Body Image Perception in Female Mexican-American Adolescents

By Guinn, Bobby; Semper, Tom et al. | Journal of School Health, March 1997 | Go to article overview

Body Image Perception in Female Mexican-American Adolescents


Guinn, Bobby, Semper, Tom, Jorgensen, Layne, Skaggs, Steve, Journal of School Health


Body image perception has been conceptualized as the mental picture of one's body-the product of conscious and unconscious perceptions, attitudes, and feelings.[1] Because of the body changes that occur during puberty, much research has been conducted on body image perception among adolescent females. While adolescent males appear to be satisfied with the weight gain associated with adolescence, females generally are unhappy with these changes which seem to represent increased fatness.[2,3] A distorted body image, perceiving oneself to weigh more or to be larger than actual measurements, has been found common among female adolescents expressing dissatisfaction toward their bodies.[4,5] Bruch[6] stated that no age group is more preoccupied with physique and appearance than teen-age girls. Body image distortion, in addition to being a significant emotional problem for adolescents, also may serve as a motivator for engaging in potentially dangerous weight-reducing behaviors.[7]

The literature indicates the adolescent's body image perception is affected by cultural ideals and values, present and prior experiences, self comparison to others, expectations of society, and needs.[8-10] Past studies on body image and the female adolescent have centered around its relationship with self-esteem, weight status, and eating disorders.[11-14] The consensus of these reports suggests a more negative body image perception associated with lower self-esteem, obesity, and increased prevalence of eating disorders as well as preference for thinness evident across all age levels. However, few studies have considered the association between body image and actual body composition and physical activity involvement.

Because body image may be more a cultural reflection than a response to one's actual physical dimensions, the adolescent judged to be of normal weight may well hold a distorted body image. Where a negative body image may be suspected in the overweight teen-ager, dissatisfaction in the asymptomatic female is much more difficult to recognize. Assessing body image perception as it relates to adiposity could provide insight into body distortion as well as the image viewed to be ideal or attractive. Information of this nature would be of benefit to those interventions designed to assist adolescents in developing a healthy body image. Investigating the relationship of activity involvement with body image would provide a better understanding of the role body satisfaction or dissatisfaction plays as a motivator of exercise behaviors.

While a sizeable amount of research has been conducted on body image, most of the literature has been developed on a subject pool composed predominantly of White middle-class adolescents.[2,6,8,10,11] Mexican Americans, living primarily in the western and southwestern United States, make up the largest and fastest growing sub-group of the overall Hispanic community with approximately 43% being age 19 or younger.[15] This, plus Castaneda's[16] contention that current available study of Mexican-American adolescents suffers from a lack of basic research information concerning developmental processes, underscores the need for inquiry regarding body image perception within this ethnic group. Therefore, this study investigated, among female Mexican-American adolescents, the relationship of body image to self-esteem, physical activity, and body composition.

METHODS

Subjects

Subjects were drawn from a universe of required eighth grade physical education classes in three McAllen Independent School District middle schools located in the lower Rio Grande Valley region of Texas. Classes were randomly selected from the three campuses that would approximate 75% of each school's female eighth grade enrollment. The ethnic composition of McAllen ISD is: Mexican American, 86.7%, White non-Hispanic, 11.5%, African American, .4%, and Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander or other, 1. …

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