Self Objectification and the Sexualization of Girls

Contemporary Western culture has essentially commodified the female body and form and we now live in a society where women’s bodies tend to be valued as appearance-based, sexual objects; objects that can be viewed and appraised, bought and sold, and ultimately consumed, by other individuals and society as a whole. Sexual objectification of the female body exists along a continuum ranging from the literal (e.g., human sex trafficking, modeling, participating in pageants) to figurative (e.g., media representations, using women’s bodies in advertising). Further, sexual objectification represents both a cultural as well as interpersonal phenomenon; one in which women and girls are reduced to and primarily valued for their appearance and, more specifically, their ability to conform to society’s increasingly narrow standards for a sexually desirable body. Thus, the experience of sexual objectification can be both direct (e.g., women and girls’ personal experiences of being judged on their appearance and sexual desirability) as well as indirect (i.e., women and girls’ observation of the treatment and sexual objectification of other women and girls) (Crawford et al., 2009).

A number of feminist theorists (e.g., Kaschak, 1992; Ussher, 1989) have argued that one of the many potential consequences of living in a society of pervasive sexual objectification, girls and women will internalize this sexual objectification and begin to objectify themselves. That is, over time women learn, through both their interpersonal experiences and vicarious observation of society and popular culture, that their “looks” matter, that other people’s appraisal of their appearance can determine how they are treated, and, these evaluations can even affect the quality of their social and economic lives.

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Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) is a framework for understanding a variety of psychological and physical consequences women may face as a result of living in a culture that sexually objectifies their bodies. This theory describes the process through which women internalize both the belief that appearance is critical component of women’s worth as well as culture’s standards of near physical perfection and then ultimately determine their value as an individual based on their ability to meet these standards (Crawford et al., 2009). However, as each successive cohort of women since the late 1950s has faced standards of thinness and beauty that are increasingly more difficult to achieve (Garner et al., 1980; Wiseman et al., 1992), the current cultural body and appearance standards for women are now both incredibly unhealthy as well as virtually unattainable (Sptizer, Henderson, & Zivian, 1999). For those women who connect these standards to their identity and self-worth, the failure to achieve or compare to this idealized female body is likely to result in feelings of shame and anxiety about their bodies (Bartky, 1988; Lewis, 2000). The traditional view of self-objectification (i.e., valuing one’s body more on the basis of outward appearance than performance, health, or function), in turn, is theorized to be associated with an array of emotional and physical consequences, including an increase in body shame, body dissatisfaction, decreased awareness of internal states, depression, sexual dysfunction, and symptoms of eating disorders (Noll & Fredrickson, 1998).

In the literature, the concept of self-objectification has been used interchangeably with the term objectified body consciousness. McKinley and Hyde’s (1996) similar construct of objectified body consciousness consists of three primary components: Self-surveillance, body shame, and appearance control. An individual with an objectified body consciousness closely monitors their body from the view of a third person, exhibits body shame when they fail to achieve the cultural expectations, and believes that individuals are able to control their appearance, respectively.

Over the last decade, a considerable body of evidence has been documented in support of the proposed tenets of these theories among both adult and adolescent women within a variety of contexts (for an extensive review: Moradi & Huang, 2008). Self-objectification and objectified body consciousness have been empirically linked to a plethora of negative psychosocial and physical outcomes, including low body esteem (McKinley, 1998, 1999; McKinley & Hyde, 1996; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998), depression (Harrison & Frederickson, 2003; Miner-Rubino, Twenge, & Fredrickson, 2002; Muehlenkamp & Saris-Baglama, 2002; Tolman et al., 2006), restrictive eating and eating disorders (Fredrickson et al., 1998; McKinley, 1999; Muehlenkamp & Saris-Baglama, 2002; Noll & Fredrickson, 1998; Slater & Tiggemann, 2002; Tiggemann & Lynch, 2001; Tiggemann & Slater, 2001), sexual dysfunction (Roberts & Gettman, 2004; Wiederman, 2001) and even an increased likelihood of smoking cigarettes (Harrell, 2002). Additionally, experimental induction of temporary states of self-objectification has resulted in decreased performance, both physical and cognitive. In one study of over 200 girls, aged 10 to 17 years, Frederickson and Harrison (2005) found that increasing levels of self-objectification predicted poorer motor performance while throwing a softball. Additionally, in their now infamous study, Frederickson and colleagues (1998) found that after asking women to try on a swimsuit and evaluate their appearance in a mirror, these women performed worse on a short math test compared to the women in the control group who completed the same appearance evaluation task in a sweater; findings which have been consistently replicated across multiple sexes and sexual orientations (Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004; Martins, Tiggemann, & Kirkbride, 2007).

