The study aimed to investigate the body concerns of adolescent girls, together with the underlying motivations for the wish to be thinner. Focus group methodology was employed in order to access participants' experience in their own language. Altogether 67 girls of Year 11 (aged approximately 16 years) took part in five groups. Audiotaped and transcribed discussions were systematically coded for themes and rated on frequency, extensiveness, intensity, specificity and level of agreement. As expected, sociocultural influences, in particular the media, were reported as exerting the strongest pressures to be thin. More importantly, however, the girls displayed an unexpected sophistication in their conceptualization of the role of both media effects and body image in the construction of their self-image. Contrary to assumptions made in quantitative research, despite clearly articulating a desire to be thinner, the girls also described how this did not necessarily mean they were dissatisfied with their bodies. The findings suggest that the girls' meta-awareness and sophisticated understanding of the media and other pressures, may serve to moderate against these forces which would otherwise seem overwhelming.
Copyright 2000 The Association for Professionals in Services for Adolescents.