative or dysphoric attitudes toward theirphysical appearance" (p.889). Butters and Cash reported that the individuals whoperceive their bodies negatively "typically have been found to have poor self-esteem,social anxieties and inhibitions, sexual difficulties, and a vulnerability to depression"(p.889).In her definition of a negative body image, Rodin (1992) includes suchbehaviors as a person avoiding looking in the mirror, distorting their perception oftheir body size, being preoccupied with their body, and feeling flawed or lacking in theappropriate body appearance. These characteristics found in a person with a negativebody image are described in the literature (Brouwers, 1990; Butters & Cash, 1987),but characteristics of a person with a positive body image are not generally described.Body image may rarely be static but may be experienced on a continuum,depending on sociocultural, interpersonal or intrapsychic factors. A positive or negativebody image may represent two extreme states of being, with a person's body imagegenerally falling somewhere between these states. Hutchinson (1982) mentions thenotion of negative body image being on a continuum " from complete dissociation ordenial of the body to open warfare with the whole or parts of the body" (p.59). In theliterature it is suggested that although body image may fluctuate somewhat from day today, overall an individual's perceptions of their body remain relatively consistent(Sanford & Donovan, 1984). Several authors believe that for women there is some8fluctuation in body image, specifically related to the menstrual cycle and otherimportant life events such as pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause (Barfly, 1990;Martin, 1987; Rich, 1976; Rubin, 1979; Sanford & Donovan, 1984; Ussher, 1989).Most definitions of body image include a number of dimensions; an internal visualrepresentation of the body, an affective response to the body, and behaviors associatedwith the affective response to the body (Butters & Cash, 1987; Fisher, 1986; Frey &Carlock, 1989; Hutchinson, 1982, 1985; Katzman et al., 1986). The researchprovides some examples of how a person may portray a negative body image; they maydistort their internal visual representation of the body, they may have a number ofnegative feelings such as shame and inadequacy, or they may display behaviors thatindicate dissatisfaction with the body such as an eating disorder. Other than assumingthat an absense of these negative qualities would indicate a positive body image, it isunclear how a person might experience a positive body image.Purpose of The StudyThe purpose of this study was to describe how women meaningfully construct theexperience of having a positive body image. In order to avoid imposing a value orstandard on the women's experience, the phrase "feeling comfortable with your body"was used, rather than positive body image, when asking women to explore theirexperience of body image. In staying true to the model of phenomenological researchused in this study, it was important for the women to feel free to define their ownmeaning of bodily comfort.Given the current focus in the literature on women's experience of having a9negative body image and the apparent high incidence of women experiencingdissatisfaction or discomfort with their bodies, one of the goals of this study was tocontribute to the limited body of knowledge that exists regarding the experience of bodyimage for women who are comfortable with their bodies. It was hoped that results of thisstudy might be useful in both providing information that might lead to further researchin the area of positive body image, or body comfort, and in assisting counsellors andother professionals in working more effectively with women struggling with body imageissues. The research question asked was: "What is the experience and meaning ofbody image for women feeling comfortable with their bodies?"1 0CHAPTER TWOReview of the LiteratureEvidence of Women's Discomfort with their Bodies Statistics reported for the incidence of eating disorders, the increase in cosmeticsurgery and the prevalence of diet programs and products, primarily among women,provide evidence that women are uncomfortable and dissatisfied with their bodies.Estimates of the incidence of eating disorders among women vary due to thesecretive nature of the problem, however the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of MentalDisorders (1987)(DSM-IIIR) estimates the prevalence of anorexia nervosa in 1% of12 to 18 year old girls and bulimia in 4.5% of female college freshman. Ninety-fivepercent of eating disorders occur in females. The McCreary Center Society's ProvincialTask Force Eating Disorder Report (1989) supports these statistics, estimating thatapproximately 5% of adolescent and young adult women suffer from anorexia or bulimia.The Canadian Medical Association estimated in 1989 (cited in Report of the Task Force onthe Treatment of Obesity, 1991) that milder forms of these disorders occur in 10% ofwomen, and appear to be increasing in women over the age of 25 and in males. This doesnot take into account those women suffering from compulsive eating and obesity. In a1990 survey by Health and Welfare Canada (cited in Report of the Task Force on theTreatment of Obesity, 1991), 65% of women surveyed reported wishing to lose weight.Sixty-four percent of these women were either underweight or of healthy weight.Among women who were already underweight, 12% wanted to reduce their weight.Storz and Greene (1983) studied high school girls, ages 14 to 18, in home1 1economics classes in rural and suburban areas near Philidelphia to find out how theyviewed their bodies. Of 203 adolescent girls surveyed, 83% desired to lose weight, eventhough 62% fell within the normal weight range for their height and sex. Ninety-fivepercent of the girls selected a drawing of a figure that was below average weight as theirideal figure goal.A Canadian study by Feldman et al. (1986) of adolescents in the Ottawa area, ages12 to 20, revealed that 36% of the girls, and only 14% of boys responding, wereconcerned about being overweight. The researchers in both studies expressed concernover the degree of body dissatisfaction experienced by girls in this age group. Stortz andGreene also expressed concern about the unrealistic ideal body images of the adolescentsin their study.Carol Gilligan (1991) shares the concerns of the above mentioned researchers.In examining the issues critical to the development of adolescent girls, she observed thata drop in self worth, a poor body image and eating disorders are significant problems foradolescent girls. Based on this literature it would appear that eating disorders areclearly a problem for many adolescent girls, as well as for adult women. Women witheating disorders do not feel positive about their bodies either, nor about themselves aspersons (Boskind-White & White, 1983).Not all women unhappy with their appearance develop eating disorders. Manywomen use cosmetic products to change their appearance. It is estimated that there is a$20 billion cosmetics industry in the U.S. (Wolf, 1991). Other women dissatisfiedwith their bodies may find that cosmetics do not meet their needs in more radically1 2altering their appearance so they choose to make permanent changes through surgery.Cosmetic surgery is now being used as a method to change appearance by more womenthan ever before. Greenberg (1990) reports that the caseload of aesthetic surgery byboard certified plastic surgeons in the U.S. rose from "380,000 in 1981 to 620,000 in1988" (p. 1178). Canadian statistics regarding cosmetic surgery are difficult toobtain, but Smith (1990) reports that "in 1988, more than 40,000 such operations[cosmetic surgery] were performed in Canada" (p. Al, A13). Four years later Schwartz(1992) reports that "there are an estimated 25,000 cosmetic procedures done inQuebec each year" (p.B5). Canadian costs for cosmetic procedures are high andgenerally not covered by medical insurance. For example, facelifts range in cost from$2,500 (Walker, 1991) to $10,000 (Sullivan, 1990). Both Canadian and Americansources confirm that, of those choosing surgery, 87 to 90% are women, and that thenumbers are increasing (MacDonald, 1986; Schwartz, 1992; Wolf, 1991), thereforeindicating considerable body image dissatisfaction.Weight loss, often through the use of commercial diet products or programs, isanother way in which many women change their appearance. Statistics on the dietindustry in the U.S. reported in Business Week (1992) showed that $8.4 billion inrevenues were earned in 1991, an eight percent increase from 1989. Commercial dietcenters, hospital based programs, low calorie foods, diet pills and liquids, and diet bookswere included in the Marketdata survey of the diet industry. In an article calling fortighter safety controls on weight loss programs, it was reported that "the number offranchised diet clinics operating in Canada has increased to about 500, a three-fold1 3increase since 1987" ("Tough Diet", p. 37, 1991), and that 90% of those signing upfor weight reduction programs are women. Fitness, weight loss, and cosmetic productsare often sold based on their purported value to health, but the choice of these productsis often based on women's desire to change their appearance (Millman, 1980; Wolf,1991). Clearly, many women are not happy with their bodies and some are going toquite drastic lengths to meet cultural standards; standards that may be unattainable formost women (Feldman et al., 1986; Garner et al., 1980; Health & Welfare Canada,1991; Hutchinson, 1985).Body Image Development The sociocultural, interpersonal, and intrapsychic factors influencing bodyimage development are interrelated and complex. There is some degree of understandingamong theorists and researchers regarding the negative impact these factors have onbody image development, but it is not clear what role these factors play in thedevelopment of women's comfort with their bodies.Sociocultural influences. One of the factors determining a person's body imageis the influence of the culture and society they live in, however the extent of thisinfluence is only beginning to be understood (Dolan, 1991; Fisher, 1986). Martin(1987) believes that "what women say about their bodies forces us to look beyond thefamily to features of the social and cultural organization of experience that can alsoaffect the body image..." (p.76). Media is a significant cultural organization thatcontributes to the development of body image, with portrayals of ideal female bodieshaving a very specific shape and being increasingly thinner over the years (Garner et1 4al., 1980). The prevalence of negative body images among women today would suggestthat many women feel they are not meeting these ideal bodily standards. Bartky (1990)states that there is nothing new about women being preoccupied with youth and beauty,but that "what is new is the growing power of the image in a society increasinglyoriented toward the visual media" (p.80). Kitzinger (1985) notes that the powerfulmessage the media sends to women is, "you are deceiving yourself if you think that whatyou are is good enough. You are more inadequate than you realize" (p. 184).Several feminist researchers and theorists (Bartky, 1990; Greenspan, 1983;Jaggar & Bordo, 1989; Martin, 1987; Orbach, 1979; Rubin, 1979; Ussher, 1989)are exploring the roles that women play in North American culture in order tounderstand the effect of these roles on the development of women's body images. Bartky(1990) expresses the negative feelings many women have about their bodies as "shame".She describes this sense of shame as more than just a feeling some women have abouttheir bodies, but as "a pervasive sense of personal inadequacy that, like the shame ofembodiment, is profoundly disempowering" (p.85). She attributes this sense of shame,and its accompanying sense of powerlessness, to the status of women's roles in apatriarchal world. According to Bart ky, failure to conform to the appropriate bodyimage can be costly to a woman,She faces a very severe sanction indeed in a world dominated by men: the refusalof male patronage. For the heterosexual woman this may mean the loss of badlyneeded intimacy; for both heterosexual women and lesbians, it may well meanthe refusal of decent livelihood" (p.76).1 5It is not clear how much stereotypical roles are changing, or how these changesmay be affecting the development of women's body images today. In spite of changes inwomen's roles, the external evaluation of women's bodies still appears to be a verysignificant factor in the formation of body image for many women. One way for women toconform to role expectations may involve changing their body to whatever the currentacceptable body appearance might be. Miriam Greenspan (1983), through herexperience counselling women, concludes that a, "woman in contemporary patriarchalsociety is fundamentally identified with her body. Her body is her power" (p.164). Theirony in this is that "if a woman's body is her only real asset, it is thus also her greatestliability" (Greenspan, 1983, p.165). A woman's struggle to develop a sense of identity,including a positive body image, based on valuing herself, seems nearly impossible if awoman's survival is based on meeting with the approval of the external world; approvalthat is contingent upon meeting unrealistic and unattainable standards of appearance.It is during the adolescent struggle for identity, when the body undergoes a greatdeal of change, that the onset of eating disorders is most significant for women. Steiner-Adair (1986), in working with eating disordered adolescents, concluded that the eatingdisorder was "a symbol of a culture that does not support female development andsymbolically outcasts that which is central to female identity and mature adulthood"(p. 253), such as women's reproductive capacity, mothering, and the importance ofconnection and interdependence in relationships. Steiner-Adair believes that therounded woman's body, symbolic of interdependence and the important experience of selfin connection with others, is generally despised and is in direct opposition to the1 6patriarchal values of independence, autonomy, self-assertion, aggressiveness, andabsence of dependency or need, symbolized by a thin female body. The eating disorderedadolescent girl may be striving for the thin female body with which these patriarchalvalues are associated.At a time when the adolescent girl is beginning to form an identity, she may beexperiencing negative cultural messages about the changes occurring in her body andconfusion about what is expected of her as an adult woman (Martin, 1987). Ussher(1989) suggests that,It is during adolescence that the young woman first experiences a split betweenher body and herself: between her own experience and the archetype she isexpected to emulate (p.18).illustrating the significant impact of changing cultural expectations for young womenduring the transition from childhood to adulthood.This split, or fragmentation of body from self, at times when women may bedeveloping their identities, was expressed in several ways by women interviewed inMartin's (1987) work. Martin, an anthropologist, conducted extensive interviews with165 women from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, at three life stages, in manydifferent communities in the United States. The women related their experiences with,and the meaning associated with, biological and medical processes, such as menstruation,childbirth, and menopause. A theme common to the women's experiences was a sense ofloss of control over their bodies. Such perceptions were reflected in the words of onewoman who spoke of how, "your self is separate from your body" (p.77). Many of the1 7women in the study felt as if,Menstruation, menopause, labor, birthing and their component stages are statesyou go through or things that happen to you (not actions you do) (p.77).A few of the women interviewed by Martin conveyed a comfort or "wholeness betweenthemselves and menstruation, using active verbs or imagery of integration" (Martin,1987, p.87), suggesting that they felt more positive about their bodies than the otherwomen in the study. It was not clear how these women were able to maintain this senseof unity and to maintain a more accepting attitude towards menstruation. If a womanfeels that experiences are happening to her without her feeling any control or sense ofchoice about these experiences, it is possible that she may feel resentful, frightened, ornon-accepting of these experiences. This may contribute to her discomfort with herbody.Women's reactions to their bodily processes and expectations of women's rolesmay also be influenced by ethnicity and race, however the effect of these factors in bodyimage development is rarely mentioned in research. Dolan (1991) reviewed theliterature to determine the crosscultural aspects of eating disorders. She found it"noteworthy that this 'epidemic' [eating disorders] has been recognized only in the whitefemale population"(p.67). Assumptions have been made about the experience anddevelopment of body image, especially a negative body image, based on a culturallylimited population. Little is known about how a woman's race or ethnic backgroundinfluences the meaningful construction of her body image, particularly a positive bodyimage.1 8Although research on body image needs to be expanded to more diversepopulations, the evidence available shows that sociocultural factors appear to have asignificant effect on body image development. Many women feel pressured to conform toan ideal body image and believe that, in order to be accepted in their societal context,they have limited choices in how they may appear (Bartky, 1990; Greenspan, 1983;Millman, 1980; Wolf, 1991). In failing to achieve these cultural standards for femalebeauty, many women develop a negative body image. What is not known is how somewomen develop a sense of satisfaction with their bodies, irrespective of a match or fitbetween their bodies and in spite of the pressure to conform to an ideal cultural standardof beauty.Interpersonal influences. Some theorists believe that body image develops inresponse to an individual's interaction with the the people in their environment (Fisher,1986; Kegan,1982). Messages about how her body looks, how it performs, and how it isaccepted and valued by the external world, are taken in and become part of a woman's selconcept. The relationships women have with significant others in their lives areespecially influential in body image development (Fisher, 1986; Friedlander & Siegel,1990; Hutchinson, 1982; Pike & Rodin, 1991).The relationship a child has with family members is generally assumed bytheorists to play a significant role in the development of body image, although the familyinfluence is complex and not easily determined (Fisher, 1986). Familial influence hasbeen given much consideration in the treatment of eating disorders. Pike and Rodin(1991) administered the Eating Disorder Inventory (Garner, Olmstead, & Polivy,1 91983) to 77 mother-daughter pairs, 39 with eating disordered daughters and 38 withdaughters who were not eating disordered. They found that the mothers of eatingdisordered daughters had more disordered eating than the mothers of daughters who werenot eating disordered. It is not clear if this is an example of modeling a negative bodyimage, or of modeling a coping mechanism commonly utilized within the particularfamily.Although body image develops and changes from birth (Fisher, 1986; Ussher,1989), there appear to be certain developmental transition stages that are particularlyvulnerable times in the formation of body image for women. An individual's body imageseems to evolve over time and to be affected by her physiological changes and thereactions of those around her to these bodily changes (Fisher, 1986; Ussher, 1989).Specific physical changes such those occuring at puberty or during pregnancy,childbirth, and menopause have been cited as having powerful effects on body image forwomen (Bartky, 1990; Fisher, 1986; Martin, 1987; Rubin, 1979; Ussher, 1989).The reactions that significant others have to the woman's bodily changes may also reflecttheir cultural expectations and attitudes towards female body development. However, itis clear that the relationships that the woman has in her life will be importantinfluences in the development of her body image.Intrapsychic influences. Some developmental theorists believe that youngchildren begin to develop a body image through their sensory-motor experiences in theworld and that as children mature their body feelings become less influential andcognitive factors more powerful in the development of body image (Fisher, 1986). In2 0studying the development of body image in adult women it is difficult to separate theaffect a woman's interpersonal interactions has on her body image from the affect of herinternal responses to her bodily experiences. These intrapsychic responses are alsobelieved to affect her body image development (Fisher, 1986; Sanford & Donovan,1984; Thompson & Thompson, 1986; Ussher, 1989).The way in which a woman develops a negative or positive feeling towards aspecific part of her body may occur through an interpersonal interaction or through asociocultural message. The intrapsychic component of body image results from herperceptions and interpretations of either of these factors. An example of aninterpersonal interaction that may have an intrapsychic impact on a woman's body imageis the trauma of child or adolescent sexual abuse. This trauma has been