Body Image Assessment of Children
RICK M. GARDNER
Body size distortion and dissatisfaction are recognized as important in their own right as well as in the development of eating disorders. Previously, extreme body image dissatisfaction was believed to begin with the onset of pubertal development and adolescence. Recent evidence, however, suggests that many children as young as 8 years of age are already unhappy with their body size and that the origins of body size dissatisfaction begin to appear around grade 3. Typical findings reveal that nearly one-half of girls in the age range 7–13 years want to be thinner.
An important distinction is drawn between perceptual and attitudinal components of body image disturbance. Perceptual distortion involves inaccurate judgments of one's body size; individuals with eating disorders often overestimate their body size. The attitudinal component, also frequently observed in individuals with eating disorders, involves their dissatisfaction with the size or shape of their body. Of course, body image attitudes may pertain to particular physical attributes or overall appearance. Interestingly, the perceptual and attitudinal components function in a manner largely independent of each other. Most researchers today believe that body image is a multidimensional construct that requires the assessment of both perceptual and attitudinal components.
This chapter provides an overview of body image assessment in preadolescent children under the age of 12. The subsequent two chapters discuss assessment in postadolescent children and adults.