Written by Isabella Pallotto ‘19
Eating disorders are thought to be partially influenced by family, peers, and the media. These influencers pressure individuals to be thin and to compare their appearance to others. However, do all family members have the same amount of influence? A 2008 study by Coomber and King examined 47 Australian sister pairs to see if their eating disorder symptoms were more influenced by their parents, sibling, or peers.
Ninety-four sisters between the ages of 18 and 25 participated in this study. Researchers had the sisters fill out questionnaires about eating disorder symptoms and various types of family influence. Each sister pair displayed similar levels of dissatisfaction with their body and similar levels of eating disorder symptoms, suggesting that both sisters were exposed to similar weight-related pressures from their family environment. Results indicated that one’s mother and sister are equally influential modelers of eating disorder symptoms, and that mothers and sisters are more influential than fathers. The study also found that sisters compare their appearance to each other and to their female peers equally, but they do not compare their appearance to their parents.
Findings from this study suggest that mothers, sisters, and female peers all have the same amount of influence on eating disorder symptoms in young adult women. Mothers of young daughters should encourage a balanced diet and an appropriate amount of exercise and model these behaviors herself. Body positivity can be cultivated among daughters and their friends beginning with body positivity among their mothers. In this Dove real beauty campaign, one mother says that body positivity “can echo from me to them and them to others.” Like the video and the suggests, mothers have a great influence on their daughters which can influence their daughters’ friends, so being conscious about how one speaks about weight and shape is important to pass body positivity on to the next generation.
Coomber, K. & King, R. M. (2008). The role of sisters in body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Sex Roles, 59,81-93.
Dove U.S. (2014, September 30). Dove legacy: A girl’s beauty confidence starts with you… [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pqknd1ohhT4
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