Never Let Them See You Sweat: Silencing and Striving to Appear Perfect among U.S. College Women

Brittney H. Schrick, Elizabeth A. Sharp, Anisa Zvonkovic, Alan Reifman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Drawing on Goffman's (1959) impression management, the present study examined how silencing the self (Jack & Dill, 1992) related to psychological distress in US college women. A sample of 149 women aged 18 to 25 enrolled at a large southwestern U. S. university completed a series of survey instruments aimed at gaining knowledge of how several potentially pressure-filled domains of women's college environment (i. e., Body Image, Romance, Peers, Academics) may factor into a relationship between Silencing and Distress. Path analysis revealed that Silencing was directly, positively related to each source of pressure with the exception of Academic Engagement (where a negative relationship existed). Furthermore, Silencing was directly, positively related to Anxiety and Depression. Additionally, internalization of the thin ideal and competitiveness were predictive of distress among women who Present Perfection, or strive to appear perfect to others. Cluster analyses revealed 4 interpretable clusters of factors related to distress: Middle-of-the-Road, Moderately Appearance Focused, Other-Focused, and Reject Appearance Norms. The Other-Focused women showed the highest levels of distress and lowest academic engagement while those who Reject Appearance Norms showed the lowest distress and highest academic engagement. These relationships indicated that higher levels of attempting to appear perfect to others were related to higher levels of distress among US college women in our sample. This study points to a factor "Presenting Perfection" that may be instrumental in understanding self-silencing behaviors in college women, as well as further understanding the relation between body image, orientation toward others' judgments, and distress.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-604
Number of pages14
JournalSex Roles
Issue number11-12
StatePublished - Dec 2012


  • Body image
  • College
  • Distress
  • Image management
  • Perfection
  • Silencing
  • Women


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