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Body image development in emerging adulthood

by Gillen, Meghan M.

Abstract (Summary)
The current study takes a developmental approach to understanding body image in emerging adulthood. Data were drawn from the Gender & HIV Study, a longitudinal study of college students. Students completed surveys during their first, second, and third semesters at college. At Time 1 (N = 434), participants’ ages ranged from 17.5 to 19.8 years (M = 18.5; SD = 0.4; 52% female). Thirty two percent identified as African American, 29% as Latino American, and 39% as European American. The first paper examined body size perceptions, and demonstrated the importance of weight status, gender, and ethnicity in these perceptions. Contrary to popular belief, women did not tend to see their size as larger than independent observers did. In the second paper, open-ended questions, coded for content, were used to assess participants’ perceptions of messages about physical appearance from family, peers, school, and media. The most common messages they perceived related to the importance/non-importance of appearance, positive remarks about their appearance, and the association between attractiveness and success. Women perceived more frequent and more negative messages than did men. Additionally, the family was perceived to convey more health-focused messages, whereas the media was perceived to convey more superficial messages about appearance. The third paper takes a longitudinal approach to understanding body image development across the college transition. Results indicated relative stability in most aspects of body image. However, women (but not men) became more satisfied with their overall appearance, in spite of a slight increase in their body size. There were no ethnic differences in body image development. Gendered personality traits emerged as predictors of body image development, although associations were fairly small. Taken together, findings indicate that emerging adult women experience greater body image disturbance than do men. However, women do feel more positive about their appearance as they progress through college. The relatively few ethnic differences suggest that sharing a common ecological context during this time may promote more similar views of appearance among students from different ethnic backgrounds. Implications for future work on body image in emerging adulthood are discussed within each paper. iii
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School:Pennsylvania State University

School Location:USA - Pennsylvania

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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