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 Practice: 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.