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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011
Roger J. R. Levesque
Encyclopedia of Adolescence
Body Image
Charlotte H. Markey1 and Meghan M. Gillen2
(1)Department of Psychology, Rutgers University, 311 N. 5th Street, Camden, NJ 08102, USA
(2)Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, Abington, PA 19001, USA
Charlotte H. Markey (Corresponding author)
Meghan M. Gillen
This essay reviews current research addressing adolescents’ body image. The correlates and
consequences of body image are described, as is the significance of body image to other areas of
development including puberty, identity, media consumption, family, peer, and romantic relationships.
The historical context of body image research is reviewed in addition to the contemporary importance
of understanding body image given rising concerns about adolescents’ vulnerability to both obesity
and eating disorders.
There are many reasons why it is important to understand adolescents’ body image. One only needs to
pick up a newspaper, turn on the television, or glance at the magazines in the checkout line at the
grocery store to be reminded of our cultural obsession with the appearance of our bodies. Advice on
how to improve one’s physical appearances abounds – from how to lose weight to how to surgically
alter one’s appearance. It is no wonder that young people today are concerned with how they look,
seemingly more so than any past generation.
Body image researchers attempt to understand adolescents’ concerns about their physical appearance
and bodies. They define body image as feelings, perceptions, beliefs, and associated behaviors
pertaining to one’s own body (Gillen & Markey, 2016). It not only includes negative body image (e.g.,
body dissatisfaction) but also positive body image (e.g., body appreciation; Tylka & Wood-Barcalow,
2015). Negative body image, however, has historically gained more attention because of its
association with psychiatric disorders. Body dysmorphic disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa,
and binge eating disorder represent psychiatric disorders hallmarked by negative body image. Even
adolescents who do not meet the criteria for these disorders may suffer from body image problems.
Body image concerns are widespread among individuals in industrialized countries and are associated
with serious health concerns including eating disorders, depression, and obesity (Gillen & Markey,
2016). In this essay, the history of body image research, current trends and statistics regarding
adolescents’ body image, the contemporary importance of body image research, the developmental
significance of body image in terms of adolescents’ pubertal, identity, social, and psychological
development, as well as future directions for the study of adolescents’ body image are discussed.
Historical Understanding of Body Image
A recent (July, 2016) literature search in PsycInfo for the key words “body image” produced 12, 199
articles, books, chapters, and dissertations/theses addressing this topic. “Body image” research began
in the early 1900s and originally focused on self-image or self-concept among individuals with mental
disorders or intellectual disabilities (not necessarily their perceptions of their physical body). This
early research differs from contemporary body image research in its relatively general approach,
psychoanalytic undertones, and scarcity (<5% of body image research was published before 1970).
The majority (90%) of body image research has been published since 1980, paralleling an increase in
research addressing eating disorders in the last nearly 4 decades. What may be most striking is not the
relatively recent proliferation of research addressing body image, but the historically clinical nature of
this research. Of all the body image publications, the vast majority can be found in abnormal, clinical,
health/medical, or social/personality journals. A relative minority can be found in developmental
psychology journals and even fewer are longitudinal studies in peer-reviewed journals. And yet,
presumably, everyone has a “body image” and understanding what this means – particularly during
adolescence – is significant not only because of the clinical ramifications associated with body
dissatisfaction, but also because of the relevance of body image to so many other areas of adolescents’
Adolescents’ Body Image: Recent Trends and
When adolescents are asked about their thoughts and feelings about their bodies, the result is often
discouraging. Generally, adolescents are quick to point out flaws with their bodies, are not happy with
the appearance of their bodies, and report body-related concerns and dissatisfaction (Gillen & Markey,
2016; Shapiro, Newcomb, & Loeb, 1997; Wertheim, Paxton, & Blaney, 2009). However, concerns
regarding body image clearly develop prior to adolescence, particularly among girls. Some research
suggests that girls as young as 3 - 5 years old begin to express dissatisfaction with their bodies
(Davison, Markey, & Birch, 2000; Tremblay, Lovsin, Zecevic, & Lariviere, 2011). Body
dissatisfaction has even been referred to as a “normative discontent” among children ages 7 – 10 in
Brazil (Costa, Silva, Alvarenga, & de Vasconcelos, 2016).These early signs of body dissatisfaction
are, predictably, associated with weight status such that girls who weigh more (even taking height into
account) are more dissatisfied with their appearance (Davison et al. 2000). Further, personality (e.g.,
self-esteem) and sociocultural influences (e.g., media exposure) are demonstrated predictors of the
development of body dissatisfaction (Clark and Tiggemann 2008; Gillen & Markey, 2016; Wertheim
et al. 2009). Girls’ concerns about body and weight issues do not subside from childhood to early
adulthood, but instead appear to intensify with age (Bucchianeri, Arikian, Hannan, Eisenberg, &
Neumark-Sztainer, 2016; Cash and Henry 1995;). Measures assessing body image and statistics
determining body satisfaction versus dissatisfaction vary from study to study (with findings ranging
from 24% to 90% of girls dissatisfied with their bodies; D. C. Jones, personal communication, July
16, 2009; Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Hannan, Perry, & Irving, 2002; Presnell, Bearman, & Stice, 2004;
see Yanover and Thompson 2009 for a review of assessment issues), however reports seem to indicate
that at least half of girls report dissatisfaction with their bodies by mid-adolescence (Casper and Offer
1990; D. C. Jones, personal communication, July 16, 2009; McCabe and Ricciardelli 2003a; Paxton et
al. 1991). Further, Paxton et al. (1991) report that adolescent girls believe that improving the
appearance of their bodies would make them happier, healthier, and better looking.
The majority of research on body image has focused on girls and women; fewer studies have
addressed these issues among boys and men. However, Smolak (2004) has suggested that during
adolescence boys become concerned with both their body size and muscularity, which causes them to
experience levels of body dissatisfaction that are comparable to adolescent girls’ body dissatisfaction.
