In today’s social world, the way one’s body is seen is an important issue that haunts an immense group of people. Social standards affect body image and the way people view themselves and others. Religion controls and affects people’s lives in many ways, and body image may be an area also affected by it.
Statement of the Problem
The purpose of this study is to evaluate the effects of religion on body image among LAU students.
Scope of the Study
This study was limited to the opinions of students possessing various religious backgrounds on the way their faith affects their view of one’s body image. For the purpose of this study, responders were restricted to LAU Byblos students. Data was collected during the fall 2018 semester using a questionnaire.
[bookmark: _Toc531792733]The primary group that may benefit from this study are teenagers, especially religiously committed ones, by helping them identify how religion affects their body image and perception of themselves and others. This could affect their day-to-day life positively by helping them be less judgmental.
My hypothesis regarding this study are as follow: First, religion has a positive effect on body image. Second, religion makes people feel better about themselves and the way they look. Finally, religion affects the way people dress.
Body image has become an important part of a person’s life and mindset. The impact that religion has on one’s body image has been studied by Homan (2012), Zhang (2012), Iceberg, Inman and McKeel (2014), Jacobson, Lewis Hall, Anderson and Willingham (2016) and Homan and Boyatzis (2009). In addition, the effect that one’s degree of religiosity has on his body image has been observed by Homan (2012), Homan and Boyatzis (2009) and Inman, Iceberg and McKeel (2014). This literature review will go over the findings of each study and draw a conclusion regarding the effect of religion on body image.
A positive effect
Having religious beliefs has a mostly positive effect on a person’s body image and body satisfaction. Homan (2012) found in a study conducted on various women that females who are attached to god experience lesser negative effects regarding their body image after viewing pictures of thin models, thus combatting the cultural standards regarding one’s body image. In addition, Zhang (2012) found in a study conducted on college students that body dissatisfaction, although manifesting itself among both spiritual and free-thinking individuals, was present among a lower percentage of those who viewed themselves as spiritual. Inman, Iceberg and McKeel (2014) found in a study conducted on women enrolled at a religious college that many elements of religiosity work to help with body esteem, where body esteem intensified at a higher rate among religiously committed women compared to the rest of the women. Adding to all the above, Homan and Boyatzis (2009) found in a study conducted on older men and women that older religiously committed women still receive positive improvements to their body image and manifest an increase in satisfaction regarding their bodies, albeit at a lower level compared to when they were younger. These studies show that religion generally has a positive impact on an individual’s body image and body satisfaction by opposing social standards and by making individuals more accepting of their bodies regardless of their age.
A negative effect
Although religion usually manifests a positive effect on one’s body image, there may be situations where it may cause negative feelings and dissatisfaction. Zhang (2012) showed in a study that religion had a negative effect on a few students’ body image. One of her test subjects stated that her religion forces her to wear specific clothing which make her feel uncomfortable around her friends. In another study conducted by Jacobson, Lewis Hall, Anderson and Willingham (2016) on a protestant Christian group showed that radical dualism, which means that the body is viewed as corrupt, contributes to a decrease in body satisfaction and an increase in body shame. What these studies shows is that that some dimensions of religious belief can contribute negatively on one’s body image and appreciation. This negativity comes from religious obligations and teachings that contribute to the degradation of one’s view regarding their body.
Level of Religiosity’s Effect
There is a direct correlation between the degree of religiosity and its effect on one’s body image and satisfaction. Homan (2012), in his study on Christian college students showed that women who possess a secure religious belief showed less dissatisfaction regarding their bodies after having viewed images of thin models than women who possess an anxious relationship with god. He then adds that although both groups showed an upturn in dissatisfaction regarding their bodies after being exposed to the former images, the strongly religiously attached women interpreted a significantly lower level of dissatisfaction than their anxiously religious counterparts. Homan and Boyatzis (2009) showed in another study conducted on older adults that men who possess a stable relationship with God exhibit an increased body satisfaction. They added that among older women, those who manifest a higher degree of religiosity feel better about the appearance of their aging bodies. The authors then conclude “that a warm and close relationship with God and a higher sense of meaning and purpose in life predict better body image in older adults.” Additionally, Inman, Iceberg and McKeel (2014) showed in their study that although exposing religious women to various positive religious statements showed and increase in body esteem in most of them, the level of increase intensified the more the women were religiously committed. What these studies are essentially showing is that there is a clear correlation between the level of religiosity and the level of positive body satisfaction and esteem among their subjects; the more religious one is, the better they feel about their body and the way it looks, thus decreasing dissatisfaction and anxiety about their looks.