suggested as apossible factor in the development of a negative body image, particularly in women witheating disorders (Kearney-Cooke, 1986; Root & Fallon, 1989).Adolescence, when a young woman's body experiences great change, seems to be aparticularly vulnerable time for body image development (Brown et al., 1988; Gilligan,Rogers & Tolman, 1991; Hutchinson, 1982; Ussher, 1989). Kegan (1982)characterizes early adolescence as a time of "construction of role" and the "emergence ofself-concept" (p.89). Whether a young woman continues to have a positive or negativebody image as part of her self concept and identity depends partially on her internalinterpretations and responses to the changes in her body.Identity may also be changing for many women during midlife, especially if theirroles are changing (Rich, 1976; Rubin, 1979; Stevens-Long & Commons, 1992;2 1Ussher, 1989). There is more variance now in midlife roles and experiences ofindividual women, however, all women of this age experience the physiological changesof aging and menopause. Body image appears to be a part of every woman's identity, andthere is evidence that women's feelings about their bodies change during midlife, in bothnegative and positive ways in response to the meanings the women place on their rolesand on their appearance at this stage of life, meanings which are garnered from theirculture and shaped by significant others (Martin, 1987; Rubin, 1979; Vann Rackley,Warren, & Bird, 1988).Part of a person's identity is their feeling of self worth. There is some evidencethat body image relates to an individual's self esteem or self worth. (Baird & Sights,1986; Sanford et al., 1984; Silberstein, Striegel-Moore, Timko, & Rodin, 1988;Thompson, 1986; Thompson et al., 1986). Some women express difficulty in likingthemselves as a person when they dislike a part of their body (Sanford et al., 1984).There is evidence to suggest that more women than men overestimate the size of theirbodies, even when they are close to normal weight, and the more a woman distorts herbody image, the lower her self esteem seems to be (Thompson, 1986; Thompson &Thompson, 1986).Davis (1990) suggested that some women who exercise regularly derive both asense of satisfaction with their bodies and a sense of self worth through this regimen.Other researchers reported specific exercises and body movement activities that somewomen engage in to improve their appearance may also contribute to physical fitness,body satisfaction and a sense of self worth (Davis & Cowles, 1991; Hutchinson, 1985;2 2Silbertstein et al., 1988; Skrinar et al., 1986; Tucker, 1985). Tucker (1985)reported in his study of 160 college females that factors related to physical fitness, suchas muscle tone, endurance, coordination, health and energy level were identified by thewomen as important to their body image. For some women it may be that physicalactivity contributes to a sense of comfort with their bodies and a sense of self worth,however Davis (1990) cautioned that "there is also a possibility that commitment to aregular exercise regimen can inspire an exaggerated focus on one's body" (p. 20).At every stage of life, a woman is interacting with her environment. Sheresponds to and makes meaning of the changes in her body and the reactions she receivesfrom the environment about these changes. She also has influence on that environment.This meaning, with positive or negative feelings attached, is incorporated into thewoman's body image that is an important part of her identity. The meaning she makes ofher body image may significantly affect her feelings of self worth and her psychologicalwell being.CHAPTER THREEMethodologyDesign The phenomenon of positive body image in women is not clearly understood.Describing the meaning women attach to the perceptions of their bodies, particularlywhen the women feel comfortable with their bodies, may help begin to understand thisexperience. Scientific research often involves the verification of a theory but "beforeone can test the adequacy of a theory in explaining a phenomenon, one needs a reliable anddetailed description of the phenomenon" (Heppner, Kivlighan, & Wampold, 1992,p.195). In a phenomenological study the researcher focuses on the descriptions of whatpeople experience and how they interpret these experiences. This research method wasappropriate for this study because the researcher proposed to describe the meaning andexperience of body image for women feeling comfortable with their bodies. Thedimension that differentiates phenomenological study from other qualitative researchmethods is that the phenomenologist makes the assumption that there is a commonality inthe way a particular phenomenon is experienced, and through rigorous analysis attemptsto identify the essence or core meanings of the shared experiences of the participants ofthe study (Patton, 1990). A phenomenological approach to this research allowed forexploration of the experience of a positive body image, that is, how women meaningfullyconstruct a sense of comfort with their bodies. These data may then be used to facilitatehypothesis testing in further research. The aim of phenomenological research, asexplained by Osborne (1990), is "to understand a phenomenon by allowing the data to232 4speak for themselves, and by attempting to put aside one's preconceptions as best onecan" (p.81). In utilizing this method, the researcher examined how the participantsexperienced the phenomenon, and how they made meaning of it. By examining thewomen's stories, the researcher was able to obtain a broad and detailed view of how thewomen meaningfully construct the experience of feeling comfortable with their bodies.BracketingAn important element of a phenomenological approach to research is theacknowledgement of the researcher's effect on all aspects of the research. As Osborne(1990) states, "existential-phenomenology recognizes the unavoidable presence of theresearcher in the formulation of the question, the determination of what are the data, andtheir interpretation" (p. 81). Unlike other forms of qualitative inquiry, where theresearcher includes their own experience of the phenomenon, the phenomenologistcarefully delineates personal prejudices, viewpoints, and preconceptions about thephenomenon in an attempt to suspend judgment and be able to investigate the phenomenonwithout imposing meaning (Patton, 1990). By being exposed to the researchersassumptions and pre-conceived notions regarding the phenomenon, the reader is able totake into account the influence of these biases on the researcher's interpretation of thedata.My formulation of the research question was influenced by a number of factors.As a secondary school teacher and counsellor, I have had many interactions withadolescent girls who are dissatisfied with their bodies, some of whom are suffering fromeating disorders. I have been moved by the disabling effect these feelings have on the2 5girls' ability to develop healthy relationships and by the way their feelings about theirbodies limit their visions of what they can choose to do in their lives. The experience ofstruggling with my own body image and witnessing similar struggles in students, womenfriends, women colleagues, and the female members of my family, motivated my searchfor a better understanding of how we as women might become more comfortable with ourbodies.Also in reading literature about body image I was struck by the many referencesto sociocultural influences on body image development. Feminist interpretations of theseinfluences (Bartky, 1990; Gilligan et al., 1991; Greenspan, 1983; Martin, 1987;Wolf, 1991; Ussher, 1989) resonated with my own personal experience of feelingjudged as a woman primarily by my appearance and how I was, or wasn't, living up to astereotypical image of an ideal woman. While reading for assignments on eatingdisorders and group approaches to treating negative body image, I was further intriguedby the absence of information on positive body image development, and with the primaryfocus in this literature on women's body image as a 'problem' to be treated.My white, middle class, North American experience appears to be shared bymany of those authors of body image literature and the participants of their researchstudies. It is not clear from this literature how socioeconomic or ethnic factorsinfluence body image (Dolan, 1990), so, I posed this research question with a gap in myknowledge of how body image may be experienced differently by women in a cultureother than my own.Choosing phenomenology as a research method requires that the participants be2 6articulate, comfortable enough to volunteer, and have the time to participate, hence theselection of participants is limited by the nature of the research method.As a counselling psychology student I am motivated to discover ways offacilitating and supporting the development of clients' comfort with their bodies, and tomodel that process through my own personal growth. Through this study I hoped todiscover some themes common to the experiences of women feeling comfortable withtheir bodies, with the intent to apply this knowledge to my work as a counsellor.ParticipantsIn qualitative research methods, such as phenomenology, the selection ofparticipants is purposeful, in that criteria are specified to determine that respondentshave experienced the phenomenon to be studied. The participants selected must haveexperienced the phenomenon and be articulate enough to illuminate it (Colaizzi, 1978;Osborne, 1990). In this study the participants identified themselves as having apositive body image, that is, expressed that generally they felt quite comfortable withand in their bodies, felt that their body was adequate and did not wish to change it. Therespondents were able to verbally express their experiences.For a phenomenological study the desirable participants need to have experiencedthe phenomenon for a sufficient amount of time and be able to reflect upon theirexperience clearly (Colaizzi, 1978; Osborne, 1990). As there is not an optimumlength of time specified for this reflection, for the purposes of this study theparticipants indicated that they had felt this positive attitude towards their bodies for aminimum of two years. It has been suggested in some studies that generally maintaining2 7a change in appearance for two years or more is an indicator that a woman's body imagehas somewhat stabilized and she is able to reflect on her experience of bodily comfort(Millman, 1980; Mitchell et al., 1988; Stunkard & Penick, 1979). Before somewomen undergo a weight loss program or make other changes to their appearance, theymay have expectations of how their life will change when their body is changed. Aftertheir appearance changes, it make take some time for women to adjust to the real impactthis change has had on their lives. For some women, it may take two or more yearsbefore arriving at an acceptance of this change, particularly in the case of weight loss(Millman, 1980). Relapse into eating disorders or gaining back lost weight often occurswithin two years after initial recovery from an eating disorder or after significantweight loss (Mitchell et al., 1988; Stunkard & Penick, 1979), suggesting that thewoman's body image is still undergoing change. In order to select women meeting thiscriteria, those women who were actively attempting to alter their present body imagewere not selected. The initial phone contact included questions to clarify this (seeAppendix B).Phenomenological research focusses in depth on information-rich cases,therefore a relatively small sample of participants was selected for the study. Theresearcher interviewed seven participants, a number that proved adequate to provideenough data to exhaust common themes, to elaborate on the phenomenon, and for themesnot to occur by chance. Although common themes were apparent to the researcher by thefifth interview, two more participants were included in the study to ensure that no newthemes were evident that had not been apparent in the experiences of the other 5 women.2 8ProcedureParticipants were recruited primarily through the placement of an article in alocal newspaper, in which the researcher described the purpose of the study and theselection criteria (see Appendix A), and by word of mouth. A newspaper article waschosen as a recruitment method in order to present the selection criteria as clearly aspossible, with the intent of attracting participants who best represented thephenomenon.Women interested in participating were asked to contact the researcher by phone.At that time, the potential participant was given more information about the study andthe researcher (i.e., the purpose of the study, the procedure, and the CounsellingPsychology program). The researcher determined if the respondent met the selectioncriteria. The respondents were screened and selected in the order that they contacted theresearcher. Sixteen women responded to the article. Two other women heard of thestudy through word of mouth. The first seven women to meet the selection criteria andwho volunteered to participate in the study were recruited. Two women who called chosenot to participate once they had discussed the study with the researcher. One of thesewomen decided the time frame of the study was not convenient for her and the other didnot give a specific reason for declining. A mutually agreeable time and location wasestablished for an in depth, tape-recorded interview with each respondent.The interview in phenomenological research, as described by Colaizzi (1978),requires that the researcher "be present to her subject(s) in a special way" (p.64).Establishment of good rapport and a climate of trust and collaboration, is essential to the2 9interview process. Heppner et al. (1992) compare phenomenological research to acounselling interview in that, "the researcher tries to gain an empathic understanding ofthe subject's frame of reference" (p.198). The researcher in this study listened andresponded to the women with empathic reflection and open-ended questions, in a non-judgmental, non-directive way, in order to understand as closely as possible eachwoman's experience of bodily comfort and to facilitate a non-threatening atmosphere.The interviews took place in a private setting comfortable for both theresearcher and participant (the participant's home, the researcher's home or an officein the Counselling Psychology building). Open-ended, minimally structured interviewswere used to collect the data because they are most condusive to in depth description ofthe phenomenon (Osborne, 1990). This style of interviewing accesses the perspectiveof the person being interviewed and allows salient issues to emerge without imposing theinterviewers preconcieved notions of the phenomenon.The researcher prepared an orienting statement to establish the focus of theinterview (see Appendix B). Any prompts were open ended, and used to encouragefurther exploration. The researcher needed to probe for significant details in order tounderstand the meaning of each woman's story to her, and for clarification. Silence wasused to allow the participant to process and clarify her own thoughts. The researcherkept the interview focussed and returned to any aspects of the phenomenon that werebrought up by the participant and that required further elaboration.The transcription of the first participant's initial interview was reviewed by anexternal person trained in phenomenological methods to ensure that the researcher was3 0not leading or imposing her own values during the interview. Because the firstparticipant talked more in collective terms about women's experiences than about herown personal experience, the researcher invited the other participants to use a lifelinediagram as a visual tool in focussing on their own experiences of comfort with theirbodies. The women in the study used the lifeline to varying degrees, some finding it veryuseful to mark down the events and feelings they perceived as important to their bodyimage development. Other women, feeling more confident and comfortable with mainlyverbal expression of their experiences, made less use of the lifeline. In addition to thelifelines and transcribed interviews, the researcher kept process notes to recordimportant aspects of the interaction that were not apparent on tape, such as body andfacial expressions.The length of the initial interview was approximately two hours, which provedto be enough time for each woman to share her experience of feeling comfortable withher body. One interview was sufficient for most of the women to share their experience,however, each woman was invited to give another interview, or to call the researcherfollowing the first interview, if she wished to further illuminate her experience. Onewoman requested a second interview to more fully describe her experience. The womenwere also encouraged to provide other material such as, journals, poetry, artwork orphotographs they felt might further express their experience.After the transcriptions of the interviews were analyzed by the researcher, and asynopsis of the themes common to all the women had been completed, each participantwas given her own biographical synopsis and a synopsis of the common themes, as3 1written in Chapter Four of this thesis, to review. The researcher then conducted avalidation interview with each participant at which time each of the women was invitedto respond to these results, and offer any further information about the phenomenon thatmay have been omitted. This validation process is one way to minimize gaps in the data,or to address aspects of the phenomenon that a respondent may have overlooked(Osborne, 1990). It is important to have as complete a description of each woman'sexperience as possible in order to further refine the themes and more accurately reflectthe essence of the experience of meaning making for the women in the study.The women in this study all said the themes represented their experiences ofcomfort with their bodies and suggested only minor changes to the synopsis of theresults. One participant brought "regular women's magazines" from Holland to hervalidation interview to illustrate the cultural attitude towards body appearance she hadgrown up with. Another women showed the researcher photographs of a time sheremembered "feeling very happy and content" with herself and her appearance. Two ofthe participants required further clarification of the purpose of their demographicinformation in the synopsis. The changes suggested by the women were made, andadditional information given during the validation interviews was added to each woman'ssynopsis as applicable.Data Analysis After each interview the tape was transcribed verbatim and reviewed by theresearcher. The process described by Colaizzi (1978) was followed for analysis of thedata. The transcription were read and reread. Significant statements relating to the3 2phenomenon were extracted. The researcher then began the interpretive aspect of thisresearch method, by ascribing a general meaning to each statement, a step referred to asthe identification of salient themes. Each transcription underwent this interpretiveprocess, and then themes were organized into clusters. Continually referring back to theoriginal transcript is considered important in order to validate this process ofinterpretation.The validation interviews discussed previously enabled the researcher torepresent the women's experience fully and accurately, without having imposed her ownassumptions and presuppositions on the data. The researcher incorporated any newinformation from the validation interview into the final written analysis. The resultswere then "integrated into an exhaustive description of the investigated topic" (Colaizzi,1978, p.61) and a statement of its fundamental structure was identified as clearly aspossible.3 3CHAPTER FOURResultsThis chapter will include a brief synopsis of the women's stories, a listing ofcommon themes found in their experiences of feeling comfortable with their bodies, anda detailed discussion of the themes. Each woman experienced a process that enabled themto become comfortable with their bodies. For each of them the context of culture,family, relationships, and career affected this process. A discussion of the context, theprocess and their apparent relationship to each other will also be included.The Women's StoriesSeven women volunteered to participate in this study. Each of the women chosetheir own pseudonym. Following is a description of each of the participants:Liz. Liz, age 23, is the middle child of five children. She has an older brotherand sister and younger brother and sister. She is 5 feet 5 and a half inches tall andweighs about 142 pounds. She has been maintaining approximately this weight for 4 to5 years, slightly less in the summers when she is more active. Her father, a doctor andher mother, a university professor, divorced when Liz was 14 or 15 years old. At thetime of the divorce she wished to live with her Dad but "her Mom wouldn't let her." Liz'srelationship with her mother is still strained, particularly around the issue of Liz notbeing in school. Liz came on her own to Canada from Holland when she was 18, livingfirst in Montreal and then most recently in Vancouver. Currently she is single and a !iv(in nanny for a 3 year old girl. In Holland Liz attended university for one year studyinggeography, and since coming to Vancouver, has taken Interior Design courses at BCIT.3 4She also works part time in a clothing store as a sales person. She speaks six languages.She recalled feeling overweight as a child, from about