The goal of this exercise is to explore the ways in which adolescents' body image is related to attitudes and experiences in school. Particular attention will be paid to similarities and differences between boys and girls. Crosstabulations, comparison of correlations, and comparison of means will be used.
Body image is an individual's estimation of his/her own physical appearance, and it is closely linked to self-esteem.
Adolescence is characterized by a period of physical, emotional, and psychological development. These rapid mental and bodily changes are associated with increased self-consciousness and awareness of the messages about what is valued in one's network of friends and in the larger society. American teenagers are bombarded with media images of beauty, illustrated by slender, flawless female models and muscular male athletes. Studies show that academic performance for females declines during adolescence and it has been suggested that this is tied to changing self-perceptions (especially lowered self-esteem) brought on by the physical and emotional changes occurring at the same time.
A concept in social psychology that is very closely related to body image is that of reflected appraisals. This is the idea that an individual bases his or her self-concept on the reactions he or she perceives from others during social interaction. In fact, it is the perceived reactions, rather than others' actual thoughts, that have been shown to be most important in the formation of self-concept. Imagine the power that the combined effect of the media and the desire to fit in has on how teens think about their bodies!
Examples of research questions about adolescent body image:
Data for this exercise come from Health Behavior in School Aged Children (HBSC) 2001-2002. The HBSC study has two main objectives. The first objective is to monitor health-risk behaviors and attitudes in youth over time to provide background data and to identify targets for health promotion initiatives. The second objective is to provide researchers with relevant information in order to understand and explain the development of health attitudes and behaviors through early adolescence. The study contains questions about the person's health and other health behaviors. Some of these topics include eating habits, body image, health problems, family make-up, personal injuries, bullying, fighting and bringing weapons to school, and substance use. A school administrator and the lead health education teacher also completed individual surveys concerning school programs and policies that affect students' health and the content of various health courses.
The HBSC is representative of public and private school students in grades 6 through 10 in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Very small schools (enrollment of less than 14) are not represented.
This exercise will use the following variables:
For ease of interpretation, recoding variables is sometimes necessary or helpful. (Note: the online analysis package used here requires recoding variables for the sole reason of modifying or adding labels.) The following variables were recoded:
In this exercise, we will explore the ways in which adolescents' body image is related to experiences in school, paying particular attention to differences between boys and girls. In addition to body image, the measures of experiences in school used here are other examples of reflected appraisals.
In this dataset, body image is measured by two variables. In the variable LOOKGOOD (based on Q32), teens are asked to rate their own looks on a scale from 1 ("not at all good looking") to 5 ("very good looking"). In Q33, teens are asked to give their perception of their body size. Answers range from "much too thin" (1) to "much too fat" (5).
First look at the relationship between body image and gender as measured by the crosstabs
How closely do adolescents' perceptions of body size match their actual size? Let's run a
comparison of correlations, computing the correlation coefficients for
How closely linked are perceptions of body size and looks? Look at the comparison of
Consider the relationship between body image (LOOKGOOD) and feelings about school
(LIKESCHOOL4). Answer choices ranged from "don't like it at all" (1) to "like a lot"
(4). According to the results of the comparison of means of
Now look at
Let's look at another comparison of means, this time with
Next we will analyze the relationship between body image and perceptions of academic achievement. Students were asked, "in your opinion, what does your class teacher(s) think about your school performance compared to your classmates?" (ACHIEVE) Answers ranged from "below average" (1) to "very good" (4). This question brings both reflected appraisals (what the student believes the teacher thinks about him/her) and social comparison ("compared to your classmates") to the front of students' minds.
Examine the results of the comparison of means of
Now look at
Finally, think about the relationship between
Now look at the comparison of means of
Think about your answers to the application questions before you click through to the interpretation guide for help in answering them. Make sure you provided evidence for your answers.
Things to think about in interpreting the results:
Reading the results:
The goal of this exercise was to explore the ways in which adolescents' body image is related to experiences in school and how this relationship might differ for boys and girls. Body image and perceptions of social acceptance, and perceptions of teachers' assessments are all examples of reflected appraisals, beliefs about oneself based on what the individual perceives others think of him or her. Taken together, the results show that while boys and girls have similar perceptions of their looks, girls were more likely than boys to consider themselves "too fat" and boys were more likely than girls to consider themselves "too thin." Perceptions of looks and body size appear to be related to a variety of school experiences, including attitudes toward school, school achievement, and social acceptance. This demonstrates the power of reflected appraisals or self-evaluations based on how one thinks others perceive him. In many cases, these relationships are different for girls than for boys. It is important to note, however, that we cannot say that body image causes these outcomes. It is very likely that causation runs in both directions between body image and school outcomes. In addition, there are certainly other variables we have not considered that are affecting both body image and school outcomes. For example, future research might look at overall self-esteem, parental involvement in students' lives, or characteristics of students' peer groups to see whether any of these affect either body image or school outcomes.