The Role of Perfectionism in Body Dissatisfaction

Higher levels of perfectionism were related to desire for a lower body mass index.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
November/December Volume 24, Number 6
©2013 Gürze Books

Body dissatisfaction is viewed as an important factor underlying disordered eating, and research consistently shows that people with eating disorders and those recovering from eating disorders have elevated levels of perfectionism.

Noting that the precise nature of perfectionism and its role in eating disorders is still being debated, Drs. Tracy D. Wade and Marika Tiggemann of Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia, investigated the types of perfectionism associated with body dissatisfaction in a group of 1083 women 28 to 40 years of age (mean age: 35 years). The women were participants in the third wave of data collection in a study of female twins in the Australian Twin Registry.

Women participating in the study provided self-reports on perfectionism using the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism scale. The participants also provided data on weight, height, desired weight, and current and ideal figures. The Frost scale including subscales for Personal Standards, Concern over Mistakes, Doubt about Actions, Parental Criticism, and Organization. Higher scores indicated higher levels of perfectionism on all subscales.

Participants were asked to choose adult female figures closest to what they thought they looked like now (current) and then were asked to rate the figures again, answering the question, “Which silhouette is closest to what you would like to look like now?” A telephone interview was also conducted, consisting of the Eating Disorder Examination (EDE), 14th edition, part of which assessed self-reported weight and height, desired weight and highest adult body weight. The discrepancy between desired and current body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) was used a second measure of body dissatisfaction.

 Both methods of measuring discrepancy correlated positively with Doubt about Actions, Parental Criticism, and Parental Expectations. Two measures of perfectionism, Concern over Mistakes (or maladaptive perfectionism) and Organization (adaptive perfectionism), had significant and independent associations with desired BMI. This indicated that a higher level of perfectionism was associated with a lower desired BMI. A smaller idea silhouette was associated with higher levels of Concern over Mistakes and Doubt about Actions and Organization.

The authors noted that while maladaptive perfectionism has been reported across many different studies to be associated with poor outcomes in psychopathology, including that for eating disorders, a much less-studied area is the relationship between Organization and disordered eating, and its risk factors. They also concluded that the study results confirmed the importance of different dimensions of perfectionism to body dissatisfaction.

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