Association between Self-Concept and Body Weight, Gender, and Pubertal Development among Male and Female Adolescents

Article excerpt

The effects of gender, puberty, and body weight on the self-concept of young adolescents have been addressed in the literature. In studies of Australian (Marsh, 1989) and American (Harter, 1988) adolescents, gender differences in several aspects of self-concept have been found. Marsh reported that males scored higher in regard to physical ability, physical appearance, mathematics, emotional stability, problem solving, and general self-esteem. Females scored higher on verbal and reading competency, school-related self-concept, honesty/trustworthiness, and religious/spiritual values. Marsh commented that these gender differences were consistent with traditional sex stereotypes. Harter found that male adolescents scored higher than did females on all categories of self-concept except for behavioral conduct.

Several studies have shown that pubertal development is related to physical self-concept (Blyth et al., 1981; Brooks-Gunn, 1984; Alsaker, 1992; Folk, Pedersen, & Cullari, 1993), with early-developing females having a less positive body image than their on-time and late-maturing peers. Among males, the opposite is true, with early maturation being linked to a positive body image and late maturation being associated with dissatisfaction with the physical self.

A gender difference in terms of physical appearance, with younger females and older males having higher self-concept, was attributed by Marsh (1989) to age of the students. This effect may be associated more closely with pubertal status.

The association between adolescents' self-concept and their body weight is not clear. Studies comparing the self-concept of overweight and normal weight adolescents present conflicting findings. Some studies have found a relationship between body weight, or body mass index (BMI), and self-concept among adolescents, with greater body weight or BMI being associated with significantly lower self-concept (Sallade, 1973; Mendelson & White, 1982, 1985; Drake, 1988; O'Dea & Clampett, 1995). Other studies have found no association between self-concept and body weight among adolescents (Kimm, Sweeney, & Janosky, 1991; Rumpel & Harris, 1994). It has been suggested that use of a global self-concept measure may mask differences that would be detected by a multidimensional tool (Kimm, Sweeney, & Janosky, 1991).

These studies confirm that gender, puberty, age, and body weight have an effect on aspects of adolescents' self-concept. However, the interaction of these factors in determining self-concept is not well understood. The aim of the present study was to examine the effect and interaction of gender, pubertal status, age, and body weight on the self-perceptions of young adolescent male and female students.



Participants were selected from students enrolled in Years 7 and 8 at two secondary schools in Sydney, Australia. One was a coeducational public school and the other was a private girls school. They were located within the same school district and drew students from the same catchment area. The demographic characteristics of the students at both schools were similar.


Demographic data were obtained by questionnaire. Self-concept was determined using the Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents (Harter, 1988), a multidimensional instrument that measures different aspects of self-concept. Scores are based on adolescents' self-reported competencies in the following domains.

Scholastic Competence. This subscale measures adolescents' perceptions of their ability within the scholastic realm (e.g., how well they are doing at class work) and how intelligent they feel they are.

Social Acceptance. Subscale items measure the degree to which adolescents are accepted by peers, feel popular, have a lot of friends, and feel that they are easy to like.

Athletic Competence. Items measure adolescents' perceptions of their athletic ability and competence in sports (e. …


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