Parent, Peer, and Media Influences on Body Image and Strategies to Both Increase and Decrease Body Size among Adolescent Boys Ant) Girls

Article excerpt


This study investigated the nature of body image and body change strategies, as well as the sociocultural influences on these variables, among a group of 1,266 adolescents (622 males, 644 females). In particular, it investigated weight gain and increased muscle, as well as weight loss. It was found that females were less satisfied with their bodies and were more likely to adopt strategies to lose weight, whereas males were more likely to adopt strategies to increase weight and muscle tone. Respondents with higher body mass index (BMI) evidenced greater body dissatisfaction and more weight loss strategies, but there were no differences between BMI groups in weight gain or strategies to increase muscles. Weight gain and strategies to increase muscles were more likely to be undertaken by older adolescents, but there were no grade level differences in weight loss. Media influences to alter weight, as well as feedback from mother, father, and both male and female peers, were greater for females. There were few gra de level or BMI differences in regard to any of the sociocultural influences. The importance of these findings in terms of providing a better understanding of factors which may lead to a disturbed body image and body change disorders, particularly among adolescent boys, is discussed.

Researchers and clinicians have recently recognized that there has been an inadequate conceptualization and assessment of body image and associated behavioral problems among males. By focusing on the same areas that concern females, many problem areas for males have been neglected. In particular, the literature has focused on weight loss, with little research on weight gain or strategies to increase muscle tone. Although disorders that may develop from a preoccupation with restrictive food practices are now recognized (Keel, Fulkerson, & Leon, 1997; Stice, 1998), there is little information on the impact, among males, of binge eating, excessive exercise, or other behaviors associated with disturbed body image (Middleman, Vazquez, & Durant, 1998; Moore, 1993). In addition to disturbed eating and exercise patterns, which may lead to significant health problems, males with a poor body image may develop psychological problems, such as depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety disorders (Braun, Sunday, Huang, & Hal mi, 1999).

The lack of focus on the determinants of body image disturbance among males may be due to the finding that eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, affect a substantially smaller percentage of adolescent males than females (Braun et al., 1999; Sharp, Clark, Dunan, Blackwood, & Shapiro, 1994). However, research has largely failed to examine other consequences of disturbed body image; for example, binge eating, excessive exercise, and steroid use. Therefore, the extent of disturbed body change activities adopted by males has probably been underestimated.

Dieting is the main form of weight regulation used by females (Huon, 1994), but is less likely to be used by males (Drewnowski, Kennedy, Kurth, & Krahn, 1995; Fox, Page, Armstrong, & Kirby, 1994; Moore, 1993; Tiggemann, 1994). The conclusion drawn from this finding is that males engage in fewer behaviors to alter their body size and shape. However, dieting usually takes males further away from their ideal body. Perhaps a more accurate interpretation of this finding is that the measures to assess body change techniques have been designed for females and thus do not focus on techniques used by males (Fox et al., 1994). In fact, there has been little assessment of strategies to increase body bulk, although research has demonstrated that males are fairly evenly divided between those who want to lose weight and those who want to gain weight (Cohn & Alder, 1992; Drewnowski & Yee, 1987; Raudenbush & Zeilner, 1997). Further, few studies have evaluated the influence of family, peers, or the media on weight gain or str ategies to increase muscles. …


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