Further, McCabe and Ricciardelli (2004) have suggested that boys may develop increased body image
concerns during adolescence due to greater interest in emulating male body ideals. Consistent with
this notion, some estimates indicate that 9–81% of preadolescent and adolescent boys are dissatisfied
with their bodies (Costa et al., 2016; Ericksen, Markey, & Tinsley, 2003; McCabe and Ricciardelli
2004; Presnell et al., 2004). Similar to research addressing girls, different measurement tools and
standards used to calculate body satisfaction versus dissatisfaction likely account for a portion of the
variability in body dissatisfaction across studies. Regardless, boys are clearly not immune to concern
about their bodies and body dissatisfaction may manifest in different ways than it does for girls (e.g.,
in attempts to build muscle;Weisman et al., 2014). Recent research shows that like girls, boys’ body
dissatisfaction increases across adolescence and into the transition to adulthood (Bucchianeri, et al.,
Contemporary Importance of Understanding
Adolescents’ Body Image: Obesity
The striking statistics concerning adolescents’ susceptibility to body dissatisfaction in combination
with recent secular trends regarding obesity makes understanding adolescents’ body image
particularly important. It is unlikely a coincidence that the current “era of appearances” is also the
“era of obesity.” These days, it is difficult not to be aware of the growing obesity “epidemic” (Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012) affecting American adults and an increasing number of
children and adolescents. Currently, 1/3 of children and adolescents are overweight and 1/6 are
considered obese. The American Medical Association went as far as to classify obesity as a disease in
2013. However, as Americans grow heavier, they also appear to grow increasingly afraid of food and
more worried about their appearance. As noted by others (see Irving and Neumark-Sztainer 2002),
there seems to be an association between our march toward obesity and our love of an emaciated
female body and a fit male physique. Indeed, research seems to clearly suggest that body
dissatisfaction and weight concerns are forerunners to dieting and other body-change strategies (Lowe
et al. 2006; Markey, 2014; Markey and Gillen, 2016; Markey and Markey 2005; Stice, Cameron,
Killen, Hayward, & Taylor, 1999; Tomiyama and Mann 2008). However, the efficacy of most weight-
loss approaches is highly questionable, with weight gain being the likely outcome of most attempts to
lose weight (Polivy and Herman 2002; Stice et al. 1999). Although some have suggested that body
dissatisfaction can be a motivating force to lose weight among overweight people, recent research
refutes this claim. Girls (but not boys) who are overweight and highly satisfied with their bodies
actually gain less weight over the long term than overweight girls who are unhappy with their bodies
(Loth, Watts, van den Berg, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2015). Consistent with these findings is additional
research indicating that self-restriction and external attempts to control food intake tend to result in
increased food consumption, binge eating, and higher weight status (see Markey, 2014, for a review).
Thus, it appears that the cultural focus on being thin and fit may indirectly fuel the obesity crisis. In
order to ameliorate adolescents’ health, and help them to maintain a healthy weight status, it is
important to help them redirect their energy away from efforts to maintain an unrealistic, idealistically
thin and/or muscular physique and toward feeling positive about their bodies and making healthy
long-term choices about food and physical activity.
Contemporary Importance of Understanding
Adolescents’ Body Image: Disordered Eating
In addition to links between body image and obesity, research has established links between body
image concerns and disordered eating. Body dissatisfaction has been found to consistently predict
disordered and maladaptive eating behaviors as well as other psychological problems (e.g., clinical
eating disorders, depression) among girls (Smolak 2004, Stice and Bearman 2001; Stice and Shaw
2002). In fact, Stice’s (2002) meta-analysis suggests that body dissatisfaction is one of the most
significant predictors of disordered eating. Different elements of body dissatisfaction (e.g., general
appearance concerns versus weight and shape concerns) appear to have different predictive power in
determining girls at risk for disordered eating. Usually, more specific body concerns are more
predictive of disordered eating (e.g., Shaw, Ramirez, Trost, Randall, & Stice, 2004; Wertheim,
Koerner, & Paxton, 2001). Among boys, body image concerns appear to be concurrently associated
with dieting, weight-loss strategies, low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, and the adoption of
maladaptive body-change strategies (e.g., steroid use; see Cafri et al. 2005; Gillen & Markey, 2016;
McCabe and Ricciardelli 2004). However, the dearth of studies examining the consequences of body
dissatisfaction longitudinally contributes little to our understanding of boys’ and men’s body
dissatisfaction and even suggests that longitudinal relations between body dissatisfaction and
consequences such as disordered eating may not exist among boys (Ricciardelli, McCabe, Lillis, &
Thomas, 2006).
As mentioned above, weight status plays a role in the development of body image; it has also been
found to be associated with eating disorder risk. In one recent study (Babio, Arija, Sancho, & Canals,
2008), girls determined to be at risk for the development of disordered eating were not only
dissatisfied with their bodies but also more likely to be relatively heavy (assessed using body mass
index), more calorie-restrictive, and more vulnerable to the sociocultural emphasis on thinness. Thus,
contemporary models of the etiology of eating disorders should include not only body image, but
biological (e.g., weight and pubertal status), related psychological (e.g., body shame; Mustapic,
Marcinko, & Vargek, 2015) as well as sociocultural influences (e.g., parent and peer influences;
Wertheim et al. 2009). Body dissatisfaction is clearly a primary predictor, but it is not the only factor
contributing to disordered eating; body dissatisfaction in combination with other risk factors heightens
the likelihood of adolescents’ vulnerability to disordered eating.
Developmental Signi"cance of Body Image
Although research examining body image has increased in recent years due to concerns regarding the
early onset of body dissatisfaction (Costa et al., 2016; Tremblay et al., 2011) and the consequences of
this dissatisfaction (Smolak, 2004), it is not just the clinical consequences of body dissatisfaction that
warrant developmental researchers’ contributions to body image research. Psychologists who study
adolescents are uniquely suited to understand body image in the context of other physical,
psychological, and social experiences that accompany the adolescent years.
