Among the numerous studies aimed at examining the link between appearance satisfaction and self-esteem at adolescence very few, except Zumpf and Harter (1989), have specifically examined the directionality of the relation. Hence, the first goal of this study was to examine the distribution of adolescents, according to their gender and grade level, within each of the following two groups: those who acknowledge that the evaluation of their physical appearance precedes and determines their global self-esteem, and those who conversely believe that they must first be satisfied with their global sense of self in order to be satisfied with their physical appearance. The second goal was to examine whether adolescents' perceived competence in various domains of daily life functioning differs according to how they value physical appearance. Participants were 1,362 adolescents (540 boys and 822 girls) from the 7th, 9th and 11th grades. Overall, 35% of adolescents acknowledged that their perceived appearance determined their self-esteem, with boys and girls being proportionally distributed between the groups. Adolescents in the group more concerned with appearance reported lower satisfaction with their physical appearance, lower self-esteem than others, and lower perceived competence in the scholastic and social domains.
Keywords: adolescence, self-esteem, physical appearance, perceived competence, appearance satisfaction, global self-esteem.
Body image is an important influence upon adolescent self-esteem (Abell & Richards, 1996; Harter, 1999; Mintz & Betz, 1986). However, for some young people, satisfaction with their physical appearance plays a critical role in this developmental process and becomes the central determinant of their sense of self. According to Zumpf and Harter (1989), these young people are at risk of developing socioemotional problems. The present study addressed the issue of the importance of the relation between young people's satisfaction with physical appearance and self-esteem.
Self-esteem is usually considered a key indicator of psychological health and social life adjustment. Decades of theory and research have emphasized its link with academic success and achievement (Baumeister, Campbell, Krueger, & Vohs, 2003; Marsh, 1990), emotional well-being (Bandura, 1978; Benjet & Hernandez-Guzman, 2001; Harter, 1999; Martinez & Dukes, 1997), and social involvement and relationships (Baumeister et al., 2003; Benson, Karabenick, & Lerner, 1976; Hirsch & DuBois, 1991; Rosenberg, 1986). Although most researchers since Wylie's extensive review (1979) tended to report gender differences favoring boys in global self-esteem during adolescence (Alsaker & Olweus, 1993; Block & Robins, 1993; Cantin & Boivin, 2004; Simmons & Blyth, 1987; Wigfield & Eccles, 1994), contradictory findings still remain in the literature (Bowker & Gadbois, 2002; Connell, Spencer, & Aber, 1994; Greene & Wheatley, 1992; Hoge, Smith, & Hanson, 1990). A meta-analysis by Kling, Hyde, Showers, and Buswell (1999) summarizing the responses of approximately 48,000 young Americans revealed that although boys tend to score higher than girls on measures of global self-esteem, the gap is not large. Recently, Greene and Way (2005) did not find any difference between boys and girls in developmental trajectories of self-esteem among adolescents from different ethnic minorities.
A much more consistent pattern of gender differences is reported in young people's level of satisfaction with their physical appearance. Girls tend to evaluate their overall body image less positively, to perceive themselves as less attractive, and to be more dissatisfied with their physical appearance and weight than same-age boys (Bowker & Gadbois, 2002; Cecil & Stanley, 1997; Ellis McLeod, 2002; Thompson, Sargent, Rogan, & Corwin, 1997; White, Mendelson, & Schliecker, 1995). Girls' tendency to be more conscious of, and concerned with, their body image than boys would lead them to adopt high standards that are difficult to meet. …