The past years witnessed the emerging ideal of female attractiveness: ultrathinness became the central criterion of female beauty in the developed world (Davis, 1997). In the meantime, less attention was given to the issues of male body image (Davis, 1997). However, recent studies suggest that men are no longer secured from external and media influences, and the relationship between male body image, exercise and eating behaviors rapidly intensifies (Davis, 1997). Davis (1997) is confident that the mass media are primarily responsible for the production and reproduction of perpetuating images of sexual attractiveness and beauty, which further contribute to the pervasive culture of narcissism. Davis (1997) relies on the assumption that body image is a psychobiological construct and, with this in mind, guides the reader through the empirical and theoretical evidence supporting the dynamic interrelationship between dieting, exercise, and body image perceptions.
Davis (1997) begins her article with the discussion of body image and its assessment. The author suggests that self-esteem is not a unidimensional construct but relies on a set of low-number dimensions that also cover body esteem (Davis, 1997). Body image, in turn, encompasses cognitive and emotional aspects, physical perceptions and feelings of pleasure and attractiveness (Davis, 1997). The perceptual element of body image is determined by the degree, to which objective body characteristics and subjective assessments are congruent (Davis, 1997). This congruence, and subjective perceptions in particular, is subject to numerous exogenous and endogenous influences.
Davis (1997) discusses endogenous influences on body image, beginning with body size and its composition. Women report their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their bodies, based on the objective measures of waist-to-hip circumference ratio, Body Mass Index, and special anatomic features (Davis, 1997). Low self-esteem further contributes to body dissatisfaction among women and men (Davis, 1997). Body focus in women is often connected to neuroticism, and some researchers suggest that women’s preoccupation with weight reflects a strong narcissistic dynamic (Davis, 1997). These are the most common endogenous psychological correlates of low body image satisfaction, followed by age, race, culture and ethnicity: Davis (1997) describes all these aspects in detail. For example, Davis (1997) mentions that present day culture glorifies the young and flourishing, and racial and ethnic differences predispose the development of women’s perceptions of body image. White women in the developed world tend to be thinner and slimmer than their Asian counterparts (Davis, 1997). Even sexual orientation and gender have serious implications for body satisfaction or dissatisfaction: lesbians and heterosexual men face lower body dissatisfaction than gay men and heterosexual women (Davis, 1997).
Davis does not forget to mention the changing dynamics of body image. Under the influence of the mass media, women can feel thinner or fatter, while the objective measures of their body remain unchanged. Davis (1997) talks about body image and related behaviors, which men and women take to improve their physical attractiveness. In this sense, the relationship between exercise and body satisfaction is of particular interest: exercise is an extremely useful activity, but over-exercising is becoming less uncommon (Davis, 1997). Davis (1997) explores the factors affecting the dynamics of the body image-exercising relationship, to understand how body image perceptions change under the influence of physical activity. Davis (1997) reports no direct relationship between weigh preoccupation and exercise. Davis (1997) shows that perceived overweight in women can make them either restrict their food intake or increase physical activity, to expend their calories. Despite temporary improvements in body image and self-esteem, excessive dieting and exercises become a direct pathway to bulimia nervosa and anorexia (Davis). However, many findings in Davis’s article are either controversial or inconclusive. Therefore, future research is needed to understand the complexity of the diet-exercising relationship and its implications for today’s culture.
That the mass media greatly influence individual perceptions of body image cannot be denied. In her article, Davis (1997) reviews the most important empirical and theoretical considerations related to the complex relationship between dieting, exercising and body image perceptions. “Body image has been described as a loose mental representation of the body, and as such it may closely map onto the way the external world views us” (Davis, 1997). Davis (1997) finds that numerous endogenous factors predict changes in individual body image perceptions. Future research is needed to understand the nature of the diet-exercising relationship and its place in today’s culture.