To date, much of this research has been conducted utilizing convenience samples of predominately U.S., undergraduate university students (e.g., Miner-Rubino et al., 2002; Morry & Staska, 2001; Muelenkamp & Saris-Baglama, 2002; Quinn, Kallen, & Cathey, 2006) as well as other subgroups vulnerable to objectification, such as dancers (Parsons & Betz, 2001; Slater & Tiggemann, 2002; Tiggemann & Slater, 2001) in part due to their high rates of body dissatisfaction and eating disorders as well as the perceived likelihood of these groups experiencing sexually objectifying situations. While these characteristics certainly make these groups ideal for testing predictions based on objectification theory and the objectified body consciousness construct, they also mean that demographic qualities such as age range, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity are restricted in comparison to the general population. This has greatly limited the generalizability of the findings to other groups of women and made it difficult to investigate developmental aspects of self-objectification. Furthermore, given the ubiquitous nature of the sexual objectification of women, self-objectification and an objectified body consciousness are likely to be relevant constructs in the lives of all women.

This line of research is far from complete and prior studies and reviews have repeatedly called for additional research addressing group specific manifestations of self-objectification and its related concepts and outcomes within the framework of objectification theory. Despite the notion and evidence to suggest that eating and body image issues begin to develop prior to adolescence, from a developmental perspective, preadolescent girls remain one group that has been understudied to this date.

Puberty and Adolescence

One potential reason for this exclusion is due to the particular importance assigned to the contribution and timing of puberty in the emergence of self-objectification by both objectification theory as well as objectified body consciousness theory. Specifically, as girls physically and sexually develop into their mature adult forms, their bodies are increasingly judged and commented upon, and subjected to sexual objectification from others, which, according to objectification theory, results in girls adopting a outsider’s view of their own bodies to ensure compliance with the social standard (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Although there is considerable variation in the individual timing and tempo of puberty (Tanner, 1972), research in the related, albeit more general, areas of body image and body dissatisfaction have routinely shown puberty to be an important risk factor for a variety of psychosocial problems in adolescence, including depression and eating disorders (Angold, Costello, & Worthman, 1998; Stice, Agras, & Hammer, 1999; Weichold, Silbereisen, & Schmitt-Rodermund, 2003).

This work in the areas of body image and body dissatisfaction suggests three primary ways in which physical development during puberty could result in body shame. First, the start of puberty initiates a series of dramatic appearance related changes for most adolescents. For example, normal female pubertal development involves the addition of approximately 24 pounds of body fat (Warren, 1983) which represents a typical change in body fat composition from about 16% to 27% and a muscle-to-fat ratio of 5 to 4 by the end of puberty (Brown et al., 2010; Smoll & Schutz, 1990).

