Peer Influences on adolescent body image in Ireland
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Body image, which represents how one sees, thinks, feels and acts toward their physical appearance, is a pressing issue for adolescents. National studies in Ireland have highlighted that adolescents are dissatisfied with their body image, wish and/or attempt to alter their body shape, and feel self-conscious about social events and sports participation as a result of poor body image. Parents, peers and the media have been identified as playing a key role in adolescent body image development; however, peers have received the least attention of the three to date. This study thus aimed to explore in-depth, whether, how, and to what extent the peer context influences adolescent body image. This thesis was written and submitted by publication; see appendix 1 for a copy of each journal article. The study used a multi-method approach. The first phase of this study adopted a qualitative approach to explore young peoples’ (n = 111) perceptions regarding the modes and the nature (positive/negative) of peer influence(s) on adolescent body image, as well as the role of friendships and routes to body image improvement. Peers were found to exert their influence via a variety of direct (peer teasing, peer exclusion, peer pressure and peer conversations) and indirect (peer modelling and peer surveillance) modes, and have a predominately negative influence on body image. A thematic model was also constructed to further illustrate the peer influence process; which focuses on the negative influences that peers can exert on body image in particular. The model proposes that the peer influence process is cyclic in nature with respect to body image, with one influence having an impact on the next, in addition to the former. Results also revealed that adolescents view and describe friendships differently and more positively than peer relationships with regards to body image, and do not feel that body image can be improved amongst adolescents. The second phase of this study adopted a mixed methods approach in order to examine the factors that influence adolescent body image in Ireland. A youth participative approach, which involved focus groups with 74 adolescents, was first conducted to seek out their views on two survey items, which resulted in one being chosen for the 2013/14 Health Behaviour in School Aged Children (HBSC) survey in Ireland. The survey results from 4481 adolescents revealed that six key factors influence adolescent body image, including appearance-related evaluations, physical activity and food, clothing experiences, peers, the media and/or other people. Literature exploring evolving forms of peer influence, such as cyberbullying and associations with body image is limited. The third phase of this overall study thus adopted a quantitative approach, using a survey design, to investigate the relationship between cyberbullying and friendship dynamics on body image among adolescents in Ireland. Logistic regression analyses with 7320 cases indicated that both cyberbullying and friendship dynamics are significantly associated with adolescent body image, and further that friendship dynamics mediate the relationship between cyberbullying and adolescent body dissatisfaction. Given the findings of this study, the importance of addressing the prevention of body dissatisfaction as a health promotion issue, and the explicit role of peers is warranted. The creation of supportive peer environments represents an important avenue through which body image concerns, and thus adolescent health can be addressed. Future interventions aiming to promote positive body image among this population group need to consider the important role peers can play in their research design.
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