Puberty. The physical development that accompanies the adolescent years is more extensive than that
experienced at any other time of life (aside from infancy). As children grow into adults, they must
adjust to a new physical form that may seem desirable, strange, and awkward to them all at the same
time. Developmental research (see Archibald et al. 2003) elucidates the significance of puberty as a
physical change and as a socially embedded experience with implications for body image.
Girls’ physical changes that accompany puberty often bring them further from the cultural ideal of
beauty (which is, essentially, prepubertal in appearance; Brumberg 1997). Girls typically gain a
significant amount of weight ( 25 lbs) during puberty (Warren 1983), and weight status is often
viewed as the most reliable correlate of body dissatisfaction (McCabe and Ricciardelli 2003a).
Although different studies suggest the effects of these physical changes vary in severity and
importance relative to other factors (e.g., sociocultural influences) in predicting girls’ body image,
most studies reveal puberty as a risk factor for girls’ body dissatisfaction (O’Dea and Abraham 1999;
Suisman et al., 2014). The timing of girls’ pubertal development relative to their peers also appears to
be significant, with earlier developers more inclined to gain more weight and most likely to report
greater body dissatisfaction (Ackard and Peterson 2001; Archibald et al. 2003; for a recent exception
to this finding see de Guzman, & Nishina, 2014). Further, some research supports mediation models
indicating that puberty predicts body dissatisfaction, which in turn predicts depression and/or lowered
self-esteem (Siegel, Yancey, Aneshensel, & Schuler, 1999; Williams and Currie 2000). One exception
to these findings concerns girls’ breast development, which appears to be positively associated with
girls’ body image (Brooks-Gunn and Warren 1988).
Research focusing on links between boys’ pubertal experience and body image is not abundant and
does not present conclusive findings. In contrast to research addressing girls, some body image
research suggests that puberty may present a risk factor for boys’ body image because during the
transition to puberty, boys tend to desire to be larger (i.e., more muscular) and more developed than
they perceive themselves to be (Yuan 2007). Further, boys’ attempts to change their bodies (i.e.,
through weight lifting, food supplements, or even steroid use) have been linked with their pubertal
status (Ricciardelli and McCabe 2003). However, post-pubertal boys tend to have higher body
satisfaction than do boys who are prepubertal or currently experiencing puberty (O’Dea and Abraham
1999). Thus, although puberty may present a body image challenge for many boys, early puberty and
the ultimate result of puberty appears to be favorable for most boys (de Guzman & Nishina, 2014).
Identity. Identity development has long been viewed (see Erikson 1968) as a central task of adolescent
development. Body image is an aspect of identity and as such, its development is particularly salient
to adolescents, particularly young women who tend to explore their identity more and internalize
societal ideals of physical appearance to a greater extent than boys (Wangqvist & Frisen, 2013).
Researchers such as Harter (1988, 2003) have described different constructs that contribute to
adolescents’ sense of self including academic competence, popularity and social acceptance, romantic
appeal, and physical appearance. Relevant to researchers’ understanding of body image development,
Harter’s work (e.g. 2001, 2003) suggests that adolescents’ perceptions of their physical appearance
contributes most significantly to their overall sense of self. With changing bodies to make sense of,
adolescents’ views of their bodies no doubt contribute to their physical appearance self-concepts and
their identity development (Frost and McKelvie 2004; Rosenblum and Lewis 1999). Although body
image could certainly influence adolescents’ identity development (and vice versa) there is little
research on their connection. In one study of late adolescents from Sweden (Wangqvist & Frisen,
2013), young women’s interpersonal identity commitment and exploration were associated with
perceiving that others viewed their appearance more positively, and their interpersonal identity
exploration was associated with greater internalization of societal ideals of appearance. Young men,
on the other hand, who had stronger interpersonal identity commitment evaluated their appearance in
more positive ways.
Of course, identity development does not take place in a vacuum but is believed to be heavily
influenced by cultural context (Shweder et al. 1998). Parent, peers, and media may each have unique
(and possibly intersecting) influences on forming an identity related to the body (Daniels & Gillen,
2015). For example, parental feedback about appearance, discussions with peers about appearance-
related topics, and viewing sexually objectified images of young people in the media may shape how
adolescents think and feel about their bodies as well as the activity choices they make that can help
shape their identities (Daniels & Gillen, 2015). Body image may also be related to the types of careers
individuals choose and the formation of an identity within a particular field or workplace (Daniels &
Gillen, 2015). Most of this research, however, has focused on children, college students, and adults
(see Daniels & Gillen, 2015), although adolescents undoubtedly think about possible future careers as
Further, research suggests the importance of considering adolescents’ cultural and ethnic background
in efforts to understand their body image (Markey 2004). Cultural constructs have been viewed as
both protective and harmful in the development of both identity and body image. Researchers (see
Altabe 1998; Wildes, Emery, & Simons, 2001) have suggested that African American girls are
protected from body dissatisfaction and disordered eating because African American cultural ideals
have historically been more robust and voluptuous than “mainstream, white” ideals. However, some
research (see Poran 2006) suggests that African American girls are at increasing risk of body and
appearance-related concerns, and a meta-analysis indicates few racial/ethnic differences in body
dissatisfaction among White, Asian American, Hispanic, and Black girls and women (Grabe & Hyde,
2006). Further, the process of acculturation and loss of ethnic identification have been discussed as
risk factors for body dissatisfaction among Asian American and Latina girls (Iyer and Haslam 2003;
Miller and Pumariega 2001). Similar to much of the body image literature, research addressing issues
of body image and identity development is biased in its focus on girls and women and leaves
questions about adolescent boys. However, some research (e.g., Miller and Pumariega 2001; Shaw,
Ramirez et al. 2004) suggests body image concerns are central to identity development, regardless of
gender or ethnic background.