This weight gain and increase in body fat is entirely inconsistent with the current social ideal of an ultra thin, prepubertal, female body ideal and a likely source of adolescent girls’ dissatisfaction with their bodies (Graber et al., 1994; Spitzer, Henderson, & Zivian, 1999; Stice & Whitenton, 2002). Similarly, all of these sudden physical changes may redirect or enhance adolescents’ already greater tendency toward self-consciousness (Jones, 2004; Rankin et al., 2004). Some of the previously described body image research with adults supports this concept and has shown that directing individuals’ attention to their physical appearance, even temporarily, can result in increased reports of self-surveillance as well as body shame (e.g., Fredrickson et al., 1998; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004; Martins, Tiggemann, & Kirkbride, 2007). Finally, in addition to directing adolescents’ attention to their own physical appearance, the physical changes of puberty likely direct others’ attention to the adolescent’s body as well; attention that is commonly in the form of peer sexual harassment, particularly for early developing girls (American Association of University Women, 2001). A growing body of research suggests that sexual harassment during adolescence is normative and related to pubertal development (McMaster et al., 2002; Murnen & Smolak, 2000). Likewise, in a study of 166 girls aged 10- to 12-years-old (mean age 11.2 years), Lindberg, Grabe, & Hyde (2007) showed that more advanced pubertal development and greater sexual harassment from peers predicted increases in both girls’ engagement in self-surveillance as well as body shame.

Consequently, much of the research on the tenets of self-objectification and objectified body consciousness, as well as the proposed psychosocial outcomes has focused on the experiences of mostly post pubertal adolescents and young adults. However, despite the proposed role of puberty in the development of self-objectification; research in related areas suggests that body image concerns are likely starting much earlier than puberty. Numerous researchers have documented that body image concerns and dissatisfaction are significant for most adolescent girls in both clinical and non clinical samples (Bunnell et al., 1992; Smolak & Levine, 2001; Thompson et al., 1999b), regardless of eating pathology or weight (Rodin, Silberstein, & Streigel-Moore, 1985); findings which have subsequently been explained as “normative discontent.” In other words, because a majority of women tend to be dissatisfied with their bodies, negative body attitudes are, in fact, quite normal. Thus, by adolescence, many girls have already developed weight and body concerns and may even have engaged in attempts to alter or control their weight and body shape.

Although a significant proportion of the previous research on disordered eating and body image dissatisfaction has focused on adult women and adolescent girls, an emerging line of research has begun to examine these constructs among pre-pubescent children as well (Cusumano and Thompson, 2001; Davison, Markey, & Birch, 2003; Dohnt & Tiggemann, 2004; Field et al., 1999a; Ricciardelli & McCabe, 2001; Ricciardelli, McCabe, & Banfield, 2000; VanderWal & Thelen, 2000). And thus, while the role of pubertal development is certainly notable, it is also an incomplete picture of why and how self-objectification likely develops.

Sexualization of Girls

A complimentary perspective and emerging line of research particularly relevant to the potential causes and outcomes of self-objectification concerns that of the sexualization of girls. According to the Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls (2007), sexualization is used to describe the treatment of others or oneself as sexual objects and, “as things rather than as people with legitimate sexual feelings of their own.” Sexualized individuals are valued primarily for their physical appearance and, more specifically, their sex appeal. The phenomenon of sexualization has been observed and commented upon by an ever widening array of academics and cultural critics, as well as the popular media. Emma Rush and Andrea La Nauze of The Australia Institute (2006b) have similarly defined sexualization as, ”the act of giving someone or something a sexual character,” which, when applied to children includes inappropriately imposing or encouraging, ”stereotypical forms of adult sexuality.” In the book, The Lolita Effect, Gigi Durham (2008) commented at length on the complimentary social phenomenon of viewing and treating “little girls” as sexy as well as encouraging adult women to be sexy by adopting “childlike” habits and clothing trends (e.g., Mary Jane shoes, lollipops, school uniforms).

