When Physical Appearance (Dis)connects to Moral Character: Examining the Potential Fusion of Christian and Secular Beliefs about the Ideal Body
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
Special Education, Rehabilitation, Counseling
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Although religion, specifically Christianity, plays an important role in life for many women and impacts their views of the self and the world, little quantitative research has explored how Christian doctrine—particularly beliefs surrounding ideal practices for the body (i.e., refraining from sloth, gluttony, and vanity)—intertwines with Western, secular cultural messages regarding physical beauty and health. Based on research which shows that holding two or more relevant but inconsistent cognitions creates the uncomfortable state of dissonance, one would expect Christian women who internalize the thin ideal to be motivated to align their secular and religious attitudes toward weight. The following study investigated whether greater internalization of the thin-ideal positively related to judging certain health-related behaviors (i.e., overeating, eating unhealthy food, and physical inactivity) to be more sinful in a predominantly White sample of 317 young Southern women who identify as “Christian.” It also explored if higher reported levels of Preference for Consistency (PFC) moderated the relationship between thin-ideal internalization and judging certain health-related behaviors as more sinful. This study additionally examined if judging certain health-related behaviors as more sinful would directly, and indirectly via an authoritarian representation of God (i.e., viewing God as more controlling) positively relate to body shame. Lastly, this study explored if women who reported participating or knowing someone who participated a Christian weight loss program were more likely to judge certain health-related behaviors as more sinful, internalize the thin ideal, and report greater body shame. Results generally provided no support for the hypotheses. Implications and limitations of the study are discussed.