Body Image Dissertation Abstracts and Summaries

Author: Rachel F. Rodgers
Title: Parental influences in sociocultural models of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating
Dissertation Completed: September 2009, Département de Psychopathologie, Université Toulouse-II Le Mirail, Toulouse, France (Dissertation advisor: Professor Henri Chabrol)

Foundation and rationale of the research

   Parents are considered to be important agents within sociocultural models of body image and eating disturbance (Thompson et al., 1999), and much is to be gained from a better understanding of parental influences, particularly in terms of prevention. To date, the existing literature has supported a number of findings regarding parental influences. Both modeling effects and the impact of active encouragement or criticism have been shown to account for parental influences on offspring’s body image and eating concerns, however the latter seem to be more potent (Keery et al., 2006; Rodgers & Chabrol, 2009; Vincent & McCabe, 2000; Wertheim, Martin, Prior, Sanson, & Smart, 2002). Mediating factors of these influences have been proposed, in particular the internalization of media thin-ideals and comparison tendencies (Keery et al., 2004; Shroff & Thompson, 2006). Regarding gender differences, a number of studies have proposed that daughters might be more aware of and vulnerable to parental influences than sons, however other research has not supported this finding (Vincent & McCabe, 2000; Wertheim et al., 2002). Finally, gender-linked as well as cumulative models of parental influence have been proposed to account for the transmission of body image and eating concerns (Wertheim, Mee, & Paxton, 1999; Wertheim et al., 2002).
   Although both parents play a role in the transmission of body image and eating concerns, gender differences in these mechanisms are poorly understood. Furthermore, the role of mediating or moderating variables, in the context of sociocultural models deserves further attention.
   The aim of the present research was threefold: (a) to explore a sociocultural model of the effects of parental comments regarding weight and shape on body dissatisfaction and disordered eating; (b) to examine gender differences in parental influences; (c) to explore the role of depression as a moderator of sociocultural influences.


   Participants included a sample of undergraduates and a sample of adolescents. Undergraduates were 338 students from the Melbourne (Australia) area, of which 147 (43%) were male and 188 (57%) were female. Their ages ranged from 18 to 21 years old (M = 19.58, SD = 1.02). Mean body mass index (BMI) was 22.8 among females and 22.5 among males. Adolescents were recruited from three co-educational high schools in the Toulouse (France) area, including 221 (37%) boys and 380 (63%) girls. Mean age was 16.04 years. Mean BMI was 19.7 among girls and 20.7 among boys.

   All participants completed:

  • The Maternal and Paternal Comments Scale specifically created for this research. Each scale assesses three dimensions: negative comments, positive comments, and comparison and importance comments.
  • Three scales assessing drive for thinness, bulimia, and body dissatisfaction
  • Self-reported height and weight

   The undergraduate sample completed:

  • Measures of appearance comparison and thin-ideal internalisation

   The adolescent sample completed:

  • Measures of family pressure, peer pressure, and media pressure
  • A measure of parental modeling
  • A measure of depressive symptoms


   Compared to adolescent males, adolescent females reported higher levels of maternal influences including shape and weight related comments, modeling and pressure, as well as higher levels of negative comments from fathers (p < .001). Among undergraduates, gender differences were found for negative and positive comments from both parents as well as importance and comparison comments from mothers, with females reporting higher levels than males (p < .001). Parental variables explained a large proportion of the variability in body dissatisfaction (R² = .20 vs R² = .14), drive for thinness (R² = .23 vs R² = .15), and bulimia (R² = .22 vs R² = .04) among adolescents females versus males (ps <.01).
   Regarding the influence of each parent, our findings provided partial support for a gender-linked model but also for a cumulative model of parental transmission.
   The final sociocultural model proved to be a moderate fit among female undergraduates (χ²(10) = 24.4, p < .007, RMSEA = .09, CFI = .96), explaining a large proportion of the variability in outcome variables. Among males, the final model was a good fit (χ²(12)= 10.9, p < .538, RMSEA = .00, CFI = 1.00), however it explained a less variability in outcome variables. Both models provided partial support for mediating roles of thin-ideal internalisation and appearance comparison.
   Finally, our results also revealed that the relationship between sociocultural influences and body dissatisfaction, drive for thinness and bulimia were moderated by depression among adolescent males. Among females, depression played only a limited role as a moderator of these relationships.

Conclusions and Implications

   Together these findings highlight the role played by parental influences in body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, and the importance of understanding their action within sociocultural frameworks. The gender differences in terms of perceived parental influences, and in terms of the strength of the association between these influences and body dissatisfaction and disordered eating, are in line with suggestions that females may be more vulnerable to these influences than males (Vincent & McCabe, 2000). The moderating role of depression among males might contribute to explaining these differences.
   These findings support the proposition that appearance-oriented family environments promote body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Greater awareness of the impact of family influences may help to reduce these effects. Greater knowledge of the manner in which family attitudes can act as protective or risk factors may enable prevention programs to better target their action.


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Wertheim, E. H., Martin, G., Prior, M., Sanson, A., & Smart, D. (2002). Parent influences in the transmission of eating and weight related values and behaviors. Eating Disorders, 10, 321–334.

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