While children have always been exposed to adult sexuality through popular culture and media, the very direct sexualization of children by media and society, is a considerably more recent development. According to Rush & La Nauze (2006b), the term ‘corporate paedophilia’ is a metaphor coined by Phillip Adams to describe the marketing strategy of ‘age compression’, where previously adult/adolescent products are aimed at younger and younger children in order to guarantee more consumers (Lamb and Brown, 2006; Levin and Kilbourne, 2008; Rush & La Nauze, 2006a). Rush and La Nauze (2006b) operationally define this concept as “advertising and marketing that either seek to present children in sexually suggestive ways, or seek to sell product to children using overt forms of adult sexuality.”

Despite the potential negative connotations, with 27 million children aged 7 to 14 years, the contemporary ‘tween’ market is a rather lucrative demographic with tremendous discretionary purchasing power, including a subset of 2.7 million that, in 2001, spent more than $14 billion on clothing alone (Nieder and Figueroa, 2001). Although both girls and boys are exposed to adult sexuality through popular culture and media, the direct marketing of sexualized materials to children is notably directed toward young girls (Rush & La Nauze, 2006b). A 1999 article in Entrepreneur magazine described how girls represent a better niche market than boys because, like their adult female counterparts, girls tend to purchase “predictable economic stuff,” including clothing, accessories, and beauty products (Phillipps, 1999). And, in 2007, NPD Group reported that 7- to 14-year-old girls spent $11.5 billion on apparel, up from $10.5 billion in 2004 (Sweeney, 2008). Taking notice, corporations like MGA Entertainment, producer of the Bratz dolls, have licensed a line of Bratz clothing and accessories for little girls that include a matching hip-hugger underpants and padded bra set (Opplinger, 2008). “Slim-fit” t-shirts in stretchy fabrics are now sold in children’s sizes with slogans such as, “So many boys, so little time” and, “Scratch and Sniff” across the chest and Pollett and Hurwitz (2004) noted that thong underwear are now offered in “tween” stores as well as children’s wear departments, often with decorations that will specifically appeal to children. Retail stores such as Limited Too and Justice, which cater exclusively to the “tween” demographic sell lingerie items such as camisoles and lacy panties, items that once would have been marketed solely to adults (Lamb & Brown, 2006). Likewise, the younger sister of Miley Cyrus (of Disney Channel fame) recently began marketing her own lingerie line for tweens. National chains such as Target and J.C. Penny are now selling padded bras and thong panties for young girls that feature cherries and slogans such as “Wink-Wink” and “Eye Candy,” while in 2008, Wal-Mart offered a pair of thong underwear in children’s sizes emblazoned with the phrase, “Who needs a credit card?” Not to be left out, pink baby bibs sold at that same chain bore such phrases as, “Always Dress to Impress,” “Kisses 25?,” and “Drama Queen.”

The cosmetics industry has also seen the value of marketing their products to younger and younger girls. In 2001, a survey by the NPD Group showed that, on average, women began using beauty products at 17. Today, the average is 13, and even this is likely to be an overstatement. According to the same report, 8- to 12-year-olds were already spending more than $40 million a month on beauty products. In 2003, according to Experian, a market research company based in New York, 43% of 6- to 9-year-olds were already using lipstick or lip gloss; 38% used hairstyling products; and 12% used other cosmetics. In a study last year, 55% of 6- to 9-year-old girls said they used lip gloss or lipstick and nearly two-thirds said they used nail polish. From 2007 to 2009, the percentage of girls ages 8- to 12-years-old, who regularly use mascara and eyeliner nearly doubled to 18% from 10% for mascara, and to 15% from 9% for eyeliner. The percentage of girls using lipstick also rose, to 15% from 10% (Quenqua, 2010).

Of serious concern within the medical community is research that suggests some of these products may have highly negative consequences from prolonged usage, particularly for children and pre-pubertal adolescents. While race, obesity, and genetics are likely determinants of pubertal timing, a growing body of research suggests that hormonally active environmental agents may also alter the course of pubertal development in girls, which is controlled by endogenous steroids and gonadotropins (Jacobson-Dickman & Lee, 2009; Rasier et al., 2006). Some of these chemicals include a number of phenols and phthalates, such as Bisphenol A (BPA), which act like estradiol as hormone agonists and, in animals, have been shown to accelerate pubertal development (Rasier et al., 2006). In the previously described study examining early onset puberty among 7- to 8-year-old girls, Wolff and colleagues (2010) discovered elevated exposure to endocrine disruptors that are commonly found in nail polishes and other cosmetics.