Family Relationships. Adolescents’ relationships with their family members, particularly their parents,
change during this developmental period. Research suggests that adolescents’ and their parents’
physical intimacy decreases and communication patterns shift to include both increasing emotional
connectedness and increasing conflict (Larson and Richards 1994). These relationship changes are
speculated to be linked with physical changes accompanying puberty (see Steinberg 1987) and have
the potential to impact parents’ influence on their adolescents’ developing body image (McCabe and
Ricciardelli 2003b). Specifically, certain elements of family functioning have been linked to
adolescents’ body image and disordered eating behaviors. Low levels of family expressiveness have
been found to predict body dissatisfaction (Babio et al. 2008), most likely indicating that families
relatively low in qualities including warmth and emotional support are more apt to raise adolescents
who are insecure in general and worried about their appearance more than are other adolescents.
Longitudinal research examining both adolescent girls and boys further shows a link between parental
support deficits and future increases in body dissatisfaction (Bearman et al. 2006).
Some research addressing family influences on body image highlights the gendered nature of these
associations. In particular, mothers’ influences appear more consequential for girls’ body image
development and fathers’ influences appear more consequential for boys’ body image development
(Davison et al. 2000; Ericksen et al. 2003; Markey, Markey, & Schulz, 2012; McCabe and Ricciardelli
2005). This influence begins prior to adolescence, but may become more salient to adolescents as
their bodies undergo puberty. Parents’ influences may be most significant when they are explicit, such
as actively encouraging their adolescent to try to lose weight or participate in particular dieting
techniques (Benedikt, Wertheim, & Love, 1998; Wertheim, Mee, & Paxton, 1999). Some research
suggests that adolescents who report receiving messages from their parents regarding food restriction
or exercise behaviors were likely to participate in the prescribed behaviors (McCabe and Ricciardelli
2005; Ricciardelli, McCabe, & Banfield, 2000). Further, this research suggests that messages from
fathers are predictive of both strategies to lose weight and increase muscles among boys, with girls’
mothers being primary influences on their body-change strategies.
Some research suggests that parents may indirectly teach their adolescents to be dissatisfied with their
bodies. Parents’ behavioral correlates of their own body dissatisfaction (e.g., dieting, complaining
about their appearance) are associated with similar attitudes and behaviors among their children
(Fisher, Sinton, & Birch, 2009; Haines, Neumark-Sztainer, Hannan, & Robinson-O’Brien,2008).
Further, parents’ dominant role in food socialization is relevant to our understanding of adolescents’
body image development given findings linking children’s weight status, parental regulation of
children’s food intake, and both parent and child weight concerns (e.g., Davison et al. 2000; Fisher et
al. 2009). Although the majority of this research seems to indicate that parents are not necessarily
positive influences on body image development, it is important to note that when parents convey
positive body image messages, their adolescents are found to report feeling more positively about
their bodies (Ricciardelli et al. 2000).
Peer Relationships. The adolescent years are an important developmental period for the establishment
and alteration of relationships with peers. Recent research (e.g., Jones and Crawford 2006) suggests
the important role peers may play in shaping adolescents’ feelings about their bodies. This research
indicates that both adolescent girls and boys talk with their friends about their appearances and
changing their appearances (e.g., dieting, muscle building) and peers’ feedback is associated with
adolescents’ behavioral attempts to alter their bodies (see Clark and Tiggemann 2006; McCabe and
Ricciardelli 2003b). Girls appear somewhat more likely than boys to compare themselves to both their
same-sex peers and other models in appraising their appearance (Jones 2004), but social comparison
has negative body image consequences for both boys and girls (Jones 2001). Some research (e.g.,
Jones and Crawford 2006) suggests that boys may experience more pressure from peers to change
their bodies than girls do. Other research highlights girls’ friends as among the most consequential
influences on adolescents’ body image and attempts to change their bodies, with peers being more
influential than parents (Hutchinson and Rapee 2007; McCabe and Ricciardelli 2005). Additional
research that examines the ways in which both boys and girls deflect and/or internalize the messages
they receive from their peers about their bodies will extend current findings and help clarify
discrepancies across studies.
Explicit negative feedback from peers in the form of appearance-related teasing has been found to be
particularly detrimental to the development of body image (e.g., Davison and Birch 2002). A large
portion of adolescents (approximately 33% of boys and 50% of girls; Eisenberg, Neumark-Sztainer,
Haines, & Wall, 2006) report being teased about their bodies. Teasing often begins prior to
adolescence and has been shown to be associated with weight status at both extremes (Kostanski and
Gullone 2007). Girls are more likely to be teased about their appearance when they are overweight,
but boys who are either overweight or underweight are vulnerable to peer teasing (Kostanski and
Gullone 2007). Regardless of the focus of peers’ teasing, correlates of adolescents’ experiences of
teasing include low body esteem, body dissatisfaction, and an interest in changing their physical
appearance (Davison and Birch 2002; Eisenberg et al. 2006; Markey and Markey 2009). Of course,
peers are not the only source of appearance teasing; family members are often implicated in this
research as well (e.g., Keery, Boutoulle, van den Berg & Thompson, 2005; Berge, Hanson-Bradley,
Tate, & Neumark-Sztainer, 2016). The extent to which peer influences are significant predictors of
adolescents’ body images relative to other influences (e.g., family) or in combination with other
influences requires additional exploration.
Romantic Relationships. The development of romantic relationships typically begins during the
adolescent years. However, little research addresses potential links between romantic relationship
experiences and the development of adolescents’ body image. As might be expected, adolescent girls
with higher weight statuses have been found to be less likely to report romantic relationship
experiences and a sense of romantic competence than are those with lower weight statuses (Halpern,
King, Oslak, & Udry, 2005; Mendelson, Mendelson, & Andrews, 2000). Further, some research
suggests that adolescent girls who are in romantic relationships may be more likely to try to change
their bodies via dieting than are their peers who are not in relationships (Halpern et al. 2005) and
perceived pressure to be thin from romantic partners has been associated with body dissatisfaction and
disordered eating across time (L. Shoemaker, personal communication, August 5, 2009).
