Assessing the Landscape: Body Image Values and Attitudes among Middle School Boys and Girls

By Grosick, Tracy L.; Talbert-Johnson, Carolyn et al. | American Journal of Health Education, January-February 2013 | Go to article overview

Assessing the Landscape: Body Image Values and Attitudes among Middle School Boys and Girls


Grosick, Tracy L., Talbert-Johnson, Carolyn, Myers, Melissa J., Angelo, Renee, American Journal of Health Education


Background: Body image refers to an individual's thoughts and feelings about his or her body and physical appearance. To date, several qualitative and quantitative findings implicate sociocultural influences, such as the media or parental pressure, in shaping female adolescents' body image perceptions. Overall, there is not much quantitative inventory of male attitudes toward elements of body image. Purpose: The present study investigated several attributes associated with body image among male and female middle school students in a diverse suburban middle school. Further, it briefly explored qualitative indicators to supplement the data set. Methods: A sample of 334 middle school students from Hopewell (OH) Junior School (approximately 50% male and 50% female) completed a 2-page survey assessing level of agreement toward various attributes associated with body image. Two open-ended responses regarding body health and body ideal were also captured. Results: The data indicate high levels of agreement (nearly 80%) among the total population that appearance is an important part of middle school children's personas. For many attributes, data for boys were parallel to the data for girls, setting a precedent for insight into boys' attitudes toward health and body image. For other attributes, girls had significantly higher levels of agreement (based on percentage of "strongly agree + agree" and mean response) for dieting (44%), depression over appearance (32%), and an inclination toward risky eating behaviors (10%) compared to their male counterparts. Discussion: Health and physical education professionals should not only maintain awareness of girls' desire to look their best physically and related influences and behaviors but acknowledge boys as having similar dispositions. Translation to Health Education Praetice: Learning modules that review typical development of middle school children's bodies, how to become advertising savvy, types of dieting (e.g., binge eating), and how to recognize "at risk" groups should be developed to keep pace with the evolving societal definitions of body image and how students can take a defensive position in controlling their own definitions of a healthy body image.

BACKGROUND

Body image definitions include a composite of attitude toward one's body (perception of physical self) and actions toward obtaining or maintaining that perception (level of investment in service of the perception). Evaluation of the effects of investment can range from acutely conscious to dismissive/unconscious, depending upon the level of importance placed upon body image as part of one's overall persona or emerging persona. The aspects of body image comprise the way in which one views one's body (perceptual), the way one feels about one's appearance (affective), the thoughts and beliefs one holds about one's own body (cognitive), and the actions one takes due to dissatisfaction with one's body (behavioral).

Sociocultural factors are defined as tendencies and behaviors that arise from nongenetic causes; that is, the "nurture" element of nature vs nurture. Sociocultural components of body image are well established and have been on a trajectory toward "thin" and "perfection" for the past century. Many past, and certainly almost all current, icons of ideal present a warped and misleading "sense of possible" to adolescents, particularly girls. Imagery in fashion magazines, and nearly every outlet of print media, are digitally enhanced and modified to render a near-perfect photograph, which may be unknowingly assumed to be real. To the less media-savvy, these media tricks are a means to appeal to the psyche and convert nai've minds into believing that such a class of flawlessness is achievable.

A visual canvass of celebrity/fashion model representatives since the early 1900s portrays a progression of decreasing curves and overall weight/body mass index (with the exception of a brief period of voluptuousness in the 1950s, characterized by Marilyn Monroe and Catherine Deneuve). …

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