This study aimed to extend the literature on body image by examining the relationship between each domain of sociocultural pressure (media, parents, and peers) and body dissatisfaction, as well as the mediating role of ideal body figure internalization within these relationships, using a non-Western sample. Most research on body dissatisfaction examining the effects of sociocultural pressures on this variable among women assessed media pressure only or combined all sources to measure its social influences. Furthermore, recent studies have found that internalization of two body ideal dimensions—thinness and muscularity—is associated with peoples’ body dissatisfaction. The tripartite influence model includes a test of direct (sociocultural pressures) and mediational links (internalization of societal body ideal standards) as factors that contribute to body dissatisfaction. This model has been extended by including dual body image pathways (i.e., drive for thinness and muscularity) and has received support in an adult male sample [7
Our study findings support Tylka’s refined model of the tripartite influence of body image and dissatisfaction among a sample of Korean college male and female students. Our results found considerable gender differences in these variables. The drives for thinness and muscularity were correlated with all three societal influences across gender groups, but, when the multivariate analyses were conducted, the relative effects of these sources remained different across the genders.
For the female group, parental and media pressures exerted significant influences on their drive for thinness and, in turn, their body dissatisfaction. Additionally, media pressures were found to have direct influences on their body dissatisfaction, thus lending support to the significant relationships between thin ideal internalization and body dissatisfaction. These findings are consistent with previous studies. Researchers have found that parental influences were positively associated with the drive for thinness among undergraduate females [43
] and adolescent girls [44
]. Other studies found that the media’s influence had a significant relationship with the drive for thinness among adolescent girls [45
], Japanese undergraduates [46
], and Australian and French female undergraduates [47
]. Additionally, our findings indicate that peer pressure significantly influences the pursuit of muscularity, meaning that, besides thinness, muscle tone is a focus for young Korean women—yet this pursuit does not lead to body dissatisfaction. However, few studies have examined muscularity-related body dissatisfaction among women [48
]. Our findings are in line with those of previous studies in that, when we considered the internalization of thinness and muscularity, only that of thin ideals predicted female students’ body dissatisfaction [49
]. This suggests that, currently, young Korean women feel more insecure about being thin rather than about gaining muscularity, with becoming ultra-thin being of greater focus for their self-esteem. However, a recent Western study found that sociocultural influences (i.e., the media and one’s peers) towards thinness and muscularity idealizations contributed to increased body dissatisfaction and risky body-changing behaviors among young French women [51
]. Similar findings indicate that thinness and muscularity idealizations contributed to eating disorders and substance use among German women [52
For the male group, consistent with the findings of extant research conducted in Europe or with white men, the pursuit of the muscular ideal was found to be a vulnerability factor for body dissatisfaction [53
]. Specifically, peer and media influences were significantly associated with an increased drive for muscularity and, in turn, body dissatisfaction. Additionally, both peer and media pressures were discovered to have direct influences on men’s body dissatisfaction. This is in line with the findings of previous studies. One study found that social media pressure directly influences both the drive for muscularity and body dissatisfaction among young Korean males [54
]. Another study found that appearance-related talk with one’s peers had the largest effect, followed by media internalization, on the drive for muscularity and body dissatisfaction among Korean adolescent boys [55
]. That is, when men pursue media ideals as personal goals for their physicality, they are more susceptible to experiencing an increased desire to obtain a more muscular image. In addition, the current findings indicate that media pressures exerted significant influences on men’s drive for thinness. A previous study found that media influences predicted thin-internalization among Hungarian boys [9
], indicating that, besides muscularity, slenderness is also a focus for males.
Our findings indicate that the degree of internalization due to mass media pressure is greater than that due to influences from one’s parents and peers, confirming the immense influence that the media has on the internalization of the thinness ideal for women, and that of lean, muscular figures for men, which may further develop into instances of body dissatisfaction. Thus, there is a need for interventions educating young adults in an increased awareness of the media influences on ideal body internalization and body dissatisfaction, as well as on critically evaluating these influences to be more realistic about their own bodies and perceptions around diverse body figures.
Our findings also showed that internalizing the thin and muscular ideals were independently associated with higher levels of body dissatisfaction; however, the patterns differed across gender groups. Current findings therefore aid health professionals and researchers in better understanding these associations. In many college environments, college health professionals and counselors are actively involved in dealing with body dissatisfaction in female students. However, the current study findings showed that male students also have body image concerns (i.e., internalization of lean, muscular figures) but different ones than females. Thus, more emphasis needs to be given to male students’ body dissatisfaction. For example, college health care professionals need to be aware of the signs of anabolic androgenic steroid use and other types of performance-enhancing supplements and should provide information about the adverse health consequences of steroid abuse as well as the healthy eating practices available for male students.
This study has certain strengths, including an adequate sample size for the analyses used, and the use of a culture- and gender-specific sample. Furthermore, including different sources of sociocultural support and examining the mediating effects of both the drive for thinness and muscularity addressed the limitations of previous body image studies. However, there are limitations that offer avenues for future research. First, this cross-sectional study predicts relationships between the relevant variables, but does not outline any causality. Future research should thus take a longitudinal approach to examine the causality between these variables. Second, using convenience sampling did not allow for the generalization of the study findings, leaving the need for the inclusion and examination of more diverse groups open.