Religion has a clear impact on one’s body image. Most of the studies found a clear link between religion and body image, where most religious subjects experienced a positive impact on the way they view their bodies and on their body satisfaction, while only one study found that a very small percentage of people experience a negative impact. They also add that the level of at which one is religious has a direct impact on body satisfaction, where the more religious a person is, the better he feels about himself. Although research studied a vast group of people, there still has research to be done around the subject among LAU students. Therefore, this study will aim to analyze the effect of religion on LAU student’s body image.
The researcher decided to conduct a research on the effects of religion on body image and chose LAU students as his research subjects. He used quantitative research because of it’s ease in sorting and collecting results, and its accessibility. The instrument used to gather responses was a questionnaire.
A questionnaire was used by the researcher because of its ease of use and easy accessibility. It was formed of 9 close-ended required questions, revolving around the demographic and the opinions of the responders. Questions were either multiple-choice questions or scaled questions. After coming up with the questions, the researcher finalized his questionnaire after showing it to his professor. Google forms was the service used to create the questionnaire because of its simplicity and because it is free of charge. The researcher then posted a link to his questionnaire on the blackboard where the instructor created a discussion board. The questionnaire was filled in class by the students of this class.
The responders who participated in this questionnaire were the 27 LAU Byblos students attending the same English 202 class as the researcher, were from different majors, different age groups, and different religious backgrounds.
Two methods were used to tabulate, retrieve and analyze data. The researcher downloaded the raw questionnaire data directly from Google drive. Excel was then used to analyze and tabulate data using its built-in formulas and table creation tools.
Limitations of The Study
Many limitations manifested themselves while conducting this study. Firstly, time was a big constraint as the study was conducted across one academic semester, and during periods of great pressure from exams and assignments which limited the researcher’s output. Secondly, the sample selected was small and doesn’t reflect a large enough group of responders, which may lead to having inaccurate results. Thirdly, responders’ religious backgrounds weren’t varied enough to encompass the majority of religions. Fourthly, responders’ cooperation while filling in the questionnaire was lacking and thus results were minimal and scarce.
This study was intended to evaluate the effects of religion on a person’s body image. A questionnaire was sent to LAU students in professor Saiid Rajha’s class, and the response rate was 83.3%.
The results will be presented in three sections as follows: Demographic profile, the influence of religiosity on body image and satisfaction and body image’s importance according to the responders.
The responders were asked about their age group. According to figure 1, out of 25 responders, 64% were between 18 and 19 years old, 24% were between 20 and 21 years old, 4% were between 22 and 23 years old, and 8% were 24 years old and above.
- Figure 1. Age group of responders.
In addition, responders were asked about their religious background. As shown in figure 2, 80% of responders are Christian, 4% are Druze, 8% are Atheist, and 18% stated that they are not religiously committed.
- Figure 2. Responder’s religious background.
Influence of religion on body image and satisfaction
Responders were asked to indicate their level of religious commitment and whether they felt satisfied about the way their body currently looks. As appearing in figure 3, out of 17 responders who stated they were moderately to highly religiously committed, 10 (58.82%) stated that they were satisfied about their current body, while out of 8 responders who stated that they weren’t religiously committed or had a low religious commitment, only 1 (12.5%) indicated that they were satisfied about their current body.
- Figure 3. Split of responder’s religious commitment and body satisfaction.
The responders were also asked what kind of effect religion has on their body image. Only individuals who responded earlier that they were religiously committed were taken into consideration here. As apparent in figure 4, out of 17 individuals who meet this criterion, 12 stated that religion had a neutral effect or no effect at all on their body image, while 5 responded with having experienced a positive improvement to body image thanks to religion.
- Figure 4. The effect that religion had on religiously committed responders.
Additionally, responders were asked whether they agreed that their relationship with God improved their self-perception. Only religiously committed individuals’ responses were evaluated. As shown in figure 5, out of 17 religiously committed individuals, 47% agree with the statement, while 35% are neutral about it, and 18% disagree with the statement.
