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Relentlessly rounding bodies in pursuit of thinness: Separation-individuation, satisfaction with parent's body, and gender as correlates of disordered eating symptomatology

28 July 1992


Recent studies have indicated that disordered eating, including bulimia nervosa, is primarily a female problem which appears to be increasing rapidly, especially among adolescent girls and college-age young women. Degree of body satisfaction has been extensively studied and has frequently been reported as a correlate of disordered eating symptomatology. Theoretical constructs related to separation-individuation such as differentiation from others and permeability of psychological boundaries are frequently posited by psychodynamic and object relations theorists as important in the etiology of disordered eating, and recently these constructs have received empirical investigation. Degree of satisfaction with mother's body, a construct posited in this present study as an additional potentially important factor in the etiology of disordered eating, has been previously uninvestigated. In this present study, the following variables were hypothesized and investigated as correlates of disordered eating: gender, degree of separation-individuation, degree of satisfaction with one's own body, and degree of satisfaction with parents' bodies. A self-report questionnaire to assess these variables was compiled, consisting of a demographic checklist, several previously-published scales: Eating Attitudes Test--26 (EAT-26), Bulimia Test--Revised (BULIT-R), Differentiation of Self (DS) scale, Permeability of Boundaries with Mother (PBM) and permeability of Boundaries with Father (PBF) scales; and three scales developed for this study: Satisfaction with Mother's Body (SMB), Satisfaction with Father's Body (SFB), and Satisfaction with Self Body (SSB) scales. Participants were 263 female and 109 male student volunteers recruited from undergraduate social science classes of three Oregon universities during the 1992 spring term. As anticipated, compared to males, females reported significantly more disordered eating symptomatology, less satisfaction with their own bodies, less differentiation of self, and more permeable psychological boundaries with mother. For the total sample, both measures of disordered eating correlated significantly with all other measures, including substantial correlations with SSB. As predicted, hierarchical multiple regression analyses revealed that female gender accounted for the most variance in both the EAT-26 and BULIT-R scores, with SSB, PBM, and 5MB accounting for additional unique variance in the EAT-26 and SSB, PBM, and DS accounting for additional unique variance in the BULIT-R. Results are discussed within a context of object relations theory broadened to encompass ethiological and cultural perspectives as well as recent feminine developmental theories of self-in-relation. Implications for future research and cultural change are indicated.


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