Gender Differences in Peer and Parental Influences: Body Image Disturbance

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Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Vol. 33, No. 5, October 2004, pp. 421–429 ( C 2004)

Gender Differences in Peer and Parental Influences: Body Image Disturbance, Self-Worth, and Psychological Functioning in Preadolescent Children Vicky Phares,1 Ari R. Steinberg,2 and J. Kevin Thompson3

Received April 17, 2003; revised January 20, 2004; accepted February 11, 2004

The connections between body image disturbance and psychological functioning have been well established in samples of older adolescent girls and young women. Little is known, however, about body image in younger children. In particular, little is known about possible gender differences in preadolescent children. The current study explored self-reported body image disturbance and psychological functioning in relation to peer and parental influences in 141 elementary school-aged girls and boys aged 8–11. Results suggest that girls are more concerned about dieting and are more preoccupied with their weight than are boys. Girls also reported a greater drive for thinness and a higher level of family history of eating concerns than did boys. Correlations suggested that girls’ experiences of body image concerns (body dissatisfaction, bulimia, and drive for thinness) were related to a number of factors (such as family history of eating concerns, peer influences, teasing, depression, and global self-worth) whereas boys’ experiences of body image concerns were related to fewer factors. On the basis of these findings, the assessment and treatment of body image concerns in preadolescent children (especially girls) are of great importance. Implications for intervention and prevention programs are discussed. KEY WORDS: body image; peers; parents.

The prevalence of weight and body image concerns among preadolescent children is overwhelming. Between 30 and 50% of adolescent girls are either concerned about their weight or are actually dieting (e.g., Thompson and 1 Vicky

Phares, Ph.D. is a Professor and Director of Clinical Training at the University of South Florida. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Vermont. Her major research interests are fathers and developmental psychopathology. She recently published a textbook, Understanding Abnormal Child Psychology with Wiley and Sons. To whom correspondence should be addressed at University of South Florida, Department of Psychology, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, PCD 4118G, Tampa, Florida 33620; e-mail: 2 Ari R. Steinberg, Ph.D. graduated from the University of South Florida, where she earned her M.A. in Psychology and her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Her major research interests are cognitive and psychosocial correlates to the development of body image; e-mail: 3 J. Kevin Thompson, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology at the University of South Florida. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Georgia. His major research interests are body image and eating disorders.

Smolak, 2001). Such concerns about size and/or appearance have been found to predict onset of eating disturbances prospectively (Cattarin and Thompson, 1994; Stice, 2001). Although most of the previous research on eating disorders has focused on adult women and adolescent girls, it has recently been shown that weight concerns and body image disturbance exist in younger girls and boys (Cusumano and Thompson, 2001; Field et al., 2001; Ricciardelli and McCabe, 2001; Ricciardelli et al., 2000; VanderWal and Thelen, 2000). Self-esteem concerns appear to be related to body image disturbance in young children, but there does not appear to be a causal link between self-esteem and body image disturbance (Mendelson et al., 1996). Specifically, body image disturbance and poor self-esteem appear to develop concurrently in young boys and girls. Given these important issues, the current study attempted to examine the psychological, familial, and social correlates of weight...
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