Adolescent Development

Body Image and Adolescents

This chapter in the 2005 Guidelines for Adolescent Nutrition Services defines and explains what exactly body image is, as well as the several factors that influence adolescent body image including self-evaluation, cultural messages, and societal standards.  The excerpt of the article below provides shocking statistics about adolescents’ self-esteem as it relates to their body image.

BODY IMAGE AND ADOLESCENTS, Jillian Croll

Body image is the dynamic perception of one’s body– how it looks, feels, and moves.  It is shaped by perception, emotions, physical sensations, and is not static, but can change in relation to mood, physical experience, and environment.  Because adolescents experience significant physical changes in their bodies during puberty, they are likely to experience highly dynamic perceptions of body image.

Body image is influenced strongly by self-esteem and self-evaluation, more so than by external evaluation by others.  It can, however, be powerfully influenced and affected by cultural messages and societal standards of appearance and attractiveness.  Given the overwhelming prevalence of thin and lean female images and strong and lean male images common to all westernized societies, body image concerns have become widespread among adolescents.

• 50-88% of adolescent girls feel negatively about their body shape or size.

• 49% of teenage girls say they know someone with an eating disorder.

• Only 33% of girls say they are at the “right weight for their body”, while 58% want to lose weight. Just 9% want to gain weight.

• Females are much more likely than males to think their current size is too large (66% vs. 21%).

• Over one-third of males think their current size is too small, while only 10% of women consider their size too small.

• Strikingly, while only 30% of older adolescents surveyed consider their current size acceptable to them, 85% of females and 95% of males considered their current size socially acceptable for others.

• 85% of young women worry “a lot” about how they look and twice as many males as females say they are satisfied with their appearance.

• A report by the American Association of University Women indicated that for girls, “the way I look” is the most important indicator of self-worth, while for boys, self-worth is based on abilities, rather than looks.

Going through puberty can amplify body image concerns.  Puberty for boys brings characteristics typically admired by society– height, speed, broadness, and strength.  Puberty for girls brings with it characteristics often perceived as less laudable, as girls generally get rounder and have increased body fat.  These changes can serve to further enhance dissatisfaction among girls.  Going through puberty later or earlier than peers can have an impact on body image as well as psychological health.  Generally, early development for girls and late development for boys present the greatest challenges to healthy body image.

ETIOLOGY/CONTRIBUTING FACTORS

Media Messages

Strong social and cultural forces influence body image in young people.  From childhood to adulthood, television, billboards, movies, music videos, video games, computer games, toys, the Internet, and magazines convey images of ideal attractiveness, beauty, shape, size, strength and weight.  Consider these statistics from the TV-Turnoff Network:

• Adolescents watch an average of 28 hours of television per week.

• American youth spend, on average, 900 hours a year in school and an average of 1,023 hours a year watching television.

• The average American consumes 11.8 hours per day of media of all kinds.

• Children view more than 20,000 commercials per year.

• 75% of all adolescents spend at least 6 hours a week watching music videos.

Eight million children at 12,000 schools across the country watch television at school each day via Channel One, an in-school broadcast current events program provided (including TV and VCR equipment) free of charge to schools.  The program includes ten minutes of broadcast news and current events coverage and two minutes of advertisements for products such as chips, candy, and beauty-aids.  These advertisements promote poor body image through their “beauty” ads and provide mixed messages regarding adolescent lifestyle.

In childhood, popular toys such as action figures and dolls have similar body shapes: tall and slender for female figures and tall, slender, and muscular for male figures.  The body shapes advertised by these toys, dolls and media sources are not realistic.  If Barbie were real, her neck would be too long and thin to support the weight of her head, and her upper body proportions would make it difficult for her walk upright.  If Ken were real, his huge barrel chest and enormously thick neck would nearly preclude him from wearing a shirt.

READ THE FULL CHAPTER HERE: Body Image and Adolescents

-Tierney

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