One size does not fit all: Trajectories of body image development and their predictors in early adolescence


Background: Negative body image predicts many adverse outcomes. The current study prospectively examined patterns of body esteem development in early adolescence and identified predictors of developmental subtypes. Methods: 328 girls and 429 boys reported annually across a 4-year period (Mage at baseline = 11.14, SD = 0.35) on body esteem, appearance ideal internalization, perceived sociocultural pressures, appearance comparisons, appearance-related teasing, self-esteem, positive and negative affect, and dietary restraint. We performed latent class growth analyses to identify the most common trajectories of body esteem development and examine risk and protective factors for body image development. Results: Three developmental subgroups were identified: (a) high body esteem (39.1%); (b) moderate body esteem (46.1%); and (c) low body esteem (14.8%). Body esteem was stable within the low trajectory and there were minor fluctuations in the high and moderate trajectories. Greater appearance-related teasing, lower self-esteem, less positive affect, and higher dietary restraint predicted the low trajectory, whereas higher self-esteem and lower dietary restraint best predicted the high trajectory. Conclusions: Low body esteem appears to be largely stable from age 11 years. Prevention programming may be enhanced by incorporating components to address transdiagnostic resilience factors such as self-esteem and positive affect.