An Exploration of the Attitudinal and Perceptual Dimensions of Body Image among Male and Female Adolescents from Six Latin American Cities

Article excerpt

The concept of body image consists of an attitudinal and a perceptual dimension. The attitudinal aspect is reflected in the positive or negative feelings people have about their body, that is, how satisfied they are with their physical self. The perceptual component relates to how accurately people estimate their body size, that is, the discrepancy between their estimated body size as assessed from a subjective measure and their actual body size as assessed from an objective measure (Gardner, 1996). Ample evidence indicates that disturbances can occur in either of these dimensions, especially among adolescents and young adults, who are considered vulnerable to body image problems (McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2003).

Adolescence is a lifecycle stage characterized by physiologic, emotional, and cognitive changes, and by an increased preoccupation with physical appearance. This preoccupation often centers around a strong desire to attain the socially sanctioned muscular male or slender female body types that young people are constantly exposed to in advertisements, music videos, and films (Morrison, Kalin, & Morrison, 2004; LeCroy, 2004). Adolescent girls, for example, frequently become dissatisfied with their increased adiposity as they go through puberty. Accordingly, these girls may adopt unhealthy strategies to alter their body size, including severe caloric restriction, self-induced vomiting, overuse of diet pills, laxatives and diuretics, and compulsive exercising (Harrison, 2001; Devlin & Zhu, 2001; Law & Deixoto, 2002). Such body dissatisfaction and body-change strategies have been reported for samples of female adolescents from Turkey (Cok, 1990), Fiji (Becker, 1995), Taiwan (Chen, Shaffer, & Wu, 1997), the United States (Guinn, Semper, Jorgensen, & Skaggs, 1997), Brazil (Fonseca, Sichieri, & Veiga, 1998), and Korea (Kim & Kim, 2001). Although these and other studies have found that body image disturbances are more prevalent among female than male adolescents, mounting evidence suggests that body dissatisfaction and body-change practices are increasing among teenage boys (Cohane & Pope, 2001; Devlin & Zhu, 2001; Law & Deixoto, 2002; McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2003).

Central to a body image disturbance is the belief that body size defines the identity and determines the worthiness of the individual. Consequently, in vulnerable persons, failure to achieve the body ideal can foster body dissatisfaction, lowered self-esteem, and intense guilt feelings (Pritchard, King, & Czajka-Narins, 1997; LeCroy, 2004). Several theories have emerged to explain the development of an unfavorable body image. Proponents of the family perspective theory observe that the family is a primary mediator of cultural norms and values. Accordingly, the extent to which the family communicates the cultural ideal to its members, and the manner in which this message is conveyed and interpreted, strongly impact the formation of a body image (Walsh, 1993; Keel, Heatherton, & Harnden, 1997; Haeworth-Hoettner, 2000). Researchers favoring the sociocultural theory propose that body image problems stem from the messages conveyed by various forces comprising the individual's cultural milieu, including norms and values, personal interactions, religious beliefs, the print and film media, and social expectations which create and promote standards of masculine and feminine attractiveness (Law & Deixoto, 2002; Lokken, Ferraro, Kirchner, & Bowling, 2003; Morrison, Kalin, & Morrison, 2004). Adherents to the social comparison theory extend this argument by noting that internalization of idealized body images can lead to body dissatisfaction through a social comparison process whereby individuals compare themselves to media-portrayed idealized images, and judge themselves as not meeting social expectations (Slice, Spangier, & Stewart-Agras, 2001; Morrison, Kalin, & Morrison, 2004).

Although research conducted with adolescents from industrialized and developing societies suggests that this age group is particularly vulnerable to body image disturbances, there is a paucity of information on this topic among adolescents from Latin America (Fonseca, Sichieri, & Veiga, 1998). …