The mating literature (which typically focuses on adults) suggests the importance of physical
appearance (including body shape; see Singh 1993) in mate selection and relies heavily on
evolutionary theory to explain men’s greater concern than women’s about partners’ physical
appearance. Once in romantic relationships, young men’s and women’s own body satisfaction has
been found to be correlated with their perceptions of their romantic partners’ satisfaction with their
bodies (Goins, Markey, & Gillen, 2012; Markey and Markey 2006; 2014 ). Tantleff-Dunn and
Thompson (1995) go as far as to suggest that romantic partners may not only shape women’s feelings
about their bodies, but may influence their vulnerability to disordered eating and their general
psychological health. One study addressing romantic partners’ influence on young men’s body image
suggests positive associations between body image and sexual intimacy in romantic relationships
(Goins et al., 2012). Thus, although current research in this area focuses mostly on adults and requires
speculation about the parallel experiences of romantic relationship development and body image
development during adolescence, it appears that this may be a fruitful avenue for future research.
Media Influences. Adolescent development is unquestionably influenced by media culture, especially
as the twenty-first century presents an ever-increasing number of options for engaging with various
forms of the media ranging from the Internet to cell phones (Levesque 2007). Although it has long
been suggested that idealized media images may negatively influence impressionable youth, research
now provides evidence to support the negative effects of the media on body image (Clay, Vignoles, &
Dittmar, 2006; Durkin, Paxton, & Sorbello, 2007; Markey and Markey 2009). Not surprisingly, this
research is limited by its almost exclusive focus on adolescent girls, but it does utilize diverse
methodologies that are both correlational and experimental in nature (e.g., Harrison and Fredrickson
Research examining links between adolescents’ media exposure and their body image suggests that
exposure to idealized media images leads to decreased body satisfaction (e.g., Durkin et al. 2007;
Hofschire and Greenberg 2002; Markey & Markey, 2012 ). Some research (e.g., McDonnell & Lin,
2016; Mooney, Farley, & Strugnell, 2009) suggests that media celebrities are particularly influential
on girls’ feelings about their bodies and their attempts to alter the appearance of their bodies through
dieting. As girls proceed through adolescence, they appear to become increasingly aware of
sociocultural messages regarding thinness presented in the media, internalize these messages, and
compare themselves to beauty ideals presented in the media. This may contribute to body
dissatisfaction, decreases in self-esteem, and increases in depression (Clay et al. 2006; Durkin et al.
2007). Although the majority of this research examines culturally homogeneous samples, research
examining ethnic samples (e.g., Latina girls) presents similar findings: media exposure is associated
with the development of body dissatisfaction during adolescence (Schooler 2008). One recent study
suggests that the messages about physical attractiveness that youth derive from the media are similar,
regardless of their ethnic background (Gillen and Lefkowitz 2009). Further, boys (although
understudied) do not appear to be immune to the effects of the media. In one study, preadolescent
boys’ concerns about their muscularity were linked to their exposure to video gaming magazines
(Harrison and Bond 2007). Social media is a relatively new source of influence on adolescent
development; some adolescent girls report that they are “tuned in” to it all day and recognize its
profound impact on their lives (see Sales, 2016). A recent review of the literature demonstrates that
greater use of social networking sites (e.g., Facebook) is related to increased body dissatisfaction and
disordered eating (Holland & Tiggemann, 2016).
Body dissatisfaction among adolescents could be expected to be even higher than it is if all
adolescents were equally vulnerable to the media messages they receive about what constitutes an
attractive physique in most western cultures. However, some research suggests that adolescents who
are more concerned about their appearance or value their appearance relatively more than their peers
may be especially vulnerable to media influences (Durkin et al. 2007). Research addressing both boys
and girls suggests that adolescents’ media exposure triggers perceptions of their own bodies as
discrepant from the ideal, which may increase susceptibility to disordered eating (Harrison 2001;
Harrison and Hefner 2006). Adolescents’ internalization of media messages begins prior to
adolescence and may be encouraged by other socialization agents, particularly peers. For example,
some research suggests that even young girls are susceptible to media influences on body
dissatisfaction, but that media influences may not be direct, and are instead mediated by peer
appearance conversations (Clark and Tiggemann 2006; Dohnt and Tiggemann 2006). In other words,
peers may play an integral role in deciphering media messages and valuing them in terms of their
importance and relevance (Krayer, Ingledew, & Iphofen,2008). Consistent with research suggesting
the potential interactive and cumulative effects of the media and other socializing agents, Levesque
(2007) has cautioned that simple interpretations of media influences may be incomplete and that
future research is needed to understand how the media interacts with other sociocultural and
personality influences in shaping adolescent development.
Research has yet to clearly determine how adverse effects of the media may be avoided or
ameliorated to support positive body image development among adolescents. Schooler, Kim, and
Sorsoli (2006) suggest the potentially important role of parents in restricting access to some media.
Further, parents who use media (e.g., television coviewing) with their adolescents may be able to
improve adolescents’ healthy attitudes and behaviors (Schooler et al. 2006). Research assessing the
efficacy of educational interventions focusing on media literacy among children and adolescents has
demonstrated that media literacy is a promising tool for improving body image (Halliwell, Easun, &
Harcourt, 2011; McLean, Paxton, & Wertheim, 2016). Online interventions that utilize popular
websites among adolescents such as YouTube may also have potential for improving body image,
although there is little evidence of their effectiveness to date. Future research should continue to
explore the effectiveness of online interventions and media literacy and to refine what is known about
the best means to improve body image.
Conclusions and Future Directions
Research consistently suggests that adolescents are at risk for body dissatisfaction and that this
dissatisfaction has the potential to negatively impact their social relationships, health, and well-being.
