Early Onset Of Puberty And Effects On Body Image, Eating Disorders And Self Esteem In Youth


Early Onset Of Puberty And Effects On Body Image, Eating Disorders And Self Esteem In Youth

Precocious puberty has been identified as a major problem amongst girls and is denoted as emergence of signs of maturing of sexuality including its external manifestations in girls such as development of breasts, hair in the underarms, varied body odor as well as menstruation. In the case of boys, it is indicated by a growth of facial hair and masculine features. Early puberty is said to occur when the signs appear before age 8 in girls and 9 and a half in a boy. (Precocious Puberty, 2006).

While the external manifestations of puberty are reasonably clear, it is the mental and emotional aspects which need to be studied in detail to analyze the impact of the same on body image, self esteem and eating disorders. While many times these manifestations are visualized in the light of growing adolescence or a period of transformation which occurs between puberty and adulthood, an analysis would provide a deeper understanding of the sum total of the phenomenon from the physical, cognitive, emotional and social perspective.

It needs also take into account any causes other than puberty which may lead to loss of self esteem and result in eating disorders. The literature review is thus carried out based on the above issues. Physical Development The physical impact of early puberty results in growth of those parts of the body which is most obvious such as breasts in girls and facial hair in boys and also in some respects those that are not seen such as pubic and armpit hair. The result of physical growth is an acute awareness of ones own body, which possibly is a cause for problems related to body image or self esteem. Precocious puberty, 2006).

Since these are perceptive rather than existential issues an innate linkage with biological processes of puberty is indicated. The significance of self esteem in improving body image, eating attitudes and adolescent behavior has been identified by O’Dea and Abraham. (2000). In an experiment with students in the critical puberty period of 11 to 14 years, the authors discovered the trend of improvement in body satisfaction of students who had been subjected to a programme of education in enhancing self esteem. (O’Dea. Abraham, 2004).

On the other hand those who had not been subjected to interventions continued to display greater need for acceptance by society through physical proficiency and body toning, thereby underlining the significance of this facet of the study. Those female students demonstrated lesser consciousness of physical appearance had limited inclination to excessive weight loss and were not uncomfortable with an increase in their weight. (O’Dea. Abraham, 2004). The linkage between physical development, eating disorder and emotional control has also been highlighted by a study by Abraham (2003).

Interventions that lead to improvement of self esteem also contribute to preventing eating disorders in young women. Puberty has a role to play in this in that consciousness of ones body develops only on occurrence of puberty. Abraham goes further in recommending that on suspicion of an eating disorder, physicians should investigate the psychological underpinnings arising from a fear of loss of control over the body. (Abraham, 2003). Generally in adult girls, menarche is followed by an increase in body weight. Abraham (2003) has thus also distinguished between pre and post menarche girls in identifying their response towards food.

Thus premanarchal girls are said to resort to normal eating habits and after menarche these relate to dieting to avoid being considered over weight. The normal methods used for losing weight are to reduce consumption of food and increase exercise. On the other hand some resort to heavy binges of consumption of food as an interregnum between long periods of restricted eating. There are even some who choose to use abusive drugs as well as smoking as a means for control of body weight. (Abraham, 2003). Thus physical impacts of puberty are related to a general loss of self esteem during this critical period of adolescence.

A congruent study by Sands Et Al (1999) indicates that during puberty there is higher consciousness of body image. This results in activities which are perceived to enhance the same to include moderation or excessive eating and exercise. The subtle variation in the male and female approach to body weight and puberty is also indicated by Sands Et Al (1999) thereby females preferring to be, “chunkier”. The significance of non educational interventions has been highlighted by the some authors in another work which has included a study of post menarchal female students in the age group of average 12. years. (Abraham. O’Dea, 2001).

Lack of need for dieting was however not a result of a clear understanding of the phenomenon and it was seen that educational interventions despite providing greater information on the subject failed to evoke a positive response in this direction. (Abraham. O’Dea, 2001). Another study over a two year period in eating disorder risks in puberty indicated that the incidence of puberty frequently resulted in dietary interventions in the second year of puberty. (Keel. Et Al, 1997).