- Figure 5. Religious individuals agreement with the statement: “My relationship with God makes me feel better about the way I look.’.
Finally, responders were asked to which extent they agree with the fact that their religious beliefs affect the way they dress. Also, only religiously committed individuals’ responses were evaluated. As shown in figure 6, 24% of religious individuals agree with the statement, 29% neither agree nor disagree, while 47% of evaluated responders disagreed with the statement.
- Figure 6. Religious individuals agreement with the statement: “My religious beliefs affect the way I dress.”
Body image’s importance
Responders were asked to specify to which degree body image is important to them. As seen in figure 7, out of 25 responders, 60% specified it to be important to them, while 20% are neutral about it’s the importance and 20% consider it to not be important.
- Figure 7. Body image’s importance according to responders.
Based on 60% of responders, body image was deemed to be important to them which meets my expectation regarding the subject.
According to figure 3, a higher percentage of religiously committed individuals (58.82%) than less religious individuals (12.5%) manifested body satisfaction. This means that religious commitment seemed to increase body satisfaction among this study’s test subjects. This ties in to Zhang’s (2012) findings, that spiritual or religious individuals manifested lower body dissatisfaction than free-thinking individuals.
Tying into the above, and according to figure 4, only 5 out of 17 religious individuals stated that religion had a positive effect on their body image while the rest said that it had no impact on the way they view their body. This doesn’t meet my expectation regarding religion and its possibility to bring improvements to body image, where I expected for a higher amount to respond in favor of religion’s positive effect.
Additionally, when asked about whether the responder’s relationship to God improved their self-perception, and as seen in figure 5, most religious individuals responded with agreement with the statement (47%), while 35% were neutral about it and only a small percentage (18%) disagreed. This directly ties in and complements Homan’s (2012) findings regarding the effects of one’s relationship with God on his body image and correlates with the majority of findings discussed in the literature.
Finally, responders were asked whether their religious beliefs affect the way they dress, as seen in figure 6, the majority (47%) responded with disagreeing with the statement, while 29% are neutral, and the minority (24%) agree with the statement. This could show that as a big majority of responders are Christian, Christianity doesn’t tie down on the way one dresses, which complements my observation of today’s society.
As the vast majority of responders are Christian (80%), these results may be only relevant to the Christian faith and less applicable to other religions.
The findings mostly agree with the fact that religion positively affects one’s body image and self-perception. Religious individuals are more satisfied with their body than less religious people. One’s relationship with god also has a positive effect on one’s self-perception, which improves mental wellbeing. The findings also show that the Christian religion is more lenient on restrictions to the way people dress, which is a major dimension of body image. The findings then confirm my first two hypothesis which state that religion positively affects body image and make individuals feel better about themselves while contradicting my third hypothesis which states that religion affects one’s clothing habits.
Religion comes out with a positive look on it’s effect on body image and satisfaction but doesn’t seem to do so at the expected scope on my research group. Thus, more research has to be conducted on the subject on a larger group of multiple religions.
- Homan, K. J. (2012). Attachment to God Mitigates Negative Effect of Media Exposure on Women’s Body Image. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality,4(4), 324-331. doi:10.1037/a0029230
- Homan, K. J., & Boyatzis, C. J. (2009). Body Image in Older Adults: Links with Religion and Gender. Journal of Adult Development,16(4), 230-238. doi:10.1007/s10804-009-9069-8
- Inman, M., Iceberg, E., & Mckeel, L. (2014). Do Religious Affirmations, Religious Commitments, or General Commitments Mitigate the Negative Effects of Exposure to Thin Ideals? Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion,53(1), 38-55. doi:10.1111/jssr.12089
- Jacobson, H. L., Hall, M. E., Anderson, T. L., & Willingham, M. M. (2016). Temple or Prison: Religious Beliefs and Attitudes Toward the Body. Journal of Religion and Health,55(6), 2154-2173. doi:10.1007/s10943-016-0266-z
- Zhang, K. C. (2012). What I Look Like: College Women, Body Image, and Spirituality. Journal of Religion and Health,52(4), 1240-1252. doi:10.1007/s10943-012-9566-0