Toy shops now sell items such as the “Girls Ultimate Spa and Perfume Kit” (“for use by up to eight kids and perfect for spa parties, sleepovers, and rainy days”); the Body Shop has lip glosses intended for teens and fruity lip glosses for preteens; Claire’s, an accessory store in almost every shopping mall, offers lip gloss in flavors that appeal primarily to young girls (e.g., Dr Pepper, Skittles). Mattel Corporation, producer of Barbie dolls, offers lip glosses and perfumes to their junior consumers with names such as, “Free Spirit,” “Summer Fun,” and “Super Model” (Opplinger, 2008). Similarly, large spa chains and salons now offer a variety of services for children, including several companies devoted to providing services to child customers exclusively. Sweet & Sassy salons and Dashing Diva franchises advertise services for girls 5- to 11-years-old and offer options such as virgin Cosmos in martini glasses and pink limos as part of birthday parties for groups of girls. Similarly, at any of the 90 mall-based, Club Libby Lu stores nationwide, girls can mix their own lip gloss and partake in celebrity makeovers and mini fashion shoots (one of the most popular being Hannah Montana) (Sweeney, 2008).

Products and services such as these highlight just how mainstream it has become to turn children into cute and sexy little objects. And, although adults and much of society have become somewhat desensitized to this sexualization of girls, children remain especially vulnerable to marketers’ efforts because of the very way they think. Under the age of eight, children have trouble understanding that the purpose of an ad is to get them to buy something and if they see a child smiling and looking happy, they are unlikely realize it’s because the child is being paid to look that way. Young children tend to believe what they see, so that when other children are presented as both sexualized and happy, they believe it will be that way for them too (Oates, Blades, & Gunter, 2002; Singer & Revenson, 1996).

Young children’s thinking tends to focus on one thing at a time and only on what they can see. They don’t consider multiple aspects of a situation or the relationships between those aspects and they tend not to look at what lies beneath the surface of objects, images, and actions – such as the motives, intentions, and feelings underlying sexual behavior Singer & Revenson, 1996). In other words, children are already predisposed to attend to appearance and this is particularly damaging and “problematic to children and adolescents who are developing their sense of themselves as sexual beings” (APA, 2007). Ultimately, girls are encouraged to construct a sexy appearance, yet it is highly unlikely they personally understand what it means to be sexual or to have sexual desires (APA, 2007). Strasburger and Wilson (2002) argued that preadolescents and adolescents are like “actors” who experiment with different features of their newly forming identities; a plasticity which may make them especially susceptible to media and cultural messages linking social popularity and acceptance with various sexualized products and services.

Given the tendency for adult women to internalize and actively pursue these social ideals despite greater cognitive resources and media/marketing literacy, it is likely that young girls would also start to adopt an observer’s view of their bodies and an increased focus on appearance over time and particularly with increased interaction with and consumption of culture that promotes this ideal. Quite simply, between padded bras, adult fashions in youth sizes, make-up and accessories, girls are no longer living in a world where puberty is the true beginning of their sexual objectification by others. Thus, it stands to reason that given enough exposure to this appearance culture, some girls may internalize these values at early ages than previously theorized.

