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LSU professor researches female body image, prepares future couselors

LSU professor researches female body image, prepares future couselors
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POSTED: Friday, September 14, 2012 - 4:00am

UPDATED: Friday, September 14, 2012 - 4:04am

In today’s media-driven world, a growing number of young girls and women are trying to live up to an unrealistic “thin and beautiful” ideal, leading to body dissatisfaction and a number of unhealthy behaviors. In response to this increasing problem, LSU School of Education Associate Professor Laura Choate’s research has found that certain factors can act as a shield against negative body image.

As coordinator of the School of Education’s community counseling track within the counselor education program, Choate prepares future counselors to provide effective prevention and treatments for their clients. Her current research has provided insight into factors that can affect an adolescent’s body image.

In 2005, Choate formed a theoretical model proposing that certain dynamics can lead to a healthy body image. According to Choate, about half of all college women are affected by some form of negative body image, and many of them engage in unhealthy eating practices such as excessive dieting, binging and over-exercising. 

“My work as a college counselor working with younger women really brought this problem to light,” said Choate. “I began to see how much of a problem negative body image is; it gets in the way of young women living a meaningful life when they worry about their weight and appearance.”

After the publication of her original model, Choate was contacted by a colleague from Boston College interested in collaborating to validate the model empirically using a sample of college women. 

Choate and her colleagues surveyed 301 women in their freshman year of college to determine whether certain “protective” factors in fact did shield them from a destructive body image. 

“We found that family support, resistance to cultural pressures, rejection of the superwoman myth, active coping skills, a positive physical self-concept and a sense of wellness and balance all are factors that protect women,” said Choate. 

Choate believes that by integrating these factors into prevention programs, young women will be less vulnerable to the unrealistic comparison standards that are prevalent throughout the media. Young women can learn to value themselves based on all aspects of their person, rather than just by outer beauty.

“Parents should also realize the powerful impact they have on their daughters,” said Choate. “By giving them diverse opportunities and not making critical remarks on their appearance, parents can shift their daughters focus away from over-valuing their body image.”

Choate’s work has been referenced in several national media outlets, such as the Huffington Post, the journal Sex Roles, the Daily Mail, YouBeauty.com and Ladies Home Journal. Choate is now working on a book on adolescent girls’ mental health which should be released in 2012.

Choate was the guest editor for the July 2012 issue of the Journal of Counseling and Development which focuses on the treatment and prevention of eating disorders. This journal is the flagship journal of the American Counseling Association and has more than 40,000 subscribers. 

While eating disorders are historically associated with young European and American women, it now affects a wider and more diverse group.

“Eating-related problems have begun appearing increasingly in men, members of racial and ethnic cultural groups, international problems and in the LGBTQ community,” said Choate.

Choate also edited a book, “Eating Disorders and Obesity: A Counselor’s Guide to Prevention and Treatment” that will be published by the American Counseling Association press in 2013.

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