age 6, and was teased byother family members about "being fat." One painful incident she remembered was beingtaken to Weight Watchers by her mother when she was 8, having been told she was goingto get a Brownie outfit. Although she felt like "the biggest and the ugliest in the family",at the same time she felt strong because of her muscle development, having been acompetitive gymnast for 13 to 14 years. The whole family was active. They wereinvolved with gymnastics, had a pool in their yard and frequently went biking and hiking.Liz also played field hockey. In gymnastics Liz won medals but she said that "compared tothe rest of my family I wasn't very good at it because I was overweight."Around age12 or 13 Liz lost weight and started to "think about myself morepositively." However her older sister has always been thinner and Liz still comparesherself to her sister. Liz feels healthier than her sister, but "a little bit overweight" incomparison, although she "would never complain about a certain part because I think mybody is very in balance", in other words proportioned. Her sister has gained weight soLiz is relieved now that she is no longer the heaviest woman in the family and will nolonger feel pressure from the family about her weight.Liz's menarche was at 11 years of age and she did not recall this event asinfluential in her body image development. During the time she was 14 to 16 years oldLiz remembered being particularly aware of her body, when she became "interested inguys." It seemed to her that at this time when her body was changing " you get a lot ofattention from a lot of people and ....you're kind of forced to pay attention to your body,3 5but mainly because everybody else is doing it." She recalled a 6 month period during herteens when "once after I broke up with a guy I lost like 40 pounds" as a result of beingdepressed and upset. She also travelled in Egypt at that time and attributes some of theweight loss to the lack of food there. She felt uncomfortable being "skinny." After thatshe gained weight and has maintained it at around 142.LIz made several references to cultural differences in the way she hasexperienced her body. Liz grew up experiencing topless sunbathing as an acceptablepublic activity and was surprised when this was not so in Canada. Her experience inEurope, and in her family, is that people are more comfortable with nudity in generaland are less inhibited about exposing their bodies. She also noticed that more peoplehere are doing fitness "workouts" on a regular basis and "paying more attention to theirbodies" through structured activities. In Holland Liz felt "very average" in appearance,with her blonde hair and blue eyes, but she found here that many people complementedher on being "very pretty." She acknowledged that part of feeling positive about herbody is " I guess thinking that other people think you have a nice body", particularly herfriends. She is aware that her choices of dress are somewhat determined by who she isgoing to be seen by, as evidenced by her comment, " Like if I go to Safeway to get somewhatever...l would just wear anything, doesn't matter how I look like, but if I would goover to a friend's house to even go for coffee I would dress a little bit different just to,because I know the friend... ." She included "being happy with yourself and being happywith what you are doing" as important contributing factors to feeling comfortable withher body.3 6In her late teens Liz enjoyed challenging people's judgments of her by "beingradical" or "being different" in both her dress and behavior. More recently, at 20 or 21she recalls consciously thinking " I don't have to play this game anymore" and beganfeeling that "it's more important what's in your brains and in your head and just yourpersonality than your body." Liz expressed surprise and frustration at the negativefeelings so many of the women at her workplace and in her social life have towards theirbodies.Robyn. Robyn, age 29, is the third of four girls. She is single and living withher boyfriend. Her weight is about 133 pounds, a weight that she has maintained for thelast few years. From age 18 to her early twenties she was about 120 pounds and thengained and leveled off at 133 pounds. She is 5 feet, 5 inches tall. Presently she isworking in the computer technology field, after obtaining a diploma in ComputerSystems Technology. She continues to be a part time university student working towardsa degree in Business Administration.Robyn's parents divorced when she was 20. Her father, a high school teacher,has remarried. Robyn always admired her father and sought to gain his approvalthrough excelling in sports and academics at school. She recalled thinking that hermother didn't have "any emotions for us at all." Robyn related several ways in whichher father had influenced her feelings about herself.Menarche occurred at 15, which she perceived as late, and was somewhat anxiousabout. Robyn recalled having a "boyish" figure when the other girls were becomingcurvy. She was self conscious about being "flat" and feels that this was the time that she3 7felt the worst about her body. During this time she recalled being emotionally upset too,feeling torn between two groups of her peers and wanting to be "friends with everybody."Although she was anxious to become "curvy", when she began to develop hips she becameworried about getting fat. She was always active in sports at school and in her adultyears continues with regularly running, cycling or working out at the "Y". At hercurrent weight Robyn feels good about her muscle tone and low body fat content, eventhough she perceives her weight to be heavy for her height. She attributed a big part ofher comfort with her body to her involvement in sports. Not only does she feelphysically good, but when she is participating in sports she feels strong, confident andproud of her ability. As well as enjoying competition in sports, she has always felt asense of competition and "fighting to be better than her two older sisters."She likes to appear "natural", with little or no makeup or perfume, and in sportyclothes. This is the way most of her boyfriends have liked her to be, although she didmake reference to how her manner of dress may vary depending on the occasion, how sheis feeling and who she is with. She has had feedback from her boyfriends that "they havealways liked my body." Since high school she has had at least four long term, committedrelationships where she felt respected and like "we're kind of more like partners thanlike one over the other." She values her relationships with men but in relating herexperiences she expresses some embarrassment, "It's terrible. A lot of my adult life, Imeasure it by the boyfriends I've had... ." She values her female friends for theirloyalty, their different interests, and the level of intimacy that she has with them.She associated the times when she felt "ugly" and less comfortable with her3 8appearance with emotional turmoil. These were times such as when she had broken upwith a boyfriend, when she confronted her Dad about his alcoholism, when she wasunhappy with her work, and when she didn't have time to exercise as much. Her times ofgreatest comfort with her appearance are when she was feeling good in a relationshipwith a boyfriend, particularly her current one, when she was feeling satisfied withwork, and at peace with her family, and was able to exercise.Angela. Angela, age 43, is the fourth child of 5 children. The two oldest aregirls, the third and fifth are boys. She is 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds.She describes her background as "rural working class." She lives with her male partnerof 10 years and has a son who was born when she was 21 and single. She has a bachelor'sdegree and works as an editor and technical writer.Menarche occurred for Angela when she was 16 and she recalled this time,around 15 to 16, as the time she felt the least comfortable with her body. A recollectionof her father and older brother "harrassing" her about her lack of development stood outfor her as a particularly embarrassing and humiliating "crucial event." She wasrelieved when her body finally began to mature. At puberty she began to gain weightuntil she was about 19 or 20, when she describes herself as "quite plump." Her highestweight was about 160. During this time of weight gain, after the initial relief ofmenarche and until her pregnancy, she recalled some fluctuation in her weight and also anumber of changes in her attitude towards her body and her weight. For example, at onetime in order to lose weight she "lived on Fresca for two weeks." At another time "forawhile I dressed like a boy because I wanted to, I didn't want to be seen as sexual."3 9During high school the female ideal that Angela wished for was a "Twiggy or JeanShrimpton" look...thin. She recalled dressing and cutting her hair according to whatfashion magazines and her girlfriends thought were attractive. She began to notice thatwhat boys were attracted to and what girls thought were attractive weren't necessarilythe same thing.Once at university, at 17, Angela began a time of exploration of relationships.She discovered that "men have a much broader range of appreciation of the female bodythan women give them credit for." She described herself as having wide hips, a bigbottom and narrow shoulders, which did not match her previous ideal of female beauty,but she acquired an "accumulation of evidence that men are attracted to me" and thatthese men were also interesting, enjoyable to be with, and "normal." By her early 20sshe felt that "her body was in the range of normal." At the same time she recognized thatshe was sexually attractive to men, she became aware that "there were all sorts ofpeople that were interested in you for your intellect, your sense of humour, yourambitions... ." Male professors, "father figures", valued her intellect and ability. Shebegan to view her father and brother's attitudes towards women as "peculiar."Before and after the birth of her son, she considered herself "slightlyoverweight" but felt wonderful about herself. Her male friends "kept letting her knowhow wonderful she looked." Since the birth of her son, Angela has felt very comfortablewith her body and her weight has stayed around 140. She is comfortable with and enjoysher sexuality and has received feedback from her sexual partners that they appreciatethis quality in her. Her partner now is especially accepting and appreciative of her in4 0all aspects, including her character and her body.Clara. Clara, age 38, is the second eldest of five children. She has an older andyounger brother and two younger sisters. Her family, including her mother and fatherlive in Colombia in South America. Clara came on her own to Canada to go to universitywhen she was 18. She lives with her husband of 13 years, her daughter and her son.Her daughter has just finished grade one and her son is a toddler. Clara has a universitydegree and works as a biologist in a lab.Clara is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs 120 pounds. She recalled only threetimes during her adult years when she gained any weight, twice with her pregnancies andonce during one year when she lived in Winnipeg. She gained about 30 pounds with herpregnancies, which she felt was reasonable and average, and about 20 pounds inWinnipeg which she lost when she went back to Columbia for a visit. Her diet inWinnipeg was quite different than at home, including many bakery products. Otherwiseshe has always been thin, in fact as she was growing up she was considered too skinny byColombian standards. Her skin is dark, and she reports that lighter skin is seen as moreattractive in her culture. She remembered feeling self conscious in school about herskinniness and not being as "curvy and mature" as the other girls.Her menarche occurred at age 14, which she felt was late. She was thrilled whenshe came to Canada and her appearance was considered by others to be "exotic." She feelslucky that she doesn't gain weight. Her sense is that obesity is not common in Colombiaand in general people in Colombia are not as concerned about their bodies as they are inNorth America. The notion of dieting or diet food did not exist for her when she was4 1living there. She feels that aging for women is more acceptable and respected inColombia than here.Clara views her father and mother as quite tolerant of differences and liberal"in their politics, even though they are Catholic in a very Catholic country. She feels thatall of the children in the family have been loved unconditionally and supported. It wasalways expected that she would "be a something, an architect I suppose, or somebody."However, even when the children did not live up to family expectations, like her sisterwho has been divorced twice, the children are still supported and accepted. Clarareports that her mother was somewhat "radical and different" than other Colombianmothers in that she didn't pay much attention to looking fashionable. Clara described herfather as a quiet intellectual who was not very involved with his children.Clara attended an all girls' school and does not recall appearance being a concernfor her at all. She was a quiet student until her last two years of school when she wasactive in sports, student politics, volunteer work, and "fairly radical stuff." Oneparticular teacher, a Canadian man whom she now knows is gay, exposed her and herfellow students to the politics of her country, the oppression of the poor and enabled herto see the realities of what was going on around her. She saw this relationship assignificant in influencing her politics and teaching her that she could have an impact onthe world. She felt that he was responsible for a huge change in the way she saw herself;"...that is a big change but that had nothing to do with my body though,...just myself, youknow, in general, my self image, my perception of myself, what was important in mylife, what became, what has always been from that time... ."4 2Another important influence reported by Clara in her development was herexposure to feminist politics and her involvement at a women's center at the university.She admired a woman who introduced her to the book "Our Bodies, Ourselves" , a womanshe considered interesting and smart. Through this literature and attendance atworkshops on women's sexuality and health, Clara learned a lot about herself and herbody and sexual stereotyping. This was quite a contrast to her traditional sheltered lifeat home and school. She now speaks up critically and questions advertising andliterature, and is conscious about raising her children in a non-sexist way. She has anetwork of friends who are feminists.Relationships with boys and men were of no interest to her prior to coming toCanada and she considers herself a "late bloomer." She then discovered that men wereattracted to her. When her husband was attracted to her she was "surprised thatsomebody that good-looking could be attracted to her." The fact that "he thinks that sheis the most beautiful woman in the world" and that they have had such a solidrelationship over the years, contributes to her self confidence.Although she feels comfortable with her appearance, she is surprised that inrecent years she has paid more attention to things like shaving her legs, which she didn'tdo when she first met her husband. She also wishes she was more fit and had moreenergy like when she felt her best at age 25. She is concerned about her children,especially her daughter, growing up in a culture with so much pressure to conform torigid standards.4 3Moy Moy. Moy Moy, age 58, is the middle child of three children. She has twobrothers, the eldest being 5 years older than her, the other is two years younger. Whenher older brother left home Moy Moy enjoyed feeling like she "was in charge." Shereports being close to her younger brother. Both her mother and father are no longeralive. Moy Moy is divorced and has a grown daughter and son. She lives in her own homewith her son. She is Australian, born to a Chinese mother and Polish father. She is 5feet, 4 1/2 inches tall and weighs about 125 pounds. She has maintained this weight formost of her adult life.As a child she worked physically hard for her father helping him in constructionand walked a lot because her father didn't drive. She still is very active and says that"she never sits still." Growing up in the depression, in her family, taught her to valuehard work, to be frugal with money and to be resourceful. Character and spiritualdevelopment were emphasized more than appearance and body. In discussing how sheprefers to wear clothes that are not revealing, she recalled that her father was strict andtaught her that "Your spirit and your soul and your character and all that is moreimportant than your physical body."Moy Moy graduated from high school and continued her education throughbusiness classes at night school. She left Australia when she was 21 to travel and pursuea career in singing and/or acting in England. After giving this a try and doing somemodelling work, she revised her plans and began working in offices. She currentlyworks as a secretary in business. She returned to Australia at age 24, after travellingin Europe, the U.S., and Canada. She stayed for 5 years, but after "tasting a bit of life"4 4through travelling, felt that this was too narrow a place to live. She then emigrated toVancouver. Through this process of gaining more education and being exposed to morepeople of mixed ethnic background, she began to feel more comfortable with herappearance and more confident in her abilities. Through modelling, acting and variouswork experiences she realized that others found her attractive and she no longer feltinferior or self conscious. Her experience in the performing arts field also confirmedfor her that she did not want such an "unstable" and "immoral" work environment. Shereports that men find her attractive, although she did have some experiences of racismbecause of her mixed ethnic appearance.The time she recalls as feeling the least comfortable with her appearance was at18. She did not recall puberty or menarche at 14 to have been a concern. Throughouther childhood she had been subjected to teasing and rejection because of her Asianbackground, and at 18 she also felt unsettled about her future and pressured to make adecision. She feels she "ate a lot of food to escape the decision-making process." Shesaid she really wasn't fat but looked fatter in photographs. By age 21 she had learned to"cut out foods and things like that" to control her weight. She then was "really slim and Iwas quite happy with my figure." She had gradually decided on some goals too. At age 30Moy Moy felt she "probably looked better than I ever did." She felt "mature mentally andphysically." Motherhood was "one of her main goals" so when she became pregnant at 34she was very excited. She had a healthy pregnancy and "walked a lot and did all the thingsI was supposed to do...I wasn't worried about fatness." Motherhood feels like a "goodaccomplishment" to her.4 5Moy Moy values her health and attributes her comfort with her body partly to thefact that she has been relatively healthy. Although menopause was not as smooth as shewould have liked and she now has difficulty getting enough sleep, she is still content withher body. She did not recall any other events that affected how she felt about herappearance.Anne. Anne, age 49, is an only child. She is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs120 pounds. Her mother died when Anne was 14 and she was raised by her father untilshe left home at 18. She married at age 20 and had her daughter when she was 35. Anneis divorced and lives with her male partner of 5 years and her daughter. She grew up inGermany after the war in a "very strict Catholic environment." She attended all girls'schools and a boarding school for awhile in her early teens. As an adult she continued hereducation while she worked, pursuing a career in purchasing management. She works inthis field today.Anne admired her mother who was a career woman. Shortly after her mother'sdeath a relative said to Anne, "You didn't cry enough." Up to that point Anne had takenpride in "being brave" in coping with her grief. After that relative's comment Annerecalled saying to herself, "You can't please everybody." This was her first recollectionof wanting to rebel against other people's expectations of her.Anne recalled her childhood being focussed on achieving in school and beingcareer oriented. The main emphasis on appearance was following the behavioral anddress codes of Catholicism, which Anne views as "restricted and repressive." Atboarding school "they were very fussy that girls didn't show themselves and didn't touch4 6their bodies and didn't show their bodies... ." Fashion was not important. Women wereexpected to enter the work world because they were needed. Anne recalled value beingplaced on career success and income. She attributed the post war economic needs ofGermany to the non-sexist career environment. Food was scarce so dieting was unheardof. She feels that "what I experienced in the way of dress restrictions andrepressiveness I think they have in eating now", referring to dieting among adolescentgirls. Overall she recalled her childhood as the time when she was the least comfortablewith her body.Her first introduction to makeup and fashion was on a student exchange to Englandwhen she was 16. It was also at 16 that she first menstruated, which she did not recallas particularly problematic. During her late teens there were many