As this essay indicates, body image is an important construct for researchers (as well as health care
providers, clinicians, educators, and parents) to consider even if they are not necessarily concerned
with the clinical ramifications of body dissatisfaction. It is critically important that future research
helps to clarify factors that could help improve adolescent girls’ and boys’ body image so that they can
grow up to become happy and well-adjusted men and women.
Researchers increasingly aim to achieve a contextual understanding of body image among both girls
and boys. Specifically, longitudinal research that follows children and adolescents into adulthood is
needed to discern the long-term correlates and consequences of body dissatisfaction. Further, although
a great deal of progress has been made toward understanding how cultural and ethnic background
contributes to the development of body image (e.g., Gillen and Lefkowitz 2009), additional work
remains. Finally, experimental designs, interventions, and creative methodologies that move beyond
the survey-based designs that have been so popular in this area of research should enhance our
understanding of the development of body image and improve our ability to positively impact
adolescents’ body image.
A recent focus on “positive body image” has also taken hold (see Andrew, Tiggemann, & Clark, 2016;
Tylka & Wood-Barcalow, 2015). Positive body image research has begun to examine what it means to
feel good about one’s body, who does feel good about their bodies, and how to encourage positive
body image across genders, age, and ethnic and racial groups (Frederick, Sandhu, Morse, & Swami,
2016; Tylka & Wood-Barcalow, 2015). Because relatively few adolescents feel unequivocally positive
about their bodies, this area of work holds promise for identifying the factors that contribute to
positive body image experiences and the means by which positive body image can be promoted
among all adolescents. For example, a recent intervention including a body gratitude exercise reduced
young adults’ internalized weight bias (Dunaev, Markey, & Brochu, 2016). Intervention strategies that
include thinking about the body in more positive ways should be implemented more often.
Adolescents can then be empowered to think about their bodies in a less appearance-focused and more
inspiring way.
Body Image Assessments
Cosmetic Surgery
 ! ""# #$#The
International Journal of Eating Disorders, 29%&'()
#((%*"! +,$-#$
#The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 23./'.(
!#AMA adopts new policies on second day of voting
at annual meeting0$ %12!"+33!4
 3!3333/3/414%44!4#4#4
!  
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Blackwell handbook of adolescence)')&#+###
24###2 Journal of
Public Health, 16&'.
2+# #2# #Journal of Youth
and Adolescence, 35(')
0@"!*AB$((%*  "4#
!2!##"!"Journal of Youth and
Adolescence, 27)/'.&
 6A4#?9!4<81
#   ! $ "4#""#
"#C!D!"Body Image18,&4//
456@(%%?""# # E2
D#"44#$44# #Child
Development, 59)1'1(
! 66((&The body project: An intimate history of American girls
"6A6* *9!4
<8122!# #"+
= 2!4# #Body Image, 104&.
.2"!##+"#"# #
-$2Clinical Psychology Review, 25.'/(
"?=A*((.@!G! +?"#2#
$"H<Sex Roles, 33('%
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="!!CPediatrics, 86/%)'/(
2#$Overweight and obesity
statistics0$ %12!"+33" $3"#"4
2!3"#"43 3$ "44D
#B? !1#444#
#+K2Social Development, 15
#B? !%<##$#"# #
2!   #+$Developmental
Psychology, 44)'/)
#; #;B!A1! #24!
! # #+? "K2##2Journal of
Research on Adolescence, 16.&
#*5##.! +##2
B>L*MN<L*M The Oxford handbook of identity
development. (pp. 406-422). DD.(9F9FH<+ID2H$
B=<#$<#$ <;#==1
! 2! 
"#"# &4Physiology & Behavior, 160, 14
$>>"BB#  "#24
!  #2! .&Developmental Psychology, 38.
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2 "! .44# #Appetite, 35)/'
58!9<9")# #2
2#! "##$#!#
Body Image, 11, 68-71.
"A? !1?"2!
K"$#!22#24! 
#+$Developmental Psychology, 42.(('(/1
*D! "J2 $2! 
!$!#8D# "7 
<6D<6<##& $!#2"
!2D#82!#! # #G
2Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 37.('&
* *9!4<8A6@##1@ "4
 !###4 #+B #E 2!
:*?The Journal of Adolescent Health, 3811&.'1%/
D!*4!#G #G
2Eating Behaviors, 4).'..
**A(1%Identity: Youth and crisis9F+9
2"! 2 7B<!#6>?"!*
Body image, eating disorders, and obesity in youth: Assessment, prevention, and
treatment&'//@" +!"# #
 "2H<9#<!#+#
"!##$$ #24!#22Body
Image, 17(4/
2!##!"#" ""#$Sex Roles, 51
5##B28*<(*!  #G2
! "#Body Image, 6/&%'%.
5##9.). ! !#"#".7A<
=!*Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 2nd Edition%&4(9
5B95##H !G
! 
"D2"!#"American Journal of Men’s Health,
6, )4)%
5<A6<1*"2! !
"H<+!4#Psychological Bulletin, 132,141)
$2#K"#G "4#
"$Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 33&&%/'&%%
!#!  $!DJ! 
# #CBritish Journal of Health Psychology, 16/(14)/
A#?> 0I#<5H60.!D
 !D#$# #+0#"$!
Journal of Research on Adolescence, 15)./.'..(
 !!# #Journal of Social and Clinical
Psychology, 20%('//
A>6&5! ! 8"$2
!##+# #D!Body Image, 4
!#"#"#"#2!#The Journal of
Communication, 531'/
 ! # #+# ##
Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35./'1/
A<(%%Self-perception pro;le for adolescents$+$
A<I"!2!  
#G#24!+#!7060 <5
0*Self perception: International perspectives on individual
A</?"$#!2#24 "#"
#70B6? *Handbook of self and identity
A2"B65 <G!#G
teens, sexual media: Investigating media’s in=uence on adolescent sexuality
A##5? !1!$2"!2"
2# !  !
Body Image&4
A"00&2"!#! 
