Study Finds Body Image Is A Major Concern For Girls As Young As 10 Years Old Regardless Of Their Weight And Pubertal Development

August 17, 1998

Being Teased By Peers Has A Major Impact On Girls' Body Satisfaction

SAN FRANCISCO - New research suggests that girls as young as ten years old who are teased or socially victimized by peers relate such experiences to their own body image. This finding, based on an examination of the relationship between teasing and body image satisfaction in sixth grade girls, indicates that worries about body image develop in girls at an age younger than detected in previous research.

This finding, which will be presented the 106th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA), August 14 - 18 in San Francisco, is based on research conducted by L. Kris Gowen, Ph.D., of the Stanford Center on Adolescence. Dr. Gowen found that girls who are socially victimized overtly (being hit by a peer), relationally (being isolated or neglected), or through a lack of prosocial treatment (not being the recipient of kind acts by peers) have lower body satisfaction, regardless of their actual weight and pubertal status. On the other hand, being the recipient of prosocial treatment was associated with higher body satisfaction. The age range of the 157 San Francisco Bay Area sixth graders was ten to thirteen years (mean age was 11.5), and the ethnic distribution was 33 percent Caucasian, 23 percent Hispanic, 16 percent Asian, 13 percent Pacific Islander, and 15 percent Other (which included African-American and Native American).

Dr. Gowen believes that this strong relationship between teasing and body image concerns among young adolescent girls is a developmental issue, since they are going through puberty, and a great deal of attention is focused on their bodies. "Ten to thirteen-year-old girls who are picked on may question what is wrong with themselves, and accordingly they tend to believe that if they were prettier or skinnier, their peers would not tease them," Dr. Gowen says.

Studies have shown that social victimization is related to loneliness, depression, social anxiety, and social avoidance among boys and girls, and teasing has been shown to cause anger and sadness. Dr. Gowen thus suggests that poor body image and low self-esteem are related to teasing in young girls. Since body image is such an important issue for young girls across all ethnicities, Dr. Gowen suggests that schools need to address this issue and foster dialogue among young adolescents about body image and the ill effects of teasing.

Presentation: "Social Victimization, Teasing, and Weight Concerns in Young Adolescents" by L. Kris Gowen, Ph.D., Stanford Center on Adolescence, Session 4151, 11:00 AM, August 17, 1998, Moscone Center - South Building, Room 222.

(Full Text available from the APA Public Affairs Office)

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world's largest association of psychologists. APA's membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 50 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 59 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

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American Psychological Association

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