men stationed nearher town. This meant that at local dances the girls were in demand, so Anne recalls therealways being an abundance of dates and men interested in her. She recalled this time asbeing fun and interesting. Even though she went through some self consciousness abouthaving glasses and braces she still felt accepted and attractive.Anne rebelled against the repressiveness of her Catholic upbringing first bygetting herself removed from the boarding school and then by moving to England whenshe was 18. She recalled "getting more relaxed" about her body once she was out of theschool and said that "the boys coaxed you out of it." Her comfort with her body graduallyincreased up to the time she married at 20. At this time she was at her heaviest, 140,but was not concerned about this weight. Shortly after this she lost weight and was about130. In comparison to how comfortable she feels about her body now, she realizes that4 7during her marriage she didn't feel too terrific. Not being able to become pregnant was acontributing factor in her discomfort at that time. Sex became an "automated process"and she also sensed that her husband "had the feeling that I wasn't as o.k. as I might havebeen."When she became pregnant, after having given up the possibility, she wasecstatic. She recalled feeling wonderful about her body. Her sense of herself changedalso. She had become used to functioning in an all male business world, becoming knownas "the dragon lady" by some of her coworkers. At home she was usually very "no-nonsense and self sufficient." In order to feel accepted she "always made an effort to beperceived as neutral." While pregnant she enjoyed and allowed herself to be pamperedby her husband for the first time. During her pregnancy she felt like a pioneer in herfield regarding maternity leave and daycare as these options were not as common then.Gradually, however, her relationship with her husband deteriorated. She sadly referredto their marriage as "a marriage of convenience." They were compatible in their careergoals and shared interests. When she compared the feeling she has with her presentpartner to how she felt in her marriage, she recognized what was missing in thatrelationship. She described the relationship she has now as "really falling in love" and"connecting on an emotional level."At 42 Anne took a serious look at how she wanted to spend the rest of her life.Her mother and grandmother had both died at 42, so Anne felt like she had a gift livingpast this time. She wanted a change and was open to whatever form it might take. At thesame time her career dreams were shattered when she was passed over for an important4 8job promotion and ultimately fired.When Anne met the man she is with today, the way she felt about her body, herself and life in general changed drastically. Up until this new relationship she describedher life as "controlled" and "lacking exuberance" and "falling in with expectations" andbeing "self-sufficient." Now she describes herself as "sensual, having more depth,feeling desired and desirous, feminine, more uninhibited, mushy and sentimental." Lifeis less "black and white" and she lives more from "day to day."She is concerned because her own daughter is very aware of her weight and ispreoccupied with dieting and fitness. Three of Anne's friends have daughters that sufferfrom anorexia so this has heightened her concern about her daughter's body image. Sheis grateful for growing up " in a freedom that they don't experience here."Tillie. Tillie, age 46, is the fourth child of seven children. She has an oldersister and five brothers, two of whom were children her mother conceived inrelationships outside her marriage. Both her father, an international consultant, andher mother were away from home a lot and Tillie "assumed tremendous adultresponsibilities at a very young age." She admires her father and describes her difficultrelationship with her mother as "tender." She is currently "on strike from her mother"and has been working on setting limits in their relationship.Tillie came to the west coast from Quebec as a child, speaking only French. Sherecalls this as a very difficult adjustment. In spite of this she did well in school, untilshe had so many responsiblities at home during high school that her grades suffered.After high school Tillie travelled and worked in a variety of jobs, was trained in Early4 9Childhood Education and then worked in the child care field. When child care became toostressful she left this field and has been working as a transit operator for almost fouryears. She is divorced and has lived with her male partner for the last four years. Shedoes not have children of her own, but has cared for her partner's children. She is 5feet, 6 inches tall and weighs 156 pounds.Tillie did not have many memories of her childhood and did not readily recall howshe felt about her body then. She had some recollection of menarche occurring at 12,feeling "pretty tubby as a 13 year old", and getting into eating desserts with her friendsafter school. She remembered feeling ashamed of having to wear her sister's hand-medowns because they didn't fit, and said her mother didn't seem to realize this until toolate. She also remembered rules in her Catholic faith about how long you could kiss, andthat there was a lot of shame associated with sexual development. She had positivememories of being in love with her boyfriend then, who is now her partner.Her weight has fluctuated over her adult years from 125 to 170 pounds. She felther body seems to settle at around 135 to 140 for most of the time. In spite of herweight fluctuations, she has always felt that she has an "average proportioned shape" andfeels "lucky" that she can always fit into standard sizes of clothing. When she leftVancouver for Montreal at 18 and went travelling she was just under140 and continuedto be that weight until her mid-twenties when she was working in Tunisia. During heryear there she went up to 170 pounds and recalled "being out of her comfort zone"culturally. The Arab men sexually harrassed her and she felt that gaining weight woulddiscourage this attention. Apparently it did not work. She travelled in Europe for5 0several months then returned to London, England. There she went to a doctor forinjections to lose weight and went down to 125 pounds. She described needing all hercoping skills in England to make friends and find work. She felt that she needed to not befat in order to be accepted by friends and employers. "I shrunk again because I had to inorder to cope." She recalled living on oranges and chicken and said, "I had no sense ofmortality or connecting to myself... ." She has had sexual relationships with many menover the years and described herself as "promiscuous and a product of the 60's." Therewas a time when she realized that she could not get pregnant and then "thought of myselfas being a sexual being after awhile....my body felt like it was designed to be a sexualobject." She knows she was fertile at one time because she was pregnant and had anabortion. She went through a stage of wondering if her infertility was a result of hersexual activity over the years.When she returned to Canada she went back up to around 140 pounds andstabilized there for "a long time." This was the time she got into the child care field. Sherecalled over the years a number of times when weight was a concern for her. To pleaseone boyfriend she dieted through Weight Watchers. In her younger years she usedlaxatives in an attempt to feel slimmer. After gaining weight when she quit smoking, shecontemplated going back to smoking for weight control. During the next few years Tillieexperienced a spiralling down in her emotional well being, getting married and divorced,leaving her job and moving to the Okanagan in the hopes of "making a lifestyle change".She remembered going down to 130 once when a friend committed suicide, at a time whenTillie was living with an abusive man. She felt that her emotional upsets kept her from5 1eating very much and kept her weight down. She recalled thinking to herself at thattime, "... I'm glad I'm emotionally disturbed now because this keeps me thin", and is nowdismayed at that "bizarre" thought. Although she remembered some "good help" from theWomen's section of the Employment office, she still found being unemployed a crisis inher life. She reported getting into a pattern of "self abusive behavior" and eventuallywas charged with shoplifting. This was a turning point in her life as she got some helpagain and began a personal journey of self discovery through a therapy group andthrough reading. She credited her exposure to feminist ideology as important to herchange in attitude towards herself and her body.After a brief stint working with young offenders she realized this kind of workwas too emotionally exhausting for her. Her partner dared her to apply to drive a busand when she did she got the job. She found that "all of a sudden she was making twice thewages" and "nobody could beat me up anymore." She was developing a closer relationshipwith her current partner and was feeling better about herself. She has quit smoking inthe last few years and has made the choice to be honest in her relationships and moreresponsible in her decisions. This has meant discontinuing a long term affair with amarried man, and making a committment to be faithful to and open with her partnerabout her past. She feels a great deal of acceptance, committment and love from herpartner. She described her feeling of comfort with herself and her body, "I guess I get tobe me now...I get to relax", and acknowledged this is a process, that "the transition isstill being made to the good." At her present weight of 156 she feels comfortable and issurprised because she remembers being 20 pounds lighter and she wasn't any happier.5 2While living with her partner, she cared for his dying mother in their home. Thisexperience made her question how she thought about her body. She now wants to liveeach day to the fullest and does not want to put her life on hold waiting to look a certainway. She also feels as if she "has earned the right to be comfortable."She feels both sad for other women who are unhappy with their bodies andfrustrated when they put their lives on hold until they change their bodies. She isconcerned about her stepdaughter who is a ballerina and is showing signs of beinganorexic.Common Themes The process of data analysis yielded five common themes which were extractedfrom the women's in-depth interviews. Each of the themes mirrors the experience of allthe women. The quotations used in explicating the themes were chosen because they mostaccurately represent the essence of the women's experiences of feeling comfortable withtheir bodies. The following themes are not presented in any particular order or sequenceand are not suggestive of relative importance or frequency in the women's attempts tomeaningfully construct a sense of comfort with their bodies:1. Sense of Validation.2. Sense of Self Worth.3. Experience of Rejecting External Standards.4. Sense of Integration.5. Sense of Being at Home in Their Bodies.5 3The Context and ProcessAll of the five themes occurred within a context of each woman's experience offamily dynamics, relationships, and cultural expectations for women. Each of thesecontexts appeared to either facilitate or impede the women's development of a sense ofcomfort with their bodies and themselves. In articulating their stories the womenappeared to identify their experience of comfort with their bodies as a process. In theprocess of developing greater self acceptance the women became increasingly morecomfortable with their bodies. This developmental process seems to have involveddefining self within the above contexts, integrating masculine and femininecharacteristics and moving towards self acceptance. Each woman appeared to havechallenged or tested to some degree, the limits of ideals for female beauty, her ownsexuality, "rules" regarding stereotypical roles, her spiritual or religious beliefs, andher own capabilities, as part of the process of achieving self acceptance and comfort withher body. Each overcame some sense of shame associated with being a female and relatedto their sexuality and their body shape, size, and appearance. For all the women theprocess of becoming comfortable with their bodies appeared to involve rejectingpreviously held negative views of themselves and their bodies and integrating new, moreaffirming views.The comfort level that each women is currently experiencing with her bodyseems to represent a stage in an ongoing process towards increased comfort and issubject to some fluctuation from day to day, depending on how comfortable each woman isfeeling about herself as a woman. The discussion of each theme will relate how the5 4women have experienced comfort with their bodies so far in their process, and whatmeaning the women have made of their experiences within the contexts of family,relationships and culture.Discussion of the ThemesSense of Validation. Each of the women in the study expressed that a sense ofvalidation from significant people in their lives was a prerequisite for their selfacceptance and sense of comfort with their bodies. The women reported the importanceof feeling valued for their intellect, abilities and character, as well as for theirappearance. As the women began to feel valued for all aspects of themselves, andconsequently adequate as women they seemed to feel more free to focus on developing andenjoying other aspects of themselves, and were less concerned about their bodies and/orany potential physical inadequacies.The first context in which the women experienced validation, or lack of validationwas in their families. It was in this arena that the women first learned what role theirbodies played in how they were valued as females. For example, Angela recalled feeling"humiliated" and valued mainly for her sexual attributes when her father and olderbrother teased her about her lack of physical development as a young teen. Sheremembered "the one rational thought that saved me" when she said to herself, "this isnot my responsibility and I have no control over this", realizing that her body developedat it's own pace and the perceptions and beliefs of her father and brother were out of hercontrol. In recalling how she came to value herself, she remembers being motivated toseek out more validating and affirming relationships with men like her other younger5 5brother because "He saw all of me and he would listen to me...".Other women recalled comparing their bodies and themselves to other familymembers in order to gain a sense of validation, not always successfully. For example,Liz recalled being teased about "being fat" and comparing herself to her siblings as achild and always feeling like "the heaviest one in her family." She also recalled feelinghumiliated when her mother took her to Weight Watchers when she was eight years old,further contributing to her sense of inadequacy. As she grew up, Liz looked to othercontexts for validation.In contrast, Anne, Clara, and Moy Moy attributed some of their comfort withtheir bodies as children to the fact that their families placed little emphasis on whattheir bodies were like, and they recalled feeling valued for who they were and what theycould achieve or learn, not for how they looked. For example, Moy Moy recalled herfather telling her that "your spirit and your soul and your character...is more importantthan your physical body", leaving her free to develop and focus on other aspects ofherself. As the women grew up and experienced relationships outside the family,particularly from puberty onward, their definition of themselves as females and theirfeelings about their bodies seemed to be either confirmed or reshaped by the feedbackthey received in new relationships.All of the women in the study were heterosexual and expressed that feelingattractive both sexually and as a person to men, particularly those in their intimaterelationships, was a contributing factor to their sense of feeling validated as women, andin feeling comfortable with their bodies and their femininity. Angela summarized the5 6feeling of total validation she has in her relationship with her present partner: "Livingwith someone who responds to my body as my body... that part of the reason that he likesit is because it's mine, 'cause it belongs to me, rather than the other way around, but it'spart of the package and he likes the package... " contributes to her sense of being prized,validated and comfortable with her body the way it is.The women also expressed that feeling validated as "an equal" or as "a partner" bya significant partner in their lives and feeling "safe" to express the whole range of theircharacter increased their sense of comfort with their bodies. Anne described this"freedom of expression" with her current partner. With him, she feels "a big change" inher comfort with her body that she didn't realize was possible, and she attributes thisfeeling that she calls "feminine or human validation", to "the experience of feelingyourself loved and loving and having it reciprocated."When they did not feel the sense of acceptance they needed and desired, the womensought validation in relationships in other contexts. Both Robyn and Tillie experiencedtherapeutic relationships with professionals that enabled them to feel validated aswomen. For example, Tillie described the validation she received in a therapy group asthe experience of getting "understood in a very serious way" and "getting the right kindof help." Both women saw this therapy as being important in facilitating their movementtowards self acceptance, which contributed to an increased sense of comfort with theirbodies.There were a number of other ways in which the women acquired a sense ofvalidation and comfort with themselves and their bodies such as; their formal or5 7informal education, the experience of their ethnicity in the cultural setting they livedin, and the historical context in which they grew up. For example, at university, Angelafelt for the first time that "her intellect, her sense of humour, her ambitions" werebeing valued, especially by significant men such as her professors and men who wereattracted to her, so she was able to begin overcoming her previously held belief that herbody was the most important part of being a woman. She sensed that there was a broaderrange of what men considered "normal" in women's shapes than she had previouslythought, and that she fit within this range.At one time some of the women had felt inadequate and unattractive for their skincolor or their body shape and size, but in Canada, where cultural standards for femalebeauty were different, they found that the physical features representative of theirethnic background were considered more attractive and acceptable than they had been intheir countries of origin. For example, Liz was called "pretty" and Clara "exotic" byCanadians. Clara no longer felt "too skinny" in Canada. They felt validated as attractivewomen and felt more comfortable with their bodies than they had as children in theculture in which they were raised.On the other hand, Liz, Clara, Anne, and Moy Moy all recalled less rigid standardsfor female beauty in the cultures that they grew up in, when they observe what womenin Canada experience now. They reported that their experience of growing up in aculture with a wider range of prescribed standards for women's beauty enabled them tofeel a greater sense that their bodies were within a generally acceptable range than manyCanadian women do.5 8The ages of the women ranged from 23 to 58 so their experiences of culturalexpectations for women, and of political and social climate varied, and therefore eachwoman's experience of validation occurred in a different historical context. Forexample, Anne was raised just after WW II in Germany and in comparing her experienceto young women today she said, "we were far more career-oriented" because "the womenthere [in Germany] had to stay in the workforce because they were needed." She feltvalued for her scholastic achievements and recalled that "it wasn't important how welooked to anybody else." Both she and Moy Moy experienced living during a depressionwhere "we had to learn to do things ourselves." They both recalled a strong emphasis atthat time on economic survival with women being valued equally for their efforts in thisrole, and not for what they looked like, resulting in validation for other aspects ofthemselves.Sense of Self Worth. The women reported that they felt most comfortable withtheir bodies when they were feeling proud of their accomplished goals and satisfied withthe way they related to others. The experiences that each woman reported deriving asense of self worth from varied: travels, careers, athletics, education, and roles such asmother, friend or lover. All of the women perceived that their sense of self worth hadincreased over time. For example, Moy Moy felt that for her, one of the first stepstowards a positive sense of self worth and comfort with her body was being successful atmodelling and acting. As she said, "I found out through that course I guess that I was asgood as anybody else...I didn't feel inferior."In feeling worthy and valuing themselves, the women reported that they depended5 9less on the approval of others and consequently less pressured to meet external standardsof beauty. They seemed to have a sense of feeling "good enough", and this included theirbodies. They didn't seem to feel the need to "try harder" to be a better person or tochange their