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Teen Girls Tend to Befriend Peers with Similar Body Satisfaction Levels


Young girls in their teens are among the most vulnerable when it comes to body image issues. This is because teenage girls are constantly bombarded with unrealistic and distorted body ideals from basically every media outlet they have contact with.

Social Life and Self Esteem

Adolescent girls struggle to find their identity during a time in their life when appearance can also come to determine their social circle and affect their self-esteem. Research shows that women during their teens worry more about their bodies than they do about school, family life, or any other stress factors. Developing unhealthy eating habits can lead to physical and psychological problems like depression, anxiety, or even suicidal tendencies.

A new study was carried out by Kathryn E. Rayner of the Center for Emotional Health of the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University in Australia, which looked for a connection between body image issues, eating habits, and how teenage girls chose their social circles.

Is Body Image Impacted by Your Social Circle?

Rayner theorized that because social acceptance is critical to teens, perhaps young girls selected their friends based on the similarities they shared in terms of eating and body image. Another hypothesis that Rayner held was that perhaps teen girls shape their own perceptions and behaviors based on the behaviors of their friends.

For the study, Rayner examined a sample of 1,197 teen girls from nine different high schools in Australia. The girls were assessed for bulimic and dieting behaviors, body satisfaction, and peer relations over a period of 3 years.

The Findings

What the study revealed was that the participants tended to choose friends with similar body satisfaction/dissatisfaction levels and bulimic behaviors, but did not choose girls with similar dieting and eating patterns. The girls in the study also chose to create friendships that were sustained on mutual efforts and avoided one-sided relationships.

Moreover, Rayner discovered that the girls who dieted the least had more people who wanted to befriend them, while the girls who suffered from depressive moods and showed explicit dieting behaviors had fewer peers seeking their friendship. Interestingly, the study also showed that when girls chose friends with dissimilar behaviors they did not change their own habits to copy those of their friends.

Rayner believes that “[these] findings represent important building blocks in facilitating the formation of more effective prevention and intervention strategies.”