Body Image and Concerns in Childhood

Although the work is limited, as compared to studies with adults, body image research with children suggests that children as young as 3-years-old may start to show an awareness and even mild endorsement of popular social attitudes about bodies, most notably anti-fat bias and a preference for thinness (Cramer & Steinwert, 1998; Musher-Eizenman et al., 2003). However, while measurable, research with young children is generally interpreted with great caution due to their limited cognitive development and generally studies show support for greater awareness and endorsement of these beliefs and preferences beginning between the ages of 5- and 6-years-old (Cramer & Steinwert, 1998; Davison, Markey & Birch, 2000; Lowes & Tiggemann, 2003; Musher-Eizenman et al., 2003; Thelan et al., 1992; Tiggemann & Wilson-Barrett, 1998).

Because research with children is generally limited by their language and reading skills, most studies on weight and body image have relied primarily on a variety of verbal preference and adjective attribution tasks using age and sex specific figure arrays (Collins, 1991; Hill, Oliver, & Roger, 1992; Gardner, Sorter, & Friedman, 1997; Musher-Eizenman et al., 2003; Stager & Burke, 1982; Truby & Paxton, 2002; Williamson & Delin, 2001) while reserving surveys and questionnaires for older children (Flanneryschroeder & Chrisler, 1996). Unfortunately, a thorough understanding of weight and body image concerns in children is also limited by the great variety in actual constructs being measured (e.g., anti-fat bias, preference for thinness, body dissatisfaction, weight concerns, dieting) as well as differences in the age ranges of the child participants (Smolak, 2004). Despite these limitations, results from several studies suggest that children’s reports of weight and body concerns range between 37% and 50% for girls aged 8- to 13-years-old (Collins, 1991; Field et al., 1999a; Rolland, Farnill, & Griffiths, 1997; Schur, Sanders, & Steiner, 2000; Schreiber et al., 1996) and a 1998 review by Smolak, Levine, and Schermer (1998) found that an average of 40% of girls in late elementary school reported weight and body image concerns.

In addition to simply being present and measurable at these ages, weight and body image concerns also appear to be rather consistent and predictive over time. In a longitudinal study of 182 girls, Davison, Markey, and Birch (2003) found that girls were consistent with regard to their reported weight and body concerns from 5- to 9-years-old. Furthermore, even after statistically controlling for weight, girls who reported higher weight or body image concerns between the ages of 5- and 7-years-old also reported higher rates of dietary restriction, disordered eating attitudes, and dieting at age 9 (Davison, Markey, & Birch, 2003).

Research on the relationships between children’s weight and body image concerns to dieting mirrors patterns in similar studies with adults (Feldman, Feldman, & Goodman, 1998; Flanneryschroeder & Chrisler, 1996; Freedman, 1984; Gilbert, 1998; Wardle & Marsland, 1990) as in adult women. Although dieting behaviors are more commonly reported by older children ranging from 8- to 13-years-old (Rolland, Farnill, & Griffiths, 1996; Thelen et al., 1992), there is evidence to suggest elementary school children (grades 3 through 6) are not only knowledgeable about weight loss methods (Schur, Sanders, & Steiner, 2000), but they may be reliable reporters of dieting behaviors as well (Kostanski & Gullone, 1999). Thus, while weight and body image concerns are perhaps more obvious during adolescence (Striegel-Moore, Silberstein, & Rodin, 1986), their origins are likely found in childhood, as by middle childhood, weight and body image concerns are already normative among girls.

Contributing Factors

An overwhelming number of studies with adolescents and adult women point to a variety of sociocultural factors, most notably family, peers, and media, as the primary source of influence in the development of poor body image and disordered eating (Stice, 1994, 2001, 2002; Stice & Shaw, 1994; Thompson et al., 1999b; Thompson & Stice, 2001; van den Berg et al., 2002). The basic premise of these models is quite consistent with both objectification theory and the construct of objectified body consciousness and addresses a number of relevant constructs from Social Comparison Theory (Festinger, 1954) while ultimately focusing on internalization of the thin ideal. In general, these theories posit weight and body image concerns develop as a result of discrepancies between the actual and ideal self resulting from social comparisons and feedback from family, peers, and media. As the previously discussed sexualization material suggests, children are likely no less subject to societal pressures than adults and adolescent and sociocultural models have now been adapted to explain the development of children’s weight and body concerns (Ricciardelli et al., 2003; Smolak & Levine, 2001).