bodies in order to be perceived by others as a valuable person.When the women reached a point where they felt self sufficient and independentthey seemed to experience an increase in their sense of self worth, and feel that they didnot have to change their bodies or rely on their appearance to ensure financial oremotional support. Anne described how she felt about herself after she filed for herdivorce, "...despite the fact that I've had a lot of turbulence in the last few years, I feelphysically terrific. I feel probably more capable. I just have this feeling that I canhandle things." She reported having "far less financial security" than before, but wasnot worried about this, in fact now feels "more emotionally comfortable."The women experienced that they could get what they wanted out of life withoutchanging their bodies, so were comfortable with their bodies as they were. They seemedto have a sense that this feeling of being worthy was not a result of their appearance butof their skills, abilities, and hard work. They felt that options were open to them and didnot feel limited by their bodies, or feelings of discomfort with their bodies. They wereaware of and valued their own role in achieving their present comfort, and as Tillie putit, "I've earned the right to be comfortable."In taking on the responsibility for making their own choices, of being proactiveinstead of reactive, the women seemed confident and able to relax about their bodies andalso trust that they would cope with whatever came their way. For example, Liz6 0expressed how her choice to come to Canada, and to fend for herself, enhanced her senseof self worth: "Everything that I have done I've done it completely by myself. That givesyou confidence too." As each of the women's sense of self worth developed, their comfortwith their bodies increased. Some of the women felt this growth in self worth and bodycomfort quite dramatically, whereas others experienced the growth as more gradual andless profound.In recalling their childhood and youth, the women remembered the way in whichthey experienced their families and their school setting as having the most significantinfluences on their sense of self worth and how they felt about their bodies. Althoughnone of the women recalled their youth as a time when they felt especially good abouttheir bodies, they did recall some instances where they felt a positive sense of selfworth. For example, Angela described growing up between two brothers andexperiencing the "slopover effect" of hearing the messages they were getting: "I wantedto earn my own money and I wanted to be independent and I wanted to be in control of myown life", like she heard her brothers were supposed to be. Tillie also felt that beingraised with boys contributed to her strength and independence. This sense that they hadthe power to determine how they experienced the world motivated these women to find away to feel comfortable with their bodies and themselves.Although Anne and Clara rejected many of the standards expected of them duringtheir education at all girls' schools, they both expressed appreciation for the lack ofemphasis on appearance in this sheltered, all girls setting. They felt this environmentenabled them to feel free to experience other aspects of themselves without emphasis on6 1having to be attractive or fashionable. They felt that their sense of worth derived morefrom their achievements in academics, sports, or other school activities. Neither of thewomen recalled thinking much about what they looked like at all. As Anne said, "I neverfelt that I had to be any different" when she recalled how she felt about her appearancewhile in girls' school.All the women had post secondary education and derived a sense of self worth fromlearning, even if they felt they were not particularly academically inclined in school.The women cited the acquisition of knowledge through educational training or workexperience as contributing to their understanding of themselves and self acceptance. AsMoy Moy said, "I feel that I know a lot more about a lot of things than some people, so itsort of gives you a bit of extra confidence. I'm quite assertive now." Robyn expressedthat her desire to achieve in school was partly because, "I wanted to be somebody...thatmattered." When the women felt that they were "someone who mattered" for more thantheir bodies or their appearance, they seemed to feel more comfortable with theirbodies. This desire to matter, or make a difference, was expressed to some degree by allthe women, and was an important component in increasing their feelings of self worth.Some of the women reported gaining a sense of worth from starting their ownfamilies. For those women who were mothers, parenting was experienced as a source oftheir sense of worth. For Moy Moy, Clara, Anne, and Angela pregnancy was a time whenthey felt very comfortable with their bodies, and motherhood provided a sense ofaccomplishment and worth for them. Anne expressed that she felt some discomfort withher body during the time she could not conceive: "So body image, yeah, it sank a lot6 2during that time." She felt as though her body had failed her and she was dissappointedthat she could not be a mother as she had always assumed she would be. Consequently shefelt relieved and very good about her body when she finally did become pregnant. As Annesaid when describing how her pregnancy affected her body image: "That boosted metremendously."Feeling a sense of self worth enabled the women to set limits and be assertiveabout their needs in relationships, including how and when they would let others intotheir physical space. For example, Tillie and Angela both chose "to be the seducers oraggressors" in selecting partners and in ending relationships. Their sense of confidenceand pride in themselves enabled them to take control of their own experiences and theirown bodies, and consequently feel greater comfort with their bodies. In experiencing apositive sense of worth, Tillie was able to set limits in her relationships so that shedidn't feel emotionally or physically abused. In her words: "I'm starting to be very tightabout what I'll allow myself to tolerate anymore... ." This enabled her to feel betterabout herself and consequently better about her body.All of the women were employed outside the home, including those with smallchildren. Their experience in the workplace played a role in their sense of identity andin their sense of feeling capable and worthy. Each of the women expressed that a sense offeeling independent and autonomous, achieved partly through their various occupationalpursuits, contributed to their sense of self worth. Tillie reported that she felt a sense ofworth in identifying with other successful working women. When she saw women wholooked confident and successful getting on the bus she was driving, she felt that, "we're6 3sort of a lot alike in many ways." She saw that they had body shapes not much differentthan hers and she felt that this helped her feel comfortable with her own body. Tilliealso expressed the value of an adequate income and being respected at work incontributing to her sense of self worth: "All of a sudden I was making twice the wages andnobody can beat me up anymore... !" Feeling worthy in the workplace seemed to beimportant to these women in feeling worthy as women and consequently feelingcomfortable with their bodies.Experience of Rejecting External Standards.  The theme of rejectingexternal standards emerged in conjunction with the countertheme of conforming toexternal standards. The women struggled throughout the process of becoming comfortablewith their bodies to find a balance between these two experiences. All of the women inthe study expressed various ways in which they had rejected expectations for women'sappearance, roles, and behaviour throughout the process of becoming comfortable withtheir bodies and themselves. The women seemed to experience the rejection of externalstandards to some degree as a prerequisite to becoming comfortable with their bodies.They also accepted and fit within these standards which allowed them some latitude toreject other standards. Their desire for independence from cultural stereotypes forwomen and assertion of their own way of being was a theme that was important in thestories of all the women. Each of the women experienced some sense of struggling to finda way to fit in physically and socially while redefining their roles.The ways in which the women rejected stereotypes varied depending on theexpectations made of them to meet stereotypical standards of appearance and behavior6 4within their families, relationships, religious communities, and the culture at large.The women seemed to find rejection of external standards easier if they felt supported bytheir families and valued for aspects other than appearance, or if their mothers hadrejected external standards. For example, Clara recalled that she always felt supportedby her mother, who was "radical" and "unconcerned about appearance," in whatever shechose to do and she knew that her parents expected her to "be somebody." When thewomen did not feel a sense of validation or self worth in attempting to meet externalexpectations, they rejected these expectations and sought other ways of being thatenabled them to feel more comfortable with themselves and their bodies. They seemed togradually internalize their own criteria for determining comfort with their bodies andthemselves.Some of the ways that the women first expressed their rejection of femininestereotypes included; moving away from home and travelling, experimenting withunconventional ways of dressing, entering non-traditional career paths, postponing orrejecting traditional marriage and motherhood, joining "radical" causes, developingtheir athletic skills, and perhaps becoming competitive and generally behaving in waysunconventional for their cohorts and their sex. As the women became more comfortablerejecting these traditional standards of female behavior they reportedly did not seem toneed to be as rebellious in expressing their rejection, and they tended to be morecomfortable with their bodies. For example, Liz went through a stage of dressing andbehaving in what she perceived as very "radical" ways and discovered that "by havingthat kind of attitude people thought I was kind of cool. Like my body weight didn't really6 5matter... ." As she sensed that she could reject standards that did not fit for her and shewould still be accepted as a person, she began to feel more comfortable with her body asit was. Liz then did not feel the need to push the limits for behavior or dress anymore,or as she said, "I don't have to play this game anymore." She felt less of a need to appear"radical."Each of the women recalled a specific point in their lives when they began toadopt internal standards as the criteria for making important life decisions. When theydid not feel comfortable with themselves or their bodies, they looked for a way toimprove their comfort level, and to reject an external standard that they perceived waspreventing them from being comfortable. For Tillie, watching her mother-in-law dieprompted her to say to herself, "if I'm really a 'bon vivant' then I've got to stoppunishing myself for whatever it is I think my hip is doing or thigh is doing orsomething... ." At age 42, Anne recalled feeling "a big gap" and wondered, "what do I wantto do with the next 40 years....something has got to give?" In evaluating how they wantedto spend the rest of their lives, the women assessed how important the appearance oftheir body was to them, rejected the external message that beauty was supposed to bemost important, and consequently now feel much greater comfort with their bodies. Forexample, Moy Moy spoke of aging and how she is more concerned about maintaining herhealth, and not living in poverty when she is older, than worrying about what she lookslike.Each of the women expressed in some way that separation from the family, inemotional and physical terms, was very important to their sense of being able to reject6 6external standards and develop a sense of self worth. They identified this as a time whenthey began to grow towards greater comfort with their bodies and themselves. Forseveral of the women this meant leaving their countries and their homes. Liz describedthis as "escaping" and Anne said she removed herself "very consciously out of thatatmosphere." For other women separation from their families was facilitated byresolving conflicts and difficult relationships with parents. For example, Robynrecalled that when she stopped idolizing her father who she had "put on a pedestal" andrealized that he "was not the man" that she had thought he was, she did not feel the need tomeet with his approval anymore. She described the sense of freedom she felt when shestopped blaming herself for his alcoholism and violence: "slowly after that I think Ibegan to get a little better...I knew at that point that I was stronger... I knew it was him,not us... ." This allowed her to reject his standards and accept herself more fully,leaving her feeling in control of her own life, and her body.The women actually sought and found contexts and relationships where they didnot feel compelled to accept external standards for female beauty and behavior in orderto be accepted. This enabled them to feel comfortable with themselves and their bodies.For example, Angela recalled her decision to choose relationships: "I was 17 when I wentto university. I had decided that I would be the selector...I just didn't want to be sittingback quietly waiting for someone to chose me based on their impressions of my physicalappearance....) guess I wanted to be the one that said, 'This is what I've got to offer'." Thewomen expressed that their continued ability to question and choose to reject some ofthese external standards for women enables them to continue the process of becoming6 7comfortable with their bodies.Some of the women experienced a sense of being given permission to rejectexternal standards when they were exposed to feminist ideology or feminist role models.For example, through "reading feminist writings, listening to people talk about what itmeans to be a feminist, what it means to be liberated...as a human being", Tillie came tosee "feminism and the right that we claim to be comfortable with our bodies" to be animportant influence in her present sense of comfort with her body. She expressed that"feminism has allowed me to be the real me...and to be feminine at the same time." Inhearing the voices of women who spoke what she had felt about her body and being femalein the world, she no longer felt isolated. The women in the study felt that their ownexperiences and feelings as a women were validated and they were then more able toreject stereotypes for women's appearance and behavior that they did not feelcomfortable with and that did not fit with their own experiences or body images.Although some rejection of external standards occurred at various times and invarying degrees for the women, the essence of their experience was similar. At the timeof the study they all fit within parameters of acceptable cultural standards for femaleappearance and behavior, but felt as though they had chosen to meet only those externalcriteria that they felt comfortable living with. As Angela expressed it: "Sooner or lateryou had to satisfy yourself", or as Moy Moy said it, "You can't please everybody." Lizsaid that at 16 or 17 she, "just all of a sudden realized you have to make a stand foryourself...I decided I didn't want to have to try to be somebody that I wasn't really gonnaever be... ." As the women's sense of validation and self worth increased they became less6 8concerned with meeting external standards and yet at the same time had a sense of beingable to control and maintain the standards that they felt comfortable with. The womenreported experiencing less worry about what they looked like as they became more ableto reject some external standards of female beauty and behavior. They also felt morefreedom to focus on other aspects of how they lived their lives within the context ofmeeting and generally fulfilling many standards.Sense of Integration. The women's experience of rejecting external standardsappeared to be interconnected with their sense of integration of the characteristicswithin themselves traditionally labelled masculine and feminine. Through theirexperience of testing how gender related stereotypes of appearance and behavior fit forthem, the women were able to integrate their masculine and feminine characteristics andaccept themselves as the women they were, which included the bodies that they had. Thissense of integration was experienced by all the women.The women in this study expressed pride and comfort with their character traitsthat they described as " assertive", "aggressive", "competitive", "strong","independent", and "self-sufficient." Each woman had at some time in her lifeexperienced that these traits, whether being expressed through her body or herpersonality, were contrary to external expectations for women, and had struggled to finda way to feel comfortable with these traits. Anne expressed her mixed feelings about thestrength she had in her workplace: "I never saw myself in terms of femininity. I'vealways seen myself in terms of achievement and capability...I used to have the reputation[at work] as a bit of a dragon lady." All the women had experienced to varying degrees6 9that these characteristics were valued in men but not in women. Although they valuedthese characteristics in themselves, they seemed to need to find a way to express theseparts of themselves in ways that felt comfortable to them and that fit with theirexperience of themselves in their bodies. Experiencing contexts in which theirtraditionally defined masculine qualities were valued was important in the women'sintegration of these parts of themselves. When they were valued as strong women,particularly it seems by significant men in their lives, they could accept themselves aswomen and that included accepting their own femininity and female bodies. Anne feelsmore comfortable expressing her "softer" and more "mellow" side now in herrelationship with her new partner, and she believes as a result of this, at work too.When the women could integrate these qualities, they experienced a sense of wholenessand integration with the characteristics of their bodies, such as softness and sensuality.For each of the women it had been a struggle to learn to live with both of these sides ofthemselves and accept them. When they experienced a sense of "wholeness", they feltcomfortable expressing both sides of their character and were able to be morecomfortable with their bodies.All of the women had once struggled to clearly define their roles as womenthrough their behavior and the appearance of their bodies according to externalstandards, whereas they now felt more relaxed and comfortable in their uniqueexpression of their femaleness according to a definition that fit for them. For example,Anne said, "All these things don't matter anymore (role definitions)....and maybe thethings that traditionally I perceived as female, things I would have absolutely resented7 0and not done simply on principle...they've just evaporated." Angela summed up herexperience of integration like this: "I guess what it comes down to is that for me, widehips are part of being female and I was bucking being female in various ways, and nowI've stopped, stopped fighting it and said, 'Yes I'm female. This is my body.' and put it init's proper place."The women felt that the cultural and historical contexts in which they grew upinfluenced the way they were able to integrate all of their characteristics, and the waythey felt about their bodies. Angela, Tillie and Clara all spoke of the influence of theculture of the 60s and early 70s on their exposure to new ways of looking at the worldand themselves and at women's roles and worth. Sexual and intellectual freedom allowedthem to discover and experiment with who they were and provided them with access toinformation about sexuality, politics, and women's roles. Through this experimentationthey had an opportunity to find a way to express themselves as women in a way that feltcomfortable for them. For example, Tillie rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle forawhile. Angela recalled a time when she "dressed like a boy" to make the statement,"let's establish person to person relationships here first before we tumble into bedtogether." When she felt "respected" for herself as a person she did not feel the need tohide her sexuality anymore by dressing like a male and "eventually decided that was a bitextreme." She was able to integrate the masculine aspects of herself and the feminineand feel comfortable with both. In terms of her appearance, she described herself as nowbeing "at that point where I dress to feel comfortable. I'm not locked in. I've gotflexibility to communicate my mood."7 1Some of the women acknowledged the contribution of feminism to their acceptanceof themselves and their bodies. Exposure to feminist ideology introduced the women tothe possibility of being able to integrate both their masculine and feminine sides and tofind a way to express themselves as women and experience their bodies in ways thatwere comfortable for them. For example, Clara felt that her feminist politics had thegreatest influence on her present comfort with her body because of "the fact that I'maware of...how this [stereotypical expectations for women] can be used to sort of