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Carolyn Vos Strache, Alana Strong and Cheree Peterson

The omnipresent physical self remains for young adult females a significant measure of self-worth. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that coping strategies are as complex as they are pervasive as young women strive to maintain positive psychological outlooks despite negatively-perceived physical attributes. Self-presentational concerns may affect one’s activity choice.

This study expands on the work of Taylor, Neter, and Wayment (1995) to determine which motives guide the self-evaluation processes of the physical self. An examination of structured interviews identifies which motives direct women in the self-evaluation of their bodies, and concurrently examines whether different motives determine individual response when appraising a “good” versus “not good” physical aspect. Motives, as defined by Taylor et al. (1995), were self-enhancement, self-verification, self-improvement and self-assessment. Interviews were conducted with 30 female, Southern California, undergraduate college students from Southern California, ranging in age from 19-22.

A chi-square analysis revealed that women employed different motives in “good” versus “not good” body aspect comparisons (Enhancement: X2 = 21.78 p< .01; Verification: X2 = 10.05 p< .01; Improvement: X2 = 5.15 p< .05). When describing a “good” aspect, women employed the enhancement motive 92 percent of the time, verification 80 percent of the time, and improvement 15 percent of the time. For “not good” aspects, women used enhancement motive 53 percent of the time, verification 98 percent of the time, and improvement 33 percent of the time. Women used more than one motive 74 percent of the time and single motives only 26 percent of the time in the evaluation process. Direct quotes reveal that almost all the women sought out information about themselves when they thought it would reflect favorably. However, when they reported on a “not good” aspect, coping mechanisms included redirecting their attention to more positive characteristics or mentally cordoning off an area of weakness to prevent that attribute from permeating all aspects of their identity. Understanding how we think in the self-evaluation process may offer an explanation why some people are motivated to exercise and why others are not.