Given the pivotal role of families, more specifically mothers, in young children’s lives, it is perhaps not surprising that much of the sociocultural research on the development of weight and body concerns in childhood has focused on the potential role parents (e.g., Davison, Markey, & Birch, 2000; Hill & Pallin, 1998; Kluck 2010; Lowes & Tiggemann, 2003; McCabe et al., 2007; Ricciardelli et al., 2003; Smolak, Levine, & Schermer, 1999). Despite many changes in contemporary culture and across a wide variety of developmental theories, families consistently remain important social reinforcers and role models often credited with constructing and maintaining environments that influence children’s beliefs and behaviors, not only during childhood and adolescence but across the lifespan as well (Bandura & McDonald, 1963; Killeya-Jones et al., 2007; Parke & Buriel, 2008).

With specific regard to self-objectification and objectified body consciousness, McKinley (1999) found significant positive correlations between mothers’ and their late adolescent daughters’ body surveillance, body esteem, BMI, and desired weight. Similarly, in a cross cultural study of objectified body consciousness, Crawford and colleagues (2009) found that body shame in mothers was related to body shame in adult daughters for a Nepali sample. With regard to related body image and dietary constructs, numerous studies have identified similarities between mothers’ and daughters’ body image concerns and disordered eating patterns (Evans & le Grange, 1995; Hill & Franklin, 1998; Hill, Weaver, & Blundell, 1990; Kichler & Crowther, 2001; Rieves & Cash, 1996; Sanftner et al., 1996; Smolak, Levine, & Schermer, 1999).

One way researchers have suggested that a mother’s physical appearance orientation can negatively influence daughters is through modeling of behaviors such as dieting or disordered eating (e.g., Keel, Heatherton, Harnden, & Hornig, 1997; Kichler & Crowther, 2001; Pike, 1995; Pike and Rodin, 1991). Although much of this research has focused on adolescents, similar results emerge in studies of younger children (e.g., Abramovity & Birch, 2000; Stice, Agras, & Hammer, 1999 Williamson & Delin, 2001). Interestingly, in a sample of 5- to 10-year old girls, Williamson and Delin (2001) found it was mother’s weight concerns rather than the child’s actual weight that predicted children’s weight concerns. Similarly, Abramovity and Birch (2000) found a sample of 5-year-old girls were twice as likely to report ideas about dieting if their mothers were dieting.

Yet another way researcher have suggested that a mother’s appearance orientation can negatively influence daughters body image and eating behaviors in a more direct manner through verbal comments, which range in form from criticism (Hahn-Smith and Smith, 2001; Smolak, Levine, & Schermer, 1999) to teasing and “fat talk” (Nichter, 2000; Schwartz et al., 1999), and even encouraging to diet (Benedikt, Wertheim, & Love, 1998); phenomena which appear to increase as girls approach adolescence (Striegel-Moore & Kearney-Cooke, 1994; Thelen & Cormier, 1995). However, while most studies have found strong positive relationships between daughters’ and their mothers’ self-reports of weight and body image concerns among late adolescents and adults, several notably inconsistent exceptions exist, particularly in studies of younger girls. In the previously mentioned cross cultural study (Crawford et al., 2009), none of the objectified body consciousness measures correlated between mothers and their late adolescent daughters in the US sample, and in the previously mentioned McKinley (1999) study, there were no relationships between mothers’ and daughters’ scores for body shame or control beliefs. Likewise, Lindberg, Hyde, and McKinley (2006) did not find any positive associations between mothers’ and their 10 to 12-year-old daughters’ objectified body consciousness measures, and in fact, found small negative correlations between mothers’ and daughters’ surveillanc

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