keeppeople down and...how it's all tied into commercial things and tied into financial things."Angela and Tillie recalled however, that in spite of the opportunities that the 60sprovided for women to redefine how they could comfortably be in their bodies, they alsoexperienced that the emphasis on thinness in fashion influenced their desire to bethinner as adolescents and young adults.Some of the women expressed that the workplace was often a testing ground fordiscovering how sexual stereotypes fit for them. Finding a way to integrate theirmasculine and feminine characteristics into their definition of themselves was bothchallenged and facilitated in various work settings. Anne recalled being very consciousof her behavior and dress at work because it was important to her "to be percieved as[gender] neutral... ." She had experienced that minimizing her femaleness through herdress was necessary in order to be accepted and to not feel her strength and capabilitiesdevalued by comments about her sexuality. For other women, work was a place wherethey felt valued for their contributions and not for what they looked like. Liz worked inone job where she said she was "hired partly for her looks" and she spoke of this with72discomfort. It seemed important for her to know that she was valued for othercontributions, such as her artistic and sales ability, in order to feel comfortable withher body in that setting. A sense of not having to negate any part of themselves,masculine or feminine, appeared to enable the women to experience a sense of integationor wholeness which was essential for them to feel comfortable in and with their bodies.Sense of Being at Home in their Bodies. All of the women expressed thatthey liked how their bodies feel, that they enjoy feeling "healthy" and "alive." At thetime of the interviews the women were at a place where they could honestly say theywere generally pleased with their shapes, their sizes and their appearance. The womenall had come to enjoy the sensations and pleasures that they were able to experiencethrough their bodies. They expressed appreciation for the physical attributes that theyhad been given, in the form of a proportioned body or good health. The women who hadchildren felt physically and emotionally "wonderful" during their pregnancies and wereexcited and fascinated with the changes that their bodies went through. Anne expressedthis sense of comfort in her body as feeling more "connected to the outside world", more"capable and emotionally comfortable." As she said, " I just have this feeling that I canhandle things." Robyn felt a sense of strength from hard-earned success in sports andfrom the physical sensation her body had while she was participating in sports andrunning. She felt "like a powerful animal." For the women this comfort in their bodiesseemed to reflect their comfort with, and optimism about what they were doing in theirlives.Each of the women believed that they fit within a "normal" physical range of7 3culturally acceptable standards for women's beauty. They did not want to change. Eachreported that they anticipated continuing to feel comfortable with their bodies as long asthey stayed within this "normal" range. Liz felt her body was "very in balance." Angelafelt her body was "within the range of normalcy." As Clara said, "I'm really lucky 'causeI just don't gain any weight. You know basically I've always been the same weight exceptwhen I was pregnant." Tillie felt that her "shape was quite kind" to her. Also the factthat she could fit into standard retail clothing sizes at various weights contributed toTillie's comfort with her body shape. The women felt that as long as they fell within arange for body weight and appearance that they perceived as acceptable, they were ableto relax and feel comfortable with their bodies.Each of the women discussed a weight range within which they felt comfortable.The degree of fluctuation within each woman's range varied from woman to woman andvaried at different times and stages in their lives. The times when they wereexperiencing the greatest emotional discomfort, were also the times when they dislikedtheir bodies. For example, Robyn felt "ugly" when she was going through breakups withher boyfriends. Some of the women gained weight or lost weight at times of emotionaldistress, to a point where they felt uncomfortable with their bodies. Tillie gained about40 pounds when she felt sexually harassed and "out of her comfort zone culturally" inTunisia. Liz lost "about 40 pounds" when she broke up with a boyfriend. The womenreported that emotional upheaval often triggered a change in their eating and/or exercisepatterns; they either experienced a sense of wanting to eat for comfort, or a loss ofappetite that kept them from eating much at all, or gave up on regular exercising habits7 4when they were particularly distressed. The women seemed to feel the most comfortablein their bodies when they were the most comfortable with themselves and theirrelationships emotionally.Feeling safe in relationships with men, feeling that their partners weretrustworthy and committed and that their partners accepted them unconditionally, wereimportant factors in their sense of comfort with their bodies. For example, Tillie saidwith relief, "Nobody is afraid of anybody...FINALLY"! For her, safety meant feeling freeto be honest without the fear of being rejected or physically beaten. For the women withpartners part of this safety meant feeling free to enjoy and express their sexualitywhich was also expressed through their bodies.The attitude held by the women regarding the role of physical fitness in theircomfort with their bodies seemed to reflect the historical era that they grew up in. Lizand Robyn, the youngest of the women, were both physically active and expressed thevalue of being physically fit in their sense of comfort with their bodies. The women whogrew up during the culture of the 60s and 70s felt that experimentation with aspects ofthemselves other than physical fitness enabled them to find ways to be comfortable intheir bodies. Exercise was not particularly important to their sense of bodily comfort.Moy Moy, who is 58, considers herself "very active" in that she "never sits still", soobtains her exercise mainly through her daily routines of living rather than throughspecific sports or fitness activities. This sense of being active helps her to feelcomfortable with her body. Each of the women expressed in some way that they enjoyedthe physical experience and sensations of being in the body that they have now.7 5ConclusionIn conclusion, the women in the study experienced the development of their senseof comfort with their bodies as a process. They attributed experiences within thecontext of their families, their intimate relationships, their relationships with friendsand colleagues and their culture as being influential in shaping the way they felt and nowfeel about themselves and their bodies. The process of growth towards self acceptanceseemed to parallel the women's experience of becoming comfortable with their bodies.Each of the women acknowledged their awareness that this is a continuing lifelongprocess.7 6CHAPTER FIVEDiscussionIt was the purpose of this study to explore the phenomenon of women feelingcomfortable with their bodies. The research question asked was "What is the experienceand meaning of body image for women feeling comfortable with their bodies"? In thischapter a narrative will be presented representing a synopsis of the women'sexperience. The common themes emerging from the participant's accounts will then bediscussed as they relate to the literature on body image development. Finally theimplications for future research and counselling will be considered.Narrative of the Women's Experience of Comfort with their Bodies The seven women in the study represented a range of ages from 23 to 58, andreflected a diverse mix of cultural, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds. Thecompositions of their families of origin varied, as did their present family structure.The women feel that they now fit within parameters that they perceive as "normal" or"average" for women's appearance in their present cultural environment, andconsequently do not feel the need to change their bodies. All the women experiencedacceptance of and comfort with their bodies as a developmental process occurringconcurrently with their increasing sense of self worth.The process began as the women defined themselves as female within the contextof their families, receiving messages from parents, siblings, and extended familymembers that either facilitated or impeded the women's sense of comfort withthemselves and their bodies. As they interacted with others in their community, such as7 7peers, teachers, clergy, and the society at large, they further refined their perceptionsof themselves as women. In attempting to conform to external standards for femaleappearance and behavior in these contexts, they found some cultural expectations thatthey felt uncomfortable with. All of the women had experiences that left them feelingthat they, including their bodies, were somehow inadequate. And yet at the same timethere were some aspects of their bodies and themselves that they had always feltcomfortable with, some of which they sensed met cultural standards.At puberty the women experienced a heightened awareness of how they did or didnot measure up to cultural standards for female beauty and behavior, resulting in asense of self conciousness about their sexual development. As the women grew intoadulthood and their bodies matured, they experienced an increase in comfort with theirbodies. The women's level of body comfort varied, increasing as they felt validated forall aspects of themselves and felt a greater sense of self worth. Each woman's sense ofadequacy evolved in a slightly different context depending on her family dynamics, ethnicbackground, the cultural setting and historical era she grew up in, her education, heroccupational pursuits, and her relationships. Although the degree to which each woman'scomfort level had changed since childhood varied, each of the participants hadexperienced times when they did not feel comfortable with their bodies. At times whenthe women had struggled with finding a way to fit socially and physically in theirenvironment, they also had struggled with meeting external standards for female beautyand behavior, and recalled not being as comfortable with their bodies.The women needed external validation during the beginning of their development7 8of female identity. As the women gained knowledge of themselves and the expectations forwomen in their social context, they experimented with pushing the limits forstereotypical women's roles and external standards for female beauty. As the womenfound themselves in contexts and relationships where they felt free to reject externalstandards, their sense of validation and self worth increased. When they were more ableto let go of external standards and internally define criteria for being a woman that fitfor them, they were more able to accept and be comfortable with their bodies. As theybegan to integrate all parts of themselves, especially those characteristics traditionallylabelled masculine or feminine, they did not feel as great a need to change to meetexternal standards, and therefore became more comfortable with themselves and theirbodies.Throughout their process the women experienced contexts, some of which theyactively sought out, in which they felt a sense of validation for all aspects of themselves.It was important to their sense of comfort with themselves and their bodies to findcontexts and relationships that supported their definition of themselves as women. Thewomen all recalled that times when they were the most satisfied with their relationshipsand themselves were the times when they felt most comfortable with their bodies, andvice versa.Through their experiences the women gained a sense of self worth that meant theywere not as dependent on others to approve of them and their bodies in order to feel apositive sense of self worth. In not trying to meet with others' approval the women werethen able to relax and be comfortable with the bodies they had. At the time of the study7 9the women had developed to a point where they generally liked their bodies for the waythey looked, the way they felt, and for functioning in a comfortable way. The women hadaccomplishments and achievements that they were proud of and felt that they deserved tofeel comfortable with themselves and their bodies. With this sense of being able toaccomplish and achieve what they needed in life the women felt less dependent on othersin order to meet their needs, so they were not as concerned about meeting externalstandards for women's appearance and behavior.Discussion of the FindingsFive central themes were identified as common to each of the women participatingin this research; a sense of validation, a sense of self worth, the experience of rejectingexternal standards, a sense of integration, and a sense of being at home in their bodies.The content of these themes will be discussed in relationship to the literature availableon body image development and on factors influencing body image development;sociocultural, interpersonal, and intrapsychic.Body Image Development. In the literature the developmental nature of bodyimage as a process is alluded to, with reference to the experience of the physical changesof puberty, pregnancy, and aging for women being particularly critical to a woman'ssense of comfort or discomfort with her body (Martin, 1987; Rubin, 1979; Ussher,1989). The women in the study experienced these bodily changes as being influential intheir sense of comfort with their bodies, especially at adolescence. These authors agreethat self worth is critical to the development of body image and, in particular, identifytimes of physical change as being socially loaded and as such, having the potential to8 0make these changes negative rather than positive. Five of the women in the studyreached puberty relatively late, at ages 14 to 16. They expressed some relief in finallydeveloping physically but did not identify menarche as an emotionally upsettingexperience. The significance of the late onset of menarche in the body image developmentof these women is not clear but perhaps indicates a distinct body type of developmentalmaturity that resulted in puberty being experienced as less difficult or distressing(Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Garner et al., 1980; Silberstein et al., 1988).An important part of the women's process of becoming comfortable with theirbodies involved breaking away from the need for external validation and eventuallyrejecting some of the external constraints that are traditionally are used to definewomen. Although theorists who describe body image development for women suggest thatcultural expectations have a significant impact on women's body images, they do notprovide evidence that testing the limits of stereotypical expectations for women is anecessary part of becoming comfortable with one's body (Fisher,1986; Greenspan,1983; Jagger & Bordo, 1989). A focus on the physical components of body image in theresearch literature may be due to the fact that body image research is often undertakenwith women experiencing eating disorders, when one of the main goals of treatment is toimprove the woman's physical health and reduce the physical symptoms of the disorder.The women in the study recalled at various times feeling ashamed of their bodiesand of being female. They overcame many of these feelings as part of the process ofbecoming comfortable with themselves and their bodies. As the women felt a sense ofvalidation for other aspects of themselves, particularly from their sexual partners,8 1they reportedly became more comfortable with their sexuality. They were then able tobegin to reject familial, cultural, or religious values that had made them feel ashamed oftheir bodies or of being female. The need for women to overcome their shame in order tofeel adequate and worthy is supported by several feminist researchers and theorists(Bartky, 1990; Martin, 1987; Ussher, 1989)The women in the study experienced fluctuations in their comfort with theirbodies as their feelings of self worth fluctuated. When they were feeling particularlycomfortable with themselves as women they reported feeling comfortable with theirbodies. Some researchers report the occurence of this fluctuation in body image(Martin, 1987; Sanford & Donovan, 1984) and others have observed a relationshipbetween feelings of self worth and positive body image (Baird & Sights, 1986; Rodin,1992; Rosen & Ross, 1968). The findings of this study suggest that fluctuations in selfworth may contribute to fluctuations in bodily comfort. The women in this study wereasked to describe how they were experiencing their lives at the times when they feltmost comfortable with their bodies, and to indicate how this experience might have beendifferent than when they weren't feeling good about their bodies. The women thendiscussed the factors they felt were relevant to their sense of feeling comfortable withtheir bodies. This focus on the women's total experience, rather than on just herexperience of her body, revealed data that indicated the importance of self worth andpersonal validation to body image development.The women's sense of self worth appeared to also have some impact on theirrelationship to food. Much of the research on body image has been done in the context of8 2studying eating disordered women who have negative body images and a relatively lowsense of self worth (Baird & Sights, 1986; Bouwers, 1990; Brown et al.,1988;Wolchik, Weiss & Katzman, 1986). Although the women in this study did not reportthat they were concerned about their relationship to food at this time, they did reportchanges in their eating habits and their relationship with food and/or exercise duringtimes when they were not feeling positive about themselves. The reasons given by thewomen for their change in eating or exercise behaviors varied and included; eating foremotional comfort, eating or not exercising to punish themselves, losing their appetiteas a result of an emotional upset, gaining weight to hide their sexuality when they feltunsafe, changing their shape to fit in socially with friends or to seek employment, andweight fluctuations when they were adjusting to a new environment or culture. Theirbehavior changes resulted in a change in the appearance of their bodies but themotivation behind the body changes appeared to be related to a desire to change theirfeelings about their inner selves. This finding is consistent with the belief held by sometheorists and researchers that many women respond to their emotional distress, or lossof a sense of worth, by changing eating habits (Chernin, 1986; Katzman et al., 1986;Orbach, 1979; Wolf, 1991; Woodman, 1982). At the time of the study the womenseemed to have developed an accurate sense of what food and exercise their bodies neededfor their mental and physical health, and they were comfortable following this sense.Three of the women indicated that being physically active was important to theirsense of comfort with their bodies and themselves. The way in which they derived theirexercise varied and their motivation for exercising ranged from wanting to be healthy,8 3to enjoying nature, to feeling powerful. This evidence suggests that physical fitness mayindeed contribute to women's sense of self worth and comfort with their bodies and isconsistent with findings of researchers studying the body images of women who exercise(Davis, 1990; Silbertstein et al., 1988; Skrinar et al., 1986).The experience of body image for the women in the study was complex andmultidimensional, as described in the literature (Butters & Cash, 1987; Fisher, 1986;Hutchinson, 1982, 1985). The women identified a number of factors that they believedinfluenced their feelings about their bodies. Consistent with Bartky (1990), Fisher(1986), Garner et al. (1980), and Rubin (1979), the participants described thepressures from their families, peers and the culture at large to meet stereotypicalstandards for women. They stressed the influence of their interpersonal relationshipson their sense of comfort with themselves. The experiences of the women in this studyconfirmed that body image development involves more than just women's experiences oftheir bodies, but also the women's responses to their relationships and their culturalcontext.The desire to improve their quality of life in terms of their comfort withthemselves and their bodies was a common experience recalled by the women in thestudy. In the beginning of the process of becoming comfortable with their bodies thewomen were mainly aware of how their feelings about their body's appearance affectedtheir comfort with themselves. Eventually they changed their focus for personal growthtowards their internal experience as women. There is abundant evidence in theliterature supporting the prevalence of women attempting to change their bodies in8 4order to become more comfortable with themselves, with such attempts often notmeeting with success and perhaps leading to eating disorders (Greenberg, 1990; Healthand Welfare Canada, 1991; MacDonald, 1986; Mitchell et al., 1988; Schwartz, 1992;Stunkard & Penick, 1979; Wolf, 1991). This inner focus, as opposed to a focus onchanging one's body through cosmetics, dieting, exercise, or surgery, appeared to be adifferent approach than many women have taken in responding to discomfort