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The Predictors of Body Image Dissatisfaction among Undergraduate Students

Updated: Apr 5, 2018

Evelyne Kerubo Arasa, Josephine Nyaboke Arasa, Munyae M. Mulinge

United States International University-Africa (USIU-A), Nairobi Kenya



Utilizing a sample of 114 undergraduate students studying at the United States International University-Africa, this study analyzed the factors that impacted on body image dissatisfaction among young adults in Kenya. A quantitative design was utilized for the study. Data were collected through a self-administered structured questionnaire and analyzed utilizing the SPSS software version 24 with beta (β ) coefficients as the main test statistic. The results showed that those studied had low levels of both body image consciousness and dissatisfaction and that, overall, they were free from the negative consequences of body image dissatisfaction. Regression analysis revealed that further showed that only 4 of 8 individual factors, none of the socio-cultural factors and only 1 of 4 control variables evaluated were significant predictors of body image dissatisfaction. The regression model explained 72.1 percent of the variance in body image dissatisfaction. It was concluded that, among others, the factors that have been utilized as predictors of body image dissatisfaction in Western countries also apply to the Kenyan situation.


Over the years, people have given a lot of importance to the beauty associated with the human body, and hence the term body image. The term refers to an individual’s perceptions, beliefs, and emotional and cognitive attitudes regarding their body (Klaczynski, Goold & Mudray, 2004; Sloan, 2003; Stice & Whitenton, 2002). Body image is a reflection of how a person feels concerning whether their body is attractive and appealing based on personal perceptions.

The concept is multidimensional and includes various components, which are behavioral, cognitive, affective and perceptual. Whereas the behavioral dimension refers to what a person does with regards to his or her body, the cognitive aspect deals with the beliefs and thoughts a person has concerning their body. The affective facet, on the other hand, focuses on the feelings a person has concerning their body. Lastly, the perceptual element deals with the way in which a person views himself or herself.

To gauge body image, society has come up with a set of standards that do not always correspond to an individual's perception concerning their body. Some of the standards include being thin, curvy and even having a proportionate body (Waldman, Loomes, Mountford & Tchanturia, 2013). Both women and men have their concerns regarding how they fit society's provided tconception of body image. A positive body image occurs when an individual feels good and accepts all aspects of their body (Menzel & Levine, 2011). An individual who has the positive body image tends to be proud of his/her body even in situations where factors such as the media and family ideals may not match up with the individual’s appearance (Champion & Furnham, 1999). S/he appreciates and celebrates the natural shape of the body, and understands that his/her physical appearance does not dictate his/her value and character.

In addition, the individual will be accepting and proud of the fact that they have a unique body (Kotanski, et al., 2004; Menzel & Levine, 2011). By being confident and comfortable about his/her body, such a person is unlikely to become involved in spending unnecessary time thinking about calories, weight, and food. On the contrary, a negative body image exists whenever an individual feels that his/her body is not able to match up to some expectations such as media, social, and family ideals (Champion & Furnham, 1999; Kotanski, Fisher & Gullone, 2004). An individual who has a negative view of his/her physical appearance and body, experiences dissatisfaction with his/her body image (Derenne & Beresin, 2006). Since the 1950s, many empirical researches have been conducted providing more information about the issue of body image (Kotanski, Fisher & Gullone, 2004; Stice, Maxfield & Wells, 2003). Whereas the physical schema or perceived feelings of the individual’s physical appearance may play a major role in the individual’s body image (Kotanski, et al., 2004; Schilder, 1950), the predictors of body image dissatisfaction are many and varied. These can be categorized into individual factors and socio-cultural factors. Individual factors include body size, personality traits, depression, or low self-esteem, gender and age (Rothblum, 1992). On the other hand, socio-cultural factors include influences from the family, peer influences, and media influences (Menzel & Levine, 2011; Stice, Maxfield & Wells, 2003).

Negative body image and consequently, dissatisfaction with one’s body image has been

associated with a number of illnesses and disorders that include eating disorders, body

dysmorphic disorder, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Various authors (Birbeck, 2003; Davison & McCabe, 2006; Vonderen and Kinnally, 2012). Vonderen and Kinnally (2012), for example, established that self-esteem and peer comparisons could make the individual develop eating disorders. On the contrary, individuals who experience the body image satisfaction tend to have healthy behaviours and outlook, self-acceptance, and higher self-esteem levels.

The purpose of this study is to explore for the predictors of body image dissatisfaction among undergraduate university students at the United States International University-Africa (USIUAfrica). Doing so is important because the adverse effects of body image dissatisfaction, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2005; Menzel & Levine, 2011), are well documented, especially in Western countries. In Kenya, concerns with body image are catching up, especially among the youth and the middle-aged, as manifested through a variety of ways such as the ever-growing enthusiasm for the gym with maintaining a desirable body type as one of the key objectives, dieting practices and dressing styles among both females and males, and the application of make-up especially among females. In an attempt to further improve and have a positive body image, Kenyan men and women are also doing other useful activities, including engaging in meditation, having an adequate sleep as well as having a daily routine for moisturizing, toning as well as cleansing (Waswa, 2011).

The study is anchored on two specific objectives; to measure the level of body image

dissatisfaction, and to test for the effects of established individual and socio-cultural factors on body image dissatisfaction among undergraduate students at USIU-Africa. Through the study, we hope to contribute new knowledge that will increase the understanding of the subject matter of body image in general and the predictors of body image dissatisfaction in particular within the Kenyan context. This is important in light of the fact that much of the research conducted in this subject area focuses on the industrialized nations of the West (see, e.g., Kotanski, Fisher & Gullone, 2004; Schilder, 1950) leaving the Kenyan context understudied.

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