Body dissatisfaction is, unfortunately, not uncommon in adolescents.
The teenage years are a tumultuous time physically, socially, and emotionally and all of this rapid change can result in angst and insecurity regarding one’s self and appearance.
Research has indicated that “as adolescents mature physically and emotionally, they begin to identify more strongly with their same-gender stereotypes .” For both males and females, this often involves internalizing the unrealistic ideals set up for them by society.
This dissatisfaction with appearance, combined with other risk factors, can culminate in the development of an eating disorder.
Adolescent Body Angst & Eating Disorders
There is a high correlation between body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, with some studies finding that the presence of body dissatisfaction increases the likelihood of developing an eating disorder by 68% .
In fact, body dissatisfaction has proven to be the most consistent predictor of future eating pathology in numerous studies
There can be no denying that our society perpetuates harmful ideals based around weight, appearance, and food.
The Sociocultural Model of Eating Pathology theorizes how these harmful ideals can contribute to eating disorders, positing that “body dissatisfaction, and subsequent eating pathology, is/are associated with the pressure to be thin from one’s social environment by reinforcing the message that thinness leads to social rewards such as acceptance and happiness .”
The internalization of these thin-deals spread by diet culture lead to adolescents perceiving a discrepancy between their physical appearance and the ideal. As a result, they engage in harmful efforts to lose weight in order to decrease this discrepancy.
The messages teens receive at home are also critically important, as discussions around weight and maternal dieting behaviors are associated with disordered eating pathology .
Teasing & Bullying
Research has also determined that there is a relationship between weight-related teasing, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorders.
The messages adolescents receive from their peers matters and have been found to carry more weight than the opinion of family or loved ones as children grow to teens.
Adolescent girls teased about their bodies are more likely to engage in dieting behaviors or develop eating pathology .
Even indirect pressures, such as peers admiring or idolizing the figure of an ultra-slender model or celebrity, have an impact.
There are certain personality traits that seem to be related to increased body dissatisfaction, namely, perfectionism and low self-esteem.
One study found that “socially prescribed perfectionism, characterized by perceived high expectations from others, fear of negative evaluation, and avoidance of the disapproval of others, moderated the pathway between body dissatisfaction and bulimic behaviors, and dieting .”
Perfectionist tendencies in adolescent have proven to be a significant predictor of the onset of anorexia nervosa. Beyond this, low-self esteem plays an important role.
Perfectionist women that have high self-esteem have been seen to engage in adaptive weight-control behaviors, whereas those with the same perfectionist tendencies and low self-esteem engage in more harmful weight-control behaviors .
A final aspect to consider is the biological changes an adolescent is experiencing that may confuse their body image.
Studies show that early pubertal development results in body dissatisfaction, as young girls adipose tissue increases as they mature, increasing the discrepancy between them and the thin-ideal .
These changes also result in hormonal changes that alter mood.
Adolescents experience many changes that cannot be changed or controlled, such as their bodily or hormonal changes.
However, positive examples of body image and relationships to food can be set to protect adolescents from falling for the false-promises and expectations of diet culture and the thin ideal.
Resources: Bearman, S. K., Martinez, E., Stice, E. (2006). The skinny on body dissatisfaction: a longitudinal study of adolescent girls and boys. Journal of Youth & Adolescents, 35:2, 217-229.  Rosewall, J. K., Gleaves, D. H., Latner, J. D. (2018). An examination of risk factors that moderate the body dissatisfaction-eating pathology relationship among New Zealand adolescent girls. Journal of Eating Disorders, 6:38.  Stice, E., Whitenton, K. (2002). Risk factors for body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls: a longitudinal investigation. Developmental Psychology, 38:5, 669-678.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on January 18, 2019.
Reviewed & Approved on January 18, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com