with theirbodies and themselves, and may have accounted for the success these women have had incoming to a place where they feel comfortable with both themselves and their bodies.The women expressed that they felt as though they were still experiencing the process ofchange in their comfort with themselves and their bodies. According to the perceptionsof the women in this study comfort with their bodies seemed to be connected to anincreased sense of self worth and personal validation. This finding lends support tointerventions focussed on improving women's self esteem and changing their internalperceptions of themselves as a means to improve body image (Baird & Sights, 1990;Bergner et al., 1985; Butters & Cash, 1987; Frey & Carlock, 1989; Hutchinson,1982, 1985; McNamara, 1989)The women experienced that their concern about their bodies and the importancethey placed on the appearance of their bodies diminished as they got older. The womenattributed this increased bodily comfort to a number of possible changes they hadexperienced including having time for their own interests or career, having an overallsense of achievement and control in their lives, letting go of external expectations, andexperiencing an increased sense of self worth. This finding was consistent with the8 5experience of some midlife women in other studies (Rubin, 1979; Vann Rackley et al.,1988), and provides evidence that becoming comfortable with one's body is adevelopmental process.Sociocultural Factors. Many theorists and researchers described women withnegative body images as feeling that they do not measure up to external standards(Bartky, 1990; Brouwers, 1990; Greenspan, 1983; Hutchinson, 1982, 1985;Millman, 1980; Rodin, 1992; Wolf, 1991). Some theorists and researchers havefocussed mainly on the influence of cultural expectations of physical beauty on women'sbody image development (Cash et al., 1986; Fisher, 1986; Garner et al., 1980).Recently however, more researchers and theorists, particularly those studying femalesexuality, are emphasing the role of cultural definitions of both female beauty andbehavioral roles in women's development of comfort with themselves and their bodies(Bartky, 1990; Greenspan,1983; Jagger & Bordo, 1989; Martin, 1987; Ussher,1989). Consistent with the perspectives of Bartky, Ussher, and Greenspan, the womenin this study perceived that their sense of comfort with their bodies was somewhatdependent on feeling as though they fit within cultural expectations for both femalebeauty and behavioral roles. For example, in describing how they felt about theirphysical appearance the women used the terms "normal" or "average." However, whenthere were some external standards that they did not feel comfortable with, part of theirprocess of becoming comfortable with their bodies was to reject some of those standards.One way of feeling able to reject some external standards for the women was toexperience contexts and relationships where they were validated for all aspects of8 6themselves and therefore did not feel the need to change themselves or their bodies. Theywere then able to redefine to a certain extent a version of female identity that was morecomfortable for them than perhaps the ideal they had once thought they needed to meet.Barfly (1990) and Greenspan (1983) both describe how women's sense ofadequacy, power and control in their lives is often dependent on meeting these culturallyprescribed criteria for appearance and behavior, and emphasized the dilemma this posesfor women given the narrowness of these cultural definitions. The women in the studyappeared to have resolved this dilemma of valuing themselves and their bodies and stillfitting in socially. Through the process of experiencing relationships and contextswhere they felt validated and worthy, and where they were able to reject some externalstandards and still feel accepted, the women were eventually able to define themselves ina way that left them feeling comfortable with their bodies. Rubin (1979) observed thisprocess of defining self in some midlife women. She concluded that the process ofincorporating a new definition of self, of internalizing "a new self image, to claim it asone's own" (p.61), takes perhaps years for women to accomplish.One of themes common to all the women was a sense of being at home in theirbodies and enjoying the physical sensations of their bodies. The women with childrenreported that during pregnancy they felt "wonderful" about their bodies. According tothe literature this is an atypical response for many women, since many women reportfeeling alienated from their bodies during pregnancy (Martin, 1987; Rubin, 1979;Ussher, 1989). Motherhood is a valued and expected role for women, and was a choicefor the women in this study. Motherhood and pregnancy appeared to be an important part8 7of their identity and was therefore a welcome experience. All the women experiencedgood health and had no complications during their pregnancy so their physical experiencewas positive also. They all recalled receiving support and validation from significantpeople in their lives while they were pregnant. Their sense of meeting with externalstandards for women's roles and being in control of their experience may havecontributed to a sense of validation and self worth which may have been important totheir sense of comfort with their bodies. This finding is similar to that of Martin(1987) who observed that some of the women in her study, although a minority, werecomfortable with bodily processes such as pregnancy, and she suggested that this maycontribute to their comfort with their bodies and themselves. Ussher (1989) suggeststwo other possible explanations for a sense of bodily comfort during pregnancy, freedomfrom being seen as a sexual object and permission to gain weight. Experiencing freedomto not meet cultural standards for female beauty at this time may enable women to relaxand feel more comfortable with their bodies.Cultural standards for female beauty also appear to differ according to ethnicity.There is evidence in this study that ethnicity and cultural background did play a role inthe women's sense of comfort with their bodies. Dolan (1991) reported that there islittle reference to the role of ethnicity in the literature on eating disorders. Althoughshe cites some evidence of bodily discomfort among black and Asian women in eatingdisorder studies, non-white women are notably absent in studies of eating disorders andbody image. The women in this study perceived that different standards for femalebeauty exist in the different cultural and ethnic settings that they had lived in. For8 8example, Clara's dark skin was considered "too dark" in Colombia, but "exotic" here.The women experienced that the meaning of skin color, body shape, facial features, andappropriate expression of sexuality were all defined differently in the different culturalcontexts within which they lived. When the women felt that their physical features andbehavior were considered acceptable within the cultural setting that they wereexperiencing at a given time, they were more comfortable with their bodies andthemselves. The implication from this study is that cross-cultural factors areimportant to women's body image development and that our knowledge of how thesefactors affect women's comfort with their bodies needs to be expanded.interpersonal Factors. The experience of the women in the study supports thetheory that body image develops in response to interactions with other people (Fisher,1986; Kegan, 1982). A sense of validation for all aspects of self was an importanttheme for all the women in the process of developing comfort with themselves and theirbodies. The women reported that significant others, such as family members andpartners in intimate relationships, were particularly influential in the developmenttheir sense of total validation. The women sought validation first in their families then,as they separated from family, found validation in other significant relationships. Whenthe women felt validated in their significant adult relationships they seemed to be lessconcerned about gaining the approval of the culture at large. The influence of significantothers in the formation of body image has been identified by several theorists (Fisher,1986; Gilligan et al., 1991; Hutchinson, 1982; Pike & Rodin, 1991). For theheterosexual women in this study, it was important to feel valued both for sexual8 9attractiveness and all other aspects of self by significant men in their lives, especiallytheir intimate partners. This seemed to be a necessary prerequisite to theirdevelopment of self acceptance.Fisher (1986) suggests that the influence of family members on body image issignificant but also complex and not easily determined. Researchers in the field of eatingdisorders have also found that addressing family dynamics is important in theimprovement of body image of women with eating disorders (Boskind-White & White,1983; Brouwers, 1990; Root & Fallon, 1989). Evidence in this study supportstheories that family relationships are important and provides some insight into the waysin which the family might influence women's comfort with themselves and their bodies.One of the roles that family members appeared to play in the formation of body image forthe women in this study was to provide the first set of external criteria against whichthe women evaluated themselves as a women, and that included their bodies. The way inwhich the women evaluated themselves in their family context seemed to set the stage forhow they were to move through the process of becoming comfortable with themselves andtheir bodies, and how and if they would be able to reject unrealistic or restrictiveexternal standards. The women looked for contexts and relationships that confirmed thepositive feelings they had about themselves and their bodies in their families, or thatwould enable them to change negative feelings about themselves and their bodies that haddeveloped in their family of origin. The importance of parental perceptions in thedevelopment of body image for women, especially women's relationships with theirmothers, is reported in the literature (Eichenbaum & Orbach, 1983; Lasorsa & Fodor,9 01990; Pike & Rodin, 1991; Woodman, 1982). Those women who felt a relative sense ofcomfort about themselves and their bodies in their families, seemed to have an easiertime of maintaining this sense of comfort as adults.The women in the study reported that their experiences of separating from theirfamilies and finding their own comfortable definition of being a woman were importantto the development of their sense of comfort with themselves and their bodies.Separation emotionally and physically from family seemed to also be important for themto let go of some external standards and to not feel the need to meet with approval offamily members in order to feel comfortable with their bodies. Developmentalliterature refers to the difficulty women experience in differentiating, or separatingfrom family, and stresses the importance of this task in women forming their ownidentity (LaSorsa & Fodor, 1990; Miller, 1984; Surrey, 1984; Woodman, 1982).Rubin (1979) observed that separation from family felt very threatening to manywomen in her study and was for them a lifelong struggle for independence. The need tobreak away from external validation in order to become comfortable with their bodies,seemed to first be acted out for the women in this study in this break from familyexpectations. This finding also concurs with literature that reports the need for healthyseparation from family members and values as important in the resolution of eatingdisorders, and the improvement of body image in women with eating disorders (Baird &Sights, 1986; Boskind-White et al., 1983; Friedlander & Seigel, 1990).The women in this study reported that feeling safe with and trusting in theirintimate partners allowed them to feel free to express all aspects of themselves, hence9 1leaving them free to experience many pleasures related to their bodies and feelingcomfortable with themselves. The literature does not specifically identify a sense ofsafety and trust in relationships as being a necessary prerequisite to the development ofa positive body image. However, the experience of being sexually abused, an extremebreech of trust, reportedly can contribute to a negative body image (Kearney-Cooke,1986; Root & Fallon, 1989). When the women were able to set limits and be assertivein their relationships they also had a sense of control over their bodies, which increasedtheir physical comfort. In describing women's development and identity, LaSorsa andFodor (1990), Miller (1984), and Surrey (1984) emphasized the importance forwomen to establish clear boundaries in their relationships in order to maintain aseparate sense of self.Intrapsychic Factors. The women's internal interpretations of theirinterpersonal and cultural interactions appeared to influence their feelings aboutthemselves and their bodies, as did the women's responses to their bodily experiences.The meaning women construct of their experiences is believed by several theorists toaffect body image development (Fisher, 1986; Sanford & Donovan, 1984; Thompson &Thompson, 1986; Ussher, 1989). A sense of feeling at home in their bodies oftenappeared to be the women's response to enjoying the sensations experienced by theirbodies during various activities and in feeling healthy. Times that the women recallednot feeling comfortable with their bodies were often times that they were feelingemotional trauma in response to relationships in their environment. They experiencedcomfort with themselves and their bodies when they were satisfied with their9 2relationships.Kegan (1982) identifies the tasks of "construction of role" and "emergence ofself concept" as being significant during adolescence as women form their identity. Theresponse of the women in the study to role expectations appeared to be very important intheir development of comfort with their bodies. The women's need to experiment withand test roles is consistent with Kegan's theory. The women recalled adolescence as atime when this process of defining their female identity became particularly salient.They also reported feeling the sociocultural expectations for women acutely duringadolescence. Negotiating the split that women begin to feel in adolescence between theirown experience and what they sense is expected of them culturally is reportedly one ofthe difficult tasks of this developmental stage (Martin, 1887; Ussher, 1989). Thewomen in this study experienced this struggle and seemed to be reaching a stage ofintegration. Through the process of experimenting with stereotypical expectations andrejecting those that they were uncomfortable with, the women finally found a way tonegotiate a fit that was congruent with their experience of themselves and their bodiesand yet still fell within socially acceptable standards.There is some evidence to indicate that self worth plays a role in body imagedevelopment (Rodin, 1992; Rosen & Ross, 1968; Sanford et al., 1984;Thompson,1986; Thompson et al.,1986; Vann Rackley et al., 1988). Gilligan (1991)observed a drop in self-worth for girls during adolescence. This experience was alsoreported by the women in this study. The women identified adolescence as a time whenthey were significantly less comfortable with both their bodies and themselves than they9 3were at the time of this study. They recalled adolescence as a time when they were veryaware of cultural expectations for female sexuality and often felt inadequate. However,as they felt a greater sense of self worth, the women in the study experienced greatercomfort with their bodies. Their sense of self worth did not appear to be only a result ofmeeting external standards for attractiveness but also as a result of experiencingpersonal validation. Feeling worthy also appeared to result from the women'sexperience of feeling self sufficient and independent while choosing to meet only thoseexternal standards for female appearance and behavior that they were comfortable with.As the women's self worth increased, their sense of control over their bodies andconsequently their comfort increased.Limitations of the Study A phenomenological methodology was utilized, because the goal of this study wasto describe the experiences of feeling comfortable with their bodies for seven adultwomen, and to articulate the meanings they made of these experiences. In this study theexperience of women feeling comfortable with their bodies was explored within thelimitations of a 2 hour interview with each participant. Additional interviews, with agreater number of participants, could provide a more complete exploration of thisphenomenon. There is an assumption in phenomenological research that through thecareful bracketing of the researcher's biases, the purposeful selection of information-rich cases, and the interpretation of themes common to the participants' experiences,the final analysis of themes will have "empathic generalizability" (Osborne, 1990, p.86) to those readers who have experienced the phenomenon. The above mentioned9 4research process outlined by Osborne was followed by the researcher in this study. It ishoped that other women feeling comfortable with their bodies will be able to "empathize"with the experiences of the women in this study.This research relied on the participants' self reports, which were dependent onthe recollections of the participants and on their levels of self awareness. As the goal ofthis phenomenological research was to describe the experiences that women identify asmost salient to the development of comfort with their bodies, self reporting was anappropriate method of data collection. However, during both the initial and validationinterviews, the need for social approval may have played a role in how the participantsresponded (Borg & Gall, 1989). Although there was a risk that social desirability mightaffect the participants' responses to the results, the validation interviews in this studyserved several purposes. The researcher was able to address the ethical responsibilityof closure in her relationship with the participants. Also, the opportunity to contributeto and respond to the results seemed to be important to the participants. They expresseda sense of inclusion and empowerment during the validation interviews, and ownershipof the final analysis. The interviews also provided a means of determining the accuracyof the researcher's analysis.Because the number of participants was limited to seven, to enable a rich and indepth description of the phenomenon, this research was not exhaustive. Colaizzi (1978)acknowledges that such a study is never "complete or final" (p.70). The intent of theresearch was not to provide a definitive description of the phenomenon, but to explicatethemes that were common to the participants' experience of feeling comfortable with9 5their bodies. In accordance with Colaizzi's phenomenological methodology, the findingsfrom this research were meant to stimulate further exploration of this phenomenon,women feeling comfortable with their bodies, in order to challenge and further refinethe themes extracted from this data.Implications for Future Research A review of research on women who have a positive body image illustrates thatknowledge of this experience for women is significantly limited. This study representsonly a beginning exploration of this phenomenon, so it is hoped that the findings willstimulate further research into the experience of women with positive body images, oras defined for this study, women who feel comfortable with their bodies.Existing research has often studied women who have negative body images. It wasthe intention in this study to approach women's body image development from a positiveperspective in order to begin to understand the factors that facilitate this experience forwomen. Given that the sample size was limited to seven, more research utilizing agreater number of women is needed to further explore the experience of positive bodyimage for women and to further refine the themes. The criteria established forparticipant selection in this study was not restricted to specific age or cultural groupsin order to allow the emergence of these factors as they were relevant to the themes.Cultural, historical, and ethnic factors all appeared to be salient in the women's bodyimage development. For example, five of the women in this study grew up in culturesother than English speaking Canada. Researchers might select to use purposefulsampling based on age, sexual orientation, race, and cultural contexts in future studies9 6to clarify the role these factors play in body image development for women.The weight and height statistics for the women in this study indicate that they allwere physically quite consistent with "average" standards of bodily acceptability forwomen in North America. They also all perceived that they fell within acceptablestandards for female beauty and behavior in the cultural context of Greater Vancouver.This evidence implies that further research is needed to determine if women who arephysically outside "average" standards, and/or who perceive themselves as fallingoutside these standards, develop a sense of comfort with their bodies, and if so, whetherthe themes emerging from this study are consistent with their experiences.The women participating in this study reported a sense of being at home in theirbodies. They did not have any visible physical disabilities or report any physicalrestrictions that interfered with their