 #!C?"#2#K#
#Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45&..&'.&&
7$ B9!4<87  "$2 
+=#2#CPreventive Medicine: An International
Journal Devoted to Practice and Theory, 34/(('/(
7<A#!9/!  ! 
<"4!!+?"#2# The International
Journal of Eating Disorders, 34)')&
6<#!! +$
!!#! # #Sex Roles,
6)! ! # #+# #
Developmental Psychology, 40.%/'%/.
626>1?"# 
#+5!$Journal of Youth and
Adolescence, 35.&'1(
>A##>$ ?"!6>.?"!2
4# 2!#!!The Journal of Adolescent
Health, 37'&
>5##*&?"!2 "#G
! Journal of Child and Family Studies, 16//&'/(
>7 #>7"20%<#!
! #+ ""Health Education Research,
B00"A(()Divergent realities: The emotional lives of
mothers, fathers, and adolescents9F+
B$-060&Adolescents, media, and the law: What developmental
science reveals and free speech requires9F+ID2H$
B">@@$ 9!4<8.
2"#"!$ "C4# #2
"#"2!D Journal of
Adolescent Health, 57, ..(4.1
#1##2 $# "  
"2"!2## Appetite, 47%/'(
9)#"$#!2 +
!#Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, 12
9)Smart People Don’t Diet: How the Latest Science Can
Help You Lose Weight Permanently.+3B2# 
95##1 .7A<=!*
Encyclopedia of Mental Health, 2nd Edition)14.9F9F
9.0#!  
"$+D#2 JSex Roles: A Journal of
Research, 53.('./
2!  !Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35.1'
9(#2 !G
! Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 61.%'11
9*!  #G!
2#82!#+D!2! 
##$Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1, (4(
!"Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31, 162-
9<"#86"G "
#"#2 Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 30,
! " ! # #The Journal of Social
Psychology, 143.'1
0##B/!  #
 "!#!  #Health Psychology, 22/(')1
0##B)! 2! 
!#"#2+$2#Journal of Psychosomatic
Research, 561&.'1%.
"!D! "" "$! 
# #Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43.1./'11%
##BB1?""+@ "
# ! 8Body Image, 18, &)4&&
! 222## D"4#
!CJournal of Youth & Adolescence.
!#CJournal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21)('11
##9! 6# +"#
4##$Psychiatry, 64(/'
*=#A< ##(-#$$ "
2#2!#  "!  
"0#27#Appetite, 52)%.')(
6; .* "$#
#+?"#2"2Eating and Weight
Disorders, 20/(4//.
9!4<8<A67$ B
@ "4#"$! $ "4$ "
#+7!#2$  "4#Archives of
Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 156&'&%
IG6"!<(((I2 
"$##+7#2#  "
 Adolescence, 34/11&'1&(
D<6@"!*A5><8!#57((! 
2 #2 "#"$# #
Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 20//1'/&(
" The American Psychologist, 57(1&&'1%(
1?"#2+! #
"!2 #!Sex Roles, 55'&/('&..
2# #+$The
International Journal of Eating Disorders, 36/%(')
0##B/B ##2"#2
"#2 "  ! #
Sex Roles, 48&'%/)('/.(
! " !"The Journal of Adolescent Health, 26
0##BB##6?"!>1# #
$ 2"$#!2 "!#! 
#Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 35&&'%&
0#!5B(((?"#! 
"#$!#Child Development, 70
<#961American girls: Social media and the secret lives of teenagers
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Research, 23/'./
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@!*Handbook of child development.";#%1.'(/&
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Adolescent Health, 25..'1.
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and Clinical Psychology, 671(1&'(&)
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Adolescence, 36, )%.4)(/
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*Girls at puberty: Biological and psychosocial perspectives
Q" #6I6?#?#);#2
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Journal of Treatment & Prevention, 22, 420-434.
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Conference Paper
Full-text available
Adolescence is known by their concern towards physical appearance, and late adolescence is no exception. Body image is defined as an individual’s perception about their body condition. One of the internal factors that can build body image is personality. This study aims to determine the relationship between the big five personality with body image in late adolescence. The research subjects in this study were 172 late adolescents aged 18-21 years who did not have physical disabilities. The data collection method used body image scale and IPIP-BFM 50 scale. The data analysis technique used was product moment correlation. Based on the results of data analysis, the correlation coefficient was rxy = 0.238 with p = 0.002 (p < 0.05) for extraversion personality, rxy = 0.284 with p = 0.000 (p < 0.05) for agreeableness personality, rxy = 0.335 with p = 0.000 (p < 0.05) for conscientiousness personality, rxy = -0.339 with p = 0.000 (p < 0.05) for neuroticism personality, and rxy = 0.166 with p = 0.029 (p < 0.05) for intellect personality. These results indicate that there is a positive relationship between the personality of extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and intellect with body image, while the neuroticism has a negative relationship with body image.
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Background: Since many aspects of functioning can affect body image, the aim of our study was to assess whether the relationship between body image-related negative emotions or depression and body dissatisfaction was moderated by body image-related quality of life and to compare these analyses among participants with various body mass index during COVID-19. Subjects and methods: One hundred and thirty-one adults participated in the study. Measurement tools included the Body Image Quality of Life Inventory, the short form of the Situational Inventory of Body-Image Dysphoria, the Beck Depression Inventory-II and the Contour Drawing Scale. Results: The effects of body image-related negative emotions or depression on body dissatisfaction is moderated by body image-related quality of life, but only among obese participants. Conclusion: Treatment of obese patients should focus on improving quality of life related to body image, while managing negative emotions and body dissatisfaction.
