This study examined the perceived role of three types of sociocultural agents (peers, parents, and media) in influencing body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint in adolescent girls. Participants were 577 grade 10 girls from six schools who completed questionnaires in class and had height and weight measured. Two path analyses resulted in a similar pattern. While current body size strongly predicted ideal body size and body dissatisfaction, perceived influence of multiple sociocultural agents regarding thinness also had a direct relationship with body ideal and dissatisfaction. Dietary restraint was predicted directly from body dissatisfaction and sociocultural influences. Peers, parents, and media varied in their perceived influence.
The findings support the idea that those girls who show the most body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint live in a subculture supporting a thin ideal and encouraging dieting. Body concerns and / or dieting behaviors are reported by mast adolescent girls (Paxton et at, 1991; Wadden, Forster, Stunk ard, & Linowitz, 1989; Wertheim, Paxton, Maude, Gibbons, Szmulker, & Hillier, 1992). Although body concerns may lead to healthy eating choices and exercise in some girls, many others diet despite already being a healthy weight or report using unhealthy methods such as fasting or vomiting (Paxton et al. , 1991; Wadden et al. , 1989; Wertheim et al. , 1992).
These latter behaviors are of concern since longitudinal studies suggest that dieting in adolescence is a risk factor for the development of eating disorder symptoms (Killen et al. , 1994; Leon, Fulkerson, Perry, & Early-Zaid, 1995; Patton, Johnson-Sabine, Wood, Mann, & Wakening, 1990). Most theories of dieting, body image, and eating disorders assign a major role to sociocultural factors (Levine & Smolak, 1992; Stice, 1994), such as the media. There has been a trend in the media, over several decades, for smaller ideal female body size despite increases in the actual body size of young women (O'Dea, 1995).
These findings have led to the idea that body dissatisfaction results from the discrepancy between a female's actual body size and an ideal size strongly influenced by images in the media. Indeed, larger girls (those farthest from media ideals) report more dieting and body dissatisfaction, and many normal-weight girls also diet and report dissatisfaction (Huon, 1994; Patton et al. , 1990; Paxton et al. , 1991; Wadden et al. , 1989). However, not all adolescents who are larger than media models develop body dissatisfaction and / or unhealthy weight loss behaviors.
A likely explanation is that media messages form a general background, while for only some girls more immediate sociocultural agents reinforce those messages, fostering body dissatisfaction and dieting among those girls. Increases in eating disorder rates in high-risk environments, such as ballet schools, support this idea (Szmukler, Eisler, Gillies, & Hayward, 1985). Thus, a broader sociocultural approach would include family and peer influences (Stice & Shaw, 1994; Levine & Smolak, 1992).