Effects of Appearance-Related Testing on Ethnically Diverse Adolescent Girls

Article excerpt

Adolescents rank teasing and bullying as greater problems than racism, AIDS, or alcohol. Keltner et al. (2001) defined teasing as "an intentional provocation accompanied by off-record markers that together comment on something relevant to the target" (p. 234). Teasing is a painful but persistent part of adolescents' lives and has become near epidemic in America's classrooms (Adler, 2004). Kalman (2003) reported that about 15% of all children are victims of constant teasing.

Teasing is an important problem because consequences can be severe and include acts of violence to self and others. Targets of teasing are at risk of depression and thoughts of suicide (Kahn, 1995). Kahn (1995) found that children who were teased about their body type were two to three times more likely to think about or to attempt suicide than those who were not teased. A 12-year-old in Michigan committed suicide after experiencing continuous teasing about her clothing, being shy, and her religious beliefs (Hunter, 2001). Several of her peers had teased her since elementary school because she wore dark "gothic" clothing to school.

Although adolescents may be teased about a variety of aspects of their appearance, several researchers have documented that teasing about weight in particular, is damaging to the emotional and physical well-being of an adolescent. Thompson et al. (1995) found that being teased resulted in a negative body image and an increase in restrictive eating. In related work, Eisenberg, Newmark-Sztainer, and Story (2003) found, regardless of the actual body weight of the adolescent, teasing about weight was consistently associated with low body satisfaction, low self-esteem, high depressive symptoms, and thinking about and attempting suicide.

Combined with other problems, constant teasing by peers can push an adolescent to violence against others. A common denominator in many of the shooting tragedies in the past few years is that the shooters were the victims of teasing. In 1999, two students who were reportedly victims of teasing for years, gunned down 12 high school classmates and a teacher before killing themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado (Hunter, 2001). Olejarczyk (2000) reported that a 16-year-old high school student was arrested for bringing a gun to school, intending to shoot two female students who had been continuously teasing him and his friends. In California, at Santee High School, one student reportedly had been bullied about his physical appearance before he killed two students and injured 13 others ("School Shooting," 2001). In 2001, a ninth grader shot and killed two students and wounded two others as a result of being "picked on" ("Keeping School," 2001). In Cold Spring, Minnesota in September 2003, a high school student shot and killed two other high school students. The student had been persistently teased about his severe acne (Sand, 2003). The need to understand how teasing impacts adolescents and how they respond is apparent from the severity of the potential outcomes. The ability to successfully respond to teasing has implications for maintaining and developing adolescents' self-image, confidence, and coping behaviors as well as their ability to form friendships.

Teasing that occurs during childhood and adolescence can have enduring effects. In early research, Berscheid, Walster, and Bohrnstedt (1973) found that adult women who had been teased about their appearance during their adolescent years had a higher level of body dissatisfaction than those who had not been teased. Cash, Winstead, and Janda (1986) found that people who reported being teasing by peers during childhood about their appearance were more likely to report being dissatisfied with their present body image than those who had not been teased. Thompson et al. (1991) investigated connections between physical appearance satisfaction and history of being teased about weight. Those who suffered with eating-disturbances compared to those with no eating disturbances, had been teased more often and reported experiencing a greater impact as a result. …