Japanese body image: Structure and esteem scores in a cross-cultural perspective

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Culture appears to affect body image in general and body esteem in particular, yet do cultural differences in these constructs concern with factorial structure or merely the magnitude of their manifestation? This study examined what body parts and functions the body esteem of young Japanese adults consists of, and assessed its relation with several other construals of the self. A secondary goal was to compare scores of body esteem in Japan with data previously obtained for people of similar age and background in diverse cultures, such as the USA, Hong Kong, and Israel. The primary contention of this study was that body image might vary notably across different cultures. Because of cultural differences in the self, and indirectly also due to physiognomic variation, members of various cultures may differ in the way they conceive their own body, have divergent body ideals, and ultimately experience different feelings toward their body. The subjects were 569 Japanese undergraduates who filled in the Body Esteem Scale (BES) as well as measures of self-esteem, body consciousness, and social anxiety. Findings show fairly similar structure of body esteem to that found in the USA, but lower ratings of body esteem among Japanese than among their American, Chinese, and Israeli counterparts. In addition, findings indicate a large gender difference on the total BES score: Men expressed higher body esteem than women. Among both genders, however, body esteem correlated positively with self-esteem and body consciousness, but negatively with social anxiety. It is suggested that the structure similarity between Japanese and American body esteem is the result of universal human mating patterns as well as similar personality structure. The reason for the lower Japanese body esteem may involve general tendency for self-effacement and social anxiety. Further causes for the lower scores, which may concern broader cultural and historical perspectives, are briefly discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-159
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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