Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Race, Gender, Sexuality and Emotional Health: Longitudinal Effects of Body Image through the Lens of Bourdieu
by Hostetler, James D., M.A., The George Washington University, 2012, 92; 1511559
Abstract (Summary)

Sociologists and social psychologists have devoted a considerable amount of attention to the research of emotional health, in the specific area of depression, and body image perceptions. Despite the abundance of research available on the topic of depression and its relationship with body image perception, there is a general lack of sociological theory-based longitudinal research focusing on the relationship of body image perceptions and depression over time. Additionally, quantitative research has traditionally examined emotional health differences by controlling for race, gender, and sexuality, rather than treating them as central theoretical variables. By framing race, gender, and sexuality as socially-constructed systems of inequality we can examine how an individual's social location within these systems affects emotional health outcomes. Furthermore, research has not examined body image perception as a mediating factor in the relationship between depressive symptoms and social structures of inequality—race, gender, and sexuality.

To fill this void, this study evaluates the influence of body image perceptions on relationships between race, gender, sexuality and depression over time using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Specifically, this research frames relationships between emotional health, body perceptions, and social systems of inequality within Pierre Bourdieu's (1989) structuralist constructivism theory, applying his concepts of field and habitus to the research areas of emotional health and beauty. My findings suggest that body image perceptions influence the relationship between race, gender, sexuality, and depressive symptoms over time. While negative perception of attractiveness results in higher depression scores over time, its effect is simultaneously significant and insignificant within race, gender, and sexuality structures. Perceived attractiveness is significantly related to depressive symptoms over time for both men and women, but can only be explained while considering race and sexuality simultaneously. Specifically, African American men and women's depressive symptoms do not appear to be influenced by their perceived attractiveness. Regression analyses found similar results for Latino men/women. However, African American women's depressive symptoms over time are influenced by weight image; specifically, having an "overweight" image results in lower depressive symptom scores. These findings indicate that body image perception does mediate the relationship between race, gender, sexuality and depressive symptoms over time.

Our social environment saturates our bodies with images, interactions, and perceptions to the extent that we are physically and emotionally impacted. This impact thus plays a significant role in structuring our future perceptions and action. Our interactions within the social world are very important; they affect not only how we perceive our world, but how we react to it. Understanding who is more likely to be affected by negative and positive perceptions of the social world is important to enable discussion on positive emotional health.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ishizawa, Hiromi
Commitee: Ken, Ivy
School: The George Washington University
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: MAI 50/06M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Social research, Clinical psychology
Keywords: Body image, Bourdieu, Pierre, Depression, Fields, Habitus, Social structures
Publication Number: 1511559
ISBN: 9781267371324
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