comfort with themselves or their bodies. Thereis a need to research how the experience of being disabled affects women's body images,and how disabled women begin to feel comfortable with their bodies. The experiences ofthis population of women might expand the understanding of the impact of culturalstandards on women's body image development, and clarify the role of women's bodilysensations and movements in their sense of comfort with their bodies.The findings of this study indicate that the women's interpersonal relationships,particularly those with family members, were important influences on the developmentof a sense of validation and self worth which was a necessary prerequisite for theircomfort with themselves and their bodies. Relationships with family members were alsosignificant in shaping the women's perceptions of external standards for females and in9 7determining the women's ability to form a separate adult identity, both importantfactors in the development of positive body image. Future research might clarify familydynamics and parenting approaches which facilitate the women's development of internalcriteria for validation and their process of separation-individuation.Adolescence was identified by the women as a time when they were especiallysensitive to external expectations of them as females. Their discomfort with their bodiesat this time coincided with their feelings of relatively low self worth. This findingsupports that of Gilligan (1991), but further research is required to explore theperceptions adolescent women have of external expectations and messages not just abouttheir appearance, but about their gender related roles and behavior also, and how theseare related to their body image. The contexts that young women are experiencing intheir adolescence that facilitate positive body image development need to be identified.Pregnancy and motherhood were positive influences on body image for the womenwho were mothers in this study. The women felt validated in these roles and comfortablewith their bodily changes. Both Ussher (1989) and Rubin (1979) suggest thatpregnancy may also be a time when women feel relieved of the pressure to conform tocultural standards of sexual attractiveness, and therefore are able to relax and becomfortable with their bodies. However, further research is needed to clarify how theexperience of pregnancy contributed to these women feeling comfortable with theirbodies, as pregnancy and motherhood have not always been reported to be validating orcomfortable experiences for women (Martin, 1987; Rubin, 1979; Ussher, 1989).The findings of this research are consistent with those of theorists and9 8researchers who hold a feminist perspective in the area of body image development. Therole of stereotypical external standards for female beauty and behavior appeared to becritical in the development of body image for the women in this study. The women'seventual rejection of some external standards enabled them to become more comfortablewith their bodies. Research aimed at expanding our knowledge of the contexts and factorsthat support the rejection of such unrealistic standards is needed. The shift that thewomen were able to make from external to internal validation was important for theirmovement to greater comfort with their bodies. The factors and circumstancesfacilitating this shift need to be identified. Although the women developed some sense ofinternal validation, they still maintained an adherence to some external standards forfemale beauty and behavior in order to fit in socially. The women each experienced a"range" of weight and bodily characteristics within which they felt comfortable.Further exploration of the meaning and development of these limitations is needed inorder to more clearly define positive body image.Further research is needed to expand our understanding of the experience ofwomen feeling comfortable with their bodies. From this we may derive a clearerdefinition of positive body image and further refine theory regarding body imagedevelopment in women. Research aimed at expanding current knowledge of the role offamily and culture in women's development of comfort with their bodies is needed inorder to understand how the process of becoming comfortable with one's body may befacilitated for all women, beginning at birth.9 9Implications for CounsellingIn hearing the voices of women who feel comfortable with their bodies,counsellors may become aware of relationships and circumstances that might foster thedevelopment of a positive body image for women. With this awareness, counsellors mayprovide and encourage opportunities for women to experience a sense of validation for allaspects of themselves and a sense of competency and self-worth. In knowing thatbecoming comfortable with one's body may be a developmental process for women,counsellors can assist women through the process of self definition to self acceptance.The client-counsellor relationship may provide women clients with the experience offeeling validated, a prerequisite for becoming comfortable with their bodies.Counsellors may assist clients in finding other contexts where they may feel this senseof validation. Counsellors may facilitate women becoming aware of their strengths andcapabilities, and finding other relationships and contexts where they may continue todevelop an increased sense of self worth.The women in the study felt comfortable with both their inner selves and theirphysical selves. By providing a balanced focus in counselling between women's innerexperience of self worth and their physical experience, and interrelating these twoaspects of self, the counsellor will facilitate women's integration of all aspects ofthemselves, and may better serve their movement to greater comfort with their bodies.The findings of this study support interventions for women with negative bodyimages that address the relationship between societal expectations for women and howthey feel about themselves and their bodies (Bergner et al., 1985; Frey & Carlock,1 001989; Hutchinson, 1985; Katzman et al., 1985). The women in the study were awareof how cultural expectations limited their sense of freedom to be themselves. Partlythrough this awareness, they were able to reject external standards and be comfortablewith themselves and their bodies. The implication of this finding is that counsellors mayneed to facilitate women's awareness of how cultural expectations impede thedevelopment of comfort with themselves and their bodies. In addressing with clients thesocietal contexts of being women and what this means to them in terms of their physicalcharacteristics and behavioral roles, the counsellor may provide an avenue for clients toquestion and either accept or reject external standards, hence gaining a sense of controlover their own experience. This may be accomplished through individual and/or groupcounselling, possibly supplemented with bibliotherapy. Group settings may also reducewomen's sense of isolation and provide additional support for them to try new ways ofbeing and relating as they negotiate the transition from a negative to a more positivebody image.In this study, the women identified adolescence as a time when they becameacutely aware of changing external expectations for their appearance and behavior. Thiscreated a sense of discomfort and confusion about themselves and their bodies. Part ofthe process of becoming comfortable with themselves and their bodies was to rejectexternal standards that did not fit for them. Several theorists and researchers refer to asplit, or a sense of disassociation or fragmentation that women feel between theirinternal experience of themselves and their bodies and the external stereotypicalstandards expected of them, particularly during adolescence (Gilligan et al., 1991;1 0 1Martin, 1987; Rubin, 1979; Ussher, 1989).^Counsellors can provide interventionsthat facilitate the resolution of this split and the integration of all aspects of the women'sself. In exploring with clients what "positive body image", or "comfort with theirbodies" means to them, the counsellor may provide an opportunity for women to evaluateexternal standards and how realistic they are for women in general, and for themselvesspecifically. Through this evaluation process women clients may begin to adopt theirown more congruent internal criteria for their appearance and behavior .that will allowthem to feel comfortable with themselves and their bodies without feeling the need tochange.For the women in this study, understanding their families' dynamics and learningnew ways of relating in relationships were important parts of the process of developingcomfort with themselves and their bodies. Individual counselling may offer women a safeplace to understand the family and relational dynamics that have both facilitated andimpeded their sense of comfort with their bodies and themselves. Counsellors need to beaware of separation-individuation difficulties that women might be experiencing thatinterfere with their development of their own identity and self acceptance. Women mayexperience a sense of fear, confusion and loss as they redefine who they are as women.Counsellors are able to provide a therapeutic environment where women clients mayexpress and understand their feelings.In this study, the women did not disclose experiences of childhood traumas, suchas physical and/or sexual abuse, however some recalled a sense of "shame" about theirsexual development as young women. For these women, becoming comfortable with their102bodies involved overcoming this sense of shame, through the experience of validatingrelationships and contexts later in their lives and the rejection of some externalexpectations. Although not all women experiencing discomfort with their bodies wereabused as children, counsellors need to be aware of this possibility and be open to andprepared to either address these issues with clients or refer to a colleague who is able tobest counsel a client (Kearney-Cooke, 1986; Root & Fallon,1989).As the women in the study experienced an increase in their sense of self worthand personal validation, they became more able to assert themselves in theirrelationships. This enhanced their sense of control over their lives and their bodies. Asclients become more clear about how they wish to comfortably express themselves aswomen, they may need assistance in acting on their desire to reject some externalstandards. They may also need skills which will allow them to extricate themselves fromnon-validating contexts. The counsellor may need to provide instruction and opportunityfor women to practice assertiveness and communication skills. Role playing, Gestalt twochair technique and group counselling are all interventions that offer rehearsal of newways of relating. Counsellors may need to provide non-judgmental support until theirwomen clients find the courage and strength to make changes in their lives that willenable them to seek out relationships and contexts that are validating and that increasetheir self worth. Women clients may also need assistance in developing other aspects ofself (e.g., career, creativity) which will increase their self worth and thereby increasetheir comfort with their bodies.The women in this study were in touch with and liked the physical sensations of103being in their bodies. Counsellors may need to provide a safe environment for women toexplore the issue of how they experience their body physically. Encouragement ofnonthreatening contexts where women may safely discover how their bodies move, feel,and function will also facilitate a resolution of any split the women are experiencingbetween themselves and their bodies, and enable them to feel comfortable in their bodies.Participation in body awareness activities and movement exercises may facilitate thisprocess for women clients.In summary, in order to provide the most effective service for their womenclients in the development of a positive body image, counsellors need to facilitate theexperience of a sense of validation and a sense of self worth for women, inside and outsidethe counselling relationship. Counsellors may need to assist women in exploring andquestioning external cultural standards for women and support them in the developmentof their own internal standards for validation. In working with women clients to resolvethe split between their internal experience of themselves and their bodies and externalexpectations, counsellors will facilitate women's integration of all aspects ofthemselves, enabling them to accept themselves and their bodies. In supporting andencouraging women to explore the physical experience of being in their bodies,counsellors will further enable the women to resolve the split between themselves andtheir bodies. Applications of the findings of this study may also be made to thedevelopment of psychoeducational workshops for transforming body image. It is hopedthat the findings of this study will stimulate further exploration of counsellinginterventions to facilitate the development of women's comfort with their bodies.104ReferencesAmerican Psychiatric Association (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual ofmental disorders (3rd. ed. revised). Washington, DC: Author.Baird, P., & Sights, J. (1986). 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Psychology Today, Jan/Feb, 56-60.Root, M., & Fallon, P. (1989). Treating the victimized bulimic. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 4, 90-100.Rosen, G., & Ross, A. (1968). Relationship of body image to self-concept.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, aa, 100.Rubin, L. (1979). Women of a certain age. New York: Harper & Row.Sanford, L. & Donovan, M. (1984). Women and self-esteem. New York: Penguin.Schwartz, S. (1992, January 27). Adding and subtracting. The Montreal Gazette, p. B5Silberstein, L., Striegel-Moore, R., Timko, C., & Rodin, J. (1988). Behavioral andpsychological implications of body dissatisfaction: Do men and women differ?Sex Roles, La, 219-231.Skrinar, G., Bullen, B., Cheek, J., McArthur, J., & Vaughan, L. (1986). Effects ofendurance training on body-consciousness in women. Perceptual and MotorSkills, az, 483-490.Smith, V. (1990, January 13). Tens of thousands seek beauty under the knife.The Toronto Globe and Mail, pp. Al, A13.110Steiner-Adair, C. (1986). 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An empirically validated, short termpsychoeducational group treatment program for bulimia. International Journalof Eating Disorders, 5, 21-34.Woodman, M. (1982). Addiction to perfection: The still unravished bride. Inner CityBooks: Toronto.APPENDIX ASome women like their shape112■ Counsellingpsychologystudent looks atbody imageBy HARRIET FANCOTTWhen master's studentMaureen Tempest toldfriends she was looking forwomen who were comfort-able with their bodies to talkto her about that experience,they told her she'd never findany.Contrary to what onemight think, said Tempest,who is working on her mas-ter's degree in counsellingpsychology, most womenhave a negative body image."It's more the norm thannot," she added.Through casual contactwith colleagues and friends,and as a teacher of teenagemothers, she often heardwomen say they weren'thappy with their bodies."I worked as a teacher inthe high school system ... Isaw women didn't feel goodabout their bodies and thatdisturbed me," Tempest said.Women with poor bodyimage often have troubleachieving what they want."When they don't feelgood about what they looklike, they hesitate to go aftercareers, relationships ... andgetting the most out of life."She wants to begin to un-derstand how women devel-op a sense of comfort andcontentment with their bod-ies. "This is the missingchunk that needs to be ex-plored."The bulk of research doneon women's body image fo-cuses on women with nega-tive body images or eatingdisorders. Tempest wants toexplore the causes as op-posed to the treatment.She wants to interviewwomen who not only identifythemselves as comfortable withtheir bodies, but also want tokeep their bodies the way theyare. Those to be interviewedmust have had no significantweight change or cosmeticsurgery in the last two years,and must not be dieting.Although Tempest knowswhat she wants, she has noidea who the study might at-tract. "It's part of the excite-ment to see who will re-spond," she saidBut she did say its possi-ble that women in mid-life,who are comfortable withnot adhering to culturalstereotypes, or pregnantwomen, might be interested.The study, one of the firstof its kind, is intended toopen doors for more in-depth research.Tempest's ultimate goal isto "help counsellors bettercounsel women about bodyimage."Those interested should callher at 228-8295. There will betwo interviews of approxi-mately 1-1/2 hours, dis-cussing thoughts and feelingsabout the experience of hav-ing a positive body image.Maureen Tempest is looking for women who arehappy with their body image. Steve McKinley photoAPPENDIX BResearch and Interview QuestionsGeneral research question:What is the experience and meaning of body image for women feeling comfortablewith their bodies?Screening Questions:1. What prompted you to respond to the article?2. Are you comfortable with your body at this time?3. How long have you felt comfortable with your body?4. Have you had a significant weight change, cosmetic surgery or dieted in the last twoyears?5. Are you available for two interviews of approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours in length?Orienting Statement: The following statement will be read by the researcher to all participants at thebeginning of the first interview.Before we begin this interview I would like to give you some background to theresearch study so that you will understand how it evolved and why I am interested in thisinformation.There has been a great deal of research attention given to eating disorders andproblems that women have with their body image. Not much, if any, research has beendone on how women develop a positive body image, or on what it means to women to feel113114comfortable with their bodies. I am interested in learning what having a positive bodyimage means to you and how you perceive that has developed in your life. The mainquestion that I would like to ask you is how you have experienced your body image overthe course of your life so far. When you answer please feel free to talk for as long as youlike in order to describe your experiences to your satisfaction. As we go through theinterview I may ask you to clarify what you mean or ask for a little more information sothat I may be clear that I understand your experience. It may be helpful for you to talkabout the development of your body image through your life as if you were telling me astory with a beginning, a middle and an end. Does that feel comfortable to you? Do youhave any questions before we begin?Additional interview questions:1. What does having a positive body image mean to you ?2. I'm wondering if there are there any specific times that stand out to you as timeswhen you remember a shift or change in your body image, either positive ornegative? What was that like for you?3. Tell me about how your body image has changed over the years, if it has? How did thechanges feel?4. What sorts of things do you think precipitated these changes?5. Tell me about any events or people that you believe may have affected the way youhave felt about your body.page 1 of 2APPENDIX CConsent FormA Masters Thesis research study onThe Experience and Meaning of Body Image for WomenFeeling Comfortable with Their BodiesDescription of the Research:The researcher will meet with you on two separate occasions for a total ofapproximately three hours, for the purpose of hearing and documenting what yourexperience is of feeling comfortable with your body, and the meaning of that experiencefor you in your life.The first interview will be audio-taped and the results transcribed. Allidentifying information will be deleted from the study, and your name changed as a meansof ensuring absolute confidentiality. You may wish to offer a pseudonym for your ownname to be used in any oral or written accounts of the material. Later, you will be askedto read the transcript of the interview and the researcher's synopsis of significantthemes, and to indicate, if upon reflection, this material accurately portrays yourperceptions of your experience of your body image. Any concerns or disagreements youhave regarding the material will be heard and the description altered to more accuratelyreflect your experiences and meanings. All audio tapes will be erased following115116page 2 of 2transcription and at no time will any identifying information be made available toanyone other than the researcher and her research supervisor. At any time during theresearch, if you indicate that you wish to have counselling, a referral will be providedby the researcher.You may refuse to participate in the study or withdraw from the study at anytime without prejudice. You may also refuse to answer any questions.If any aspect of the outlined procedures remains unclear, you are encouraged tocontact me at 228-8295, or to call my supervisor in the Department of CounsellingPsychology at UBC, Dr. Judith Daniluk at 822-5768. If at any time you wish towithdraw from the study your right to do so will be respected.I, ^ , agree to participate in the study andacknowledge receipt of a copy of this consent form.Pseudonym requestedDateSignatureResearcher:Maureen TempestDepartment of Counselling PsychologyFaculty of Education U.B.C.2 2 8-8 2 9 5

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