Body dissatisfaction among lesbian college students: The conflict of straddling mainstream and lesbian cultures

Susan E. Beren, Helen A. Hayden, Denise E. Wilfley, Ruth H. Striegel-Moore

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Research examining body dissatisfaction among lesbians has attempted to compare lesbians' and heterosexual women's attitudes toward their bodies. Studies have yielded mixed results, some indicating that lesbians, compared to heterosexual women, are more satisfied with their bodies, and some indicating that the two groups of women are equally dissatisfied. In an attempt to more closely explore lesbians' attitudes toward their bodies, we conducted interviews with 26 lesbian college students and inquired into how the following areas might be related to body-image concerns: (a) lesbian beauty ideals, (b) the sources through which lesbian beauty ideals are conveyed, (c) lesbian conflict about beauty, (d) negative stereotypes about lesbians' appearance, and (e) lesbian concerns about feminine identity. Results indicated that young adult lesbians embrace a beauty ideal that encompasses both thinness and fitness. Whereas mainstream sources, such as women's magazines and peer pressure seem to influence lesbian college students to value a thinner body ideal, sexual relationships with women encouraged acceptance of one's body. Conflict between mainstream and lesbian values about the importance of weight and overall appearance was repeatedly voiced by the respondents. The complexity of lesbians' feelings about their bodies is discussed, and future directions for research are suggested.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-445
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology of Women Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1997


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