Body Perception and Body Dissatisfaction: A Longitudinal Examination of Body Image and Disordered Eating Symptoms

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Introduction: Body size perception and attitudes towards the body (e.g., body dissatisfaction) are two distinct but interconnected components of body image. The relationship between body perceptions and disordered eating is poorly understood. The objective of this project was to examine body size perception and elucidate how it changes and relates to disordered eating behaviours and attitudes across development when compared to body dissatisfaction. Method: In three studies, we analyzed data from the Minnesota Twin Family Study (MTFS), a population-based, prospective study of 1,359 predominantly (95%) White, reared-together female twins ranging from age 10 to 33, in which participants completed assessments approximately every three to five years. Study 1 examined the psychometric properties of a scale used to measure body size perception (Body Rating Scales (BRS); Chapter 2); Study 2 investigated the developmental trajectories of body mass index (BMI) and BRS body size perception scores across the study period (Chapter 3); and Study 3 compared the degree to which BMI, BRS body size perception scores, and body dissatisfaction impacted disordered eating behaviours and attitudes over time (Chapter 4). Results: In Study 1, the psychometric properties of the BRS support its validity as a measure of body size perception in girls and women. In Study 2, participants generally selected increasingly large perceived actual body sizes and increasingly small ideal body sizes across time and development, resulting in widening discrepancies between actual and ideal body size ratings until approximately age 30. In Study 3, body perception variables (i.e., larger actual body size ratings, smaller ideal body size, and greater actual-ideal discrepancies) predicted subsequent elevated disordered eating behaviours and attitudes across time more strongly than did body dissatisfaction as measured by self-report questionnaire ratings. Conclusion: Our results suggest that the BRS is a psychometrically-sound tool that may be used to evaluate body perception quickly and easily. Further, this research advances understanding of how body perceptions and ideals change across development, and highlights their relationship with subsequent disordered eating.
body perception, body image, disordered eating, development, longitudinal
Magel, C. A. (2023). Body perception and body dissatisfaction: a longitudinal examination of body image and disordered eating symptoms (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from