Internalization of the sociocultural ideal: Weight-related attitudes and dieting behaviors among young adolescent girls

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This study investigated the prevalence of body dissatisfaction, dieting, attitudes regarding sociocultural factors, and magazine exposure among young girls and associations among these variables. Consistent with previous research, almost 30% of the girls reported current dieting. Estimates of dieting prevalence in the past year or ever are typically higher. We did not ask the question "Have you ever dieted to lose weight?" However, our data regarding the history of specific dieting practices suggests that a larger percentage of girls had at one time engaged in dieting. Although it is of concern that one third of 10- and 11-year-old girls, particularly those who may be of normal weight, are dieting, it was encouraging that they reported engaging in healthy behaviors. Girls also are aware of the media's influence on self-image and behavior and are accepting of a range of body shapes. However, a small percentage engaged in unhealthy practices (e.g., self-induced vomiting). Although girls generally reported high body satisfaction, a substantial percentage reported dissatisfaction with weight and body parts. Moreover, one third perceived themselves as overweight and a minority reported attitudes consistent with internalization of the sociocultural ideal. The levels of body dissatisfaction, internalization, and unhealthy weight-control practices are of concern because of the young age of the girls, their impact on psychosocial and physical development, and their potential role in the onset of eating disorders. The strongest correlates of dieting were the perception of overweight, body dissatisfaction, and internalization of the sociocultural ideal. Consistent with previous research, dieters were more likely to perceive themselves as overweight and report body dissatisfaction. Interestingly, about a third of the dieters reported that they were not overweight. Further examination of dieting in those who do not rate themselves as overweight is warranted. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine a measure of internalization of the sociocultural ideal in young girls. Although it was expected that dieters might have lower acceptance of a wide range of body shapes, this was not the case. The measure of body acceptance may be more related to girls' standards for other people and unrelated to their personal body ideals. Dieters also did not report greater exposure to magazines that amplify cultural norms regarding thinness (e.g., Seventeen). Future studies of media exposure and dieting should employ comprehensive measures including exposure to multiple media sources (e.g., magazines, television) and level of exposure (e.g., detailed frequency of media consumption). One study assessing frequency of magazine reading did show that greater exposure to fashion magazines was associated with increased dieting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)228-231
Number of pages4
JournalAmerican Journal of Health Promotion
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001


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