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A new assessment tool is proposed for measuring the attitude to individual parts of one's body, applicable to persons with physical disabilities. The forms for testing contain schematic images of the man figure and person's face, on which the sections are marked out. It is necessary to put a specific rating on a 5-point scale in the each segment of body and face. Approbation was carried out in adolescents 11-18 years old with typical development (ATD, 103 people) and with motor disabilities and IQ within normal range (AMD, 31 people). Specific and averaged assessments of the face, body, limbs, etc. were obtained. Psychometric analysis showed that the adolescents of both groups basically assess their body with points 4 and 5. In both groups, there are about 9% of respondents with low ratings (below 3.5). There are significant sex differences in the estimates of certain parts of the body. The ANOVA reveals reliable effects of interaction of the factors of sex, age and the presence of disorders in comparison of the ATD and AMD groups. In particular, the lowest scores are typical for girls 11-14 years of the AMD group. The validity of the proposed technique is indicated by regular correlations with other body image estimates, self-esteem and neuroticism. The proposed diagnostic tool can be recommended for research purposes in work with adolescents and adults with physical appearance defects.
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This study assessed the relationship between girls' weight status and self-concept and examined peer teasing and parent criticism as potential mediators of this relationship. Data were collected for 182 girls and their parents when the girls were 5 and 7 years old. At each age, girls' body mass index, self-concept, peer weight-related teasing (child report), and parents' criticism of girls' weight status (spouse report) were assessed. At ages 5 and 7, girls who were more overweight reported lower self-concept. Peer teasing and parent criticism mediated the relationship between weight status and self-concept at age 7, but not at age 5. In addition, the duration and timing of parent criticism across ages 5 and 7 mediated the association between girls' weight status at age 5 and perceived peer acceptance at age 7.
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This meta-analytic review of prospective and experimental studies reveals that several accepted risk factors for eating pathology have not received empirical support (e.g., sexual abuse) or have received contradictory support (e.g., dieting). There was consistent support for less-accepted risk factors(e.g., thin-ideal internalization) as well as emerging evidence for variables that potentiate and mitigate the effects of risk factors(e.g., social support) and factors that predict eating pathology maintenance(e.g., negative affect). In addition, certain multivariate etiologic and maintenance models received preliminary support. However, the predictive power of individual risk and maintenance factors was limited, suggesting it will be important to search for additional risk and maintenance factors, develop more comprehensive multivariate models, and address methodological limitations that attenuate effects.
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Evidence is presented showing that body fat distribution as measured by waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is correlated with youthfulness, reproductive endocrinologic status, and long-term health risk in women. Three studies show that men judge women with low WHR as attractive. Study 1 documents that minor changes in WHRs of Miss America winners and Playboy playmates have occurred over the past 30-60 years. Study 2 shows that college-age men find female figures with low WHR more attractive, healthier, and of greater reproductive value than figures with a higher WHR. In Study 3, 25- to 85-year-old men were found to prefer female figures with lower WHR and assign them higher ratings of attractiveness and reproductive potential. It is suggested that WHR represents an important bodily feature associated with physical attractiveness as well as with health and reproductive potential. A hypothesis is proposed to explain how WHR influences female attractiveness and its role in mate selection.
While representations of bodies and weight have been studied in regards to fashion and fitness magazines, little research exists that examines such representations in celebrity gossip magazines. Using data collected through content analysis of 262 photo-caption units published in June 2015 issues of American celebrity gossip magazines, this study examines representations of bodies within the genre and the relationship between the gender, race, and body size of pictured celebrities and the tone of accompanying captions. Results indicate that celebrity gossip magazines critique the bodies of both female and male subjects, but that women are more likely to be the subject of negative comments than men. Underweight women and overweight men are especially targeted for criticism. Latinos are praised more often than other racial groups. The implications of these representations are discussed.
This study examined a range of predictors, based on previous theoretical models, of positive body image in young adult women. Participants were 266 women who completed an online questionnaire measuring body appreciation, activity participation, media consumption, perceived body acceptance by others, self-compassion, and autonomy. Potential mechanisms in predicting body appreciation assessed were self-objectification, social appearance comparison, and thin-ideal internalisation. Results indicated that greater perceived body acceptance by others and self-compassion, and lower appearance media consumption, self-objectification, social comparison, and thin-ideal internalisation were related to greater body appreciation. An integrated model showed that appearance media (negatively) and non-appearance media and self-compassion (positively) were associated with lower self-objectification, social comparison, and thin-ideal internalisation, which in turn related to greater body appreciation. Additionally, perceived body acceptance by others was directly associated with body appreciation. The results contribute to an understanding of potential pathways of positive body image development, thereby highlighting possible intervention targets.
The current mixed-methods study examined the prevalence of negative weight-based talk across multiple family members (i.e., mother, father, older/younger brother, older/younger sister) and analyzed qualitative data to identify what negative weight-based talk sounds like in the home environment. Children (n = 60; ages 9–12) and their families from low income and minority households participated in the study. Children reported the highest prevalence of negative weight-based talk from siblings. Among specific family members, children reported a higher prevalence of negative weight-based talk from mothers and older brothers. In households with younger brothers, children reported less negative weight-based talk compared to other household compositions. Both quantitative and qualitative results indicated that mothers’ negative weight-based talk focused on concerns about child health, whereas fathers’ and siblings’ negative weight-based talk focused on child appearance and included teasing. Results suggest that interventions targeting familial negative weight-based talk may need to be tailored to specific family members.
Cultural ideals of attractiveness have shifted to become more out of reach for the average person, making body image a significant issue for many people in industrialized, western cultures. Body image concerns affect people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities. These concerns originate from a complex interaction of sociocultural influences and have significant implications for mental and physical health. Options for improving body image typically include psychoeducational, cognitive behavioral, and ecological/activist approaches. Body image concerns are serious problems that demand effective responses.
Dieting typically refers to individuals’ short-term attempts to lose weight by restricting the amount or types of foods that are consumed. The majority of women and a growing portion of men engage in dieting behaviors, typically pursuing different dieting strategies across multiple attempts at weight loss. The weight loss industry is a multibillion dollar industry, yet most programs, plans, pills, and prescriptions do not actually result in weight loss. Psychologists and other medical professionals who understand dieting recommend other approaches to weight loss, primarily long-term lifestyle changes, if weight loss is desired or required due to ill health.