When Fitting in Matters: The Role of School Contexts in Adolescent Girls' Weight, Weight Perception and Self-Esteem

Anna Mueller, University of Texas at Austin

In the U.S., being overweight is associated with social sanctions, discrimination, and prejudice. Because of the stigma overweight people encounter, overweight is often considered a stigmatized identity. Using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and multi-level modeling, I examine the role the school context plays in the links between girls’ actual weight, weight perceptions, and self-esteem. I find that girls’ actual weight does not affect girls’ self-esteem, even when girls’ attend a school where underweight or trying to lose weight is prevalent and associated with popularity. Girls’ self-perceptions tell a very different story. For example, in schools where many popular girls are underweight, girls who percieve themselves as overweight (net of actual weight) are significantly more likely to report low self-esteem than girls who do not see themselves as overweight. These findings have interesting implications for health policy as well as sociological theories of stigma.

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Presented in Poster Session 7