This aspect was confirmed with reasonable certainty in this study which has included girls and boys in the Fifth and the Sixth grades. Done over a two year period it also tends to provide authenticity and is relevant in distinguishing the impact on boys and girls. (Keel. Et Al, 1997). It has established that in boys who attain puberty, it is indicated that those who perceived a poor body image in the first year would be more susceptible to disorderedly eating than those who had a better perception of the same.

On the other hand, girls denoted a totally different perspective, though in terms of disorderliness in eating habits there was some congruence. Girls indicated that those with consciousness of body mass index and development of puberty were more prone to eating disorders than those in the opposite category. (Keel. Et Al, 1997). An advantage provided by this study is the ability to adopt different coping strategies for boys and girls. A review of the above sources indicates a correlation between physical development, puberty and its possible fall out.

Cognitive Development There does not appear to be a significant impact of early maturation on cognitive facilities. This has been indicated by a study by Duncan Et Al. (1985). While aspects such as physical, emotional and social factors lead to a co relationship between early puberty and impact on self image along with related factors as body mass index and so on, cognitive functions are seemingly not fully affected by the same. (Duncan Et Al, 1985).

The study indicated that girls who had matured early were dissatisfied with their body indicators as weight and height and 60 percent participants had reported a need for lesser body mass. On the other hand there was greater satisfaction in the early maturers amongst boys in terms of height as well as weight. The researchers have however concluded that the impact of weight may not be a result of early maturation but that of onset of puberty in general. (Duncan Et Al, 1985). This also supports other research discussed in relevant paragraphs of research report.

There is some dissonance in the results on the impact of puberty on cognition Thus it is seen that early maturers amongst boys indicate deviance in conduct but the same was not true of girls in the same category, thereby denoting that this is a gender specific phenomenon and hence the impact of puberty could be discounted or that the incidence of deviation is related to asymmetric effect of puberty on boys and girls. (Duncan Et Al, 1985). When assessed in terms of adjustment in school or incidence of indiscipline as well as repetition of the grade in schools, the maturation timing is seen to have limited relevance.

Bukowski, Et Al (2000) have suggested that there may be a correlation between attraction of girls to aggressive boys during the period of adolescence and in some ways boys with better school behaviour were not fully admired. The early puberty period did not indicate this trend initially, however it was seen by the researchers that this was quite prevalent in later stages as the subject population transited from elementary to middle school. (Bukowski, Et Al, 2000).

In terms of peers of the same sex, again it was those who tend to stand out amongst the overall crowd, by displaying some what deviant behaviour that attracted greater attention, thus indicating that cognitive function may be attracted in puberty towards those who display a greater reflection of perceived self image rather than that which is socially acceptable. (Bukowski, Et Al, 2000). If congruent indictors are considered such as exercise, it is seen that it has limited impact on enhancing cognitive functions particularly in older adults. (Fox, 1999). Thus there may be grounds to believe that impact of puberty on cognition may be varied.

Social Development Social comparison is a key aspect in body image. (Jones, 2001). It has been observed that social comparison affects ones impression of body image particularly strongly in females rather than males as seen from idolising images of celebrities in the media as those who have skinny bodies in females and muscular ones for males. During adolescence it has been indicated that girls tend to develop a negative body image due to the impact of influence of peer comparison. (Jones, 2001). Perceived inconsistency in growth in comparison with peers is also likely to create social problems for boys as well as girls.

There is an element of teasing which occurs when a child grows. (Precocious puberty, 2006). This makes a child acutely aware that he or she is different than peers and may lead to adverse social reactions such as reclusive ness or on the other hand hyper activity. Substance abuse is another tendency in some girls as well as boys with precocious puberty which would be socially unacceptable. (Graber Et Al, 1997). The social interrelationship between puberty, impact of familial influence and weight control leading to enhanced self esteem has also been identified by Hill and Pallin (1998).

The study which was related to children who were on the verge of puberty or had attained puberty thus being in the 8 year old age group, very clearly indicates that there was greater awareness in the body shape in this target population. (Hill. Pallin, 1998). The researchers attempted to link this with self esteem and found very sound co relations. Thus it was seen that girls who have a lower self esteem had continually attributed it to a lesser perception of own body mass and thus led to control of consumption of food. (Hill. Pallin, 1998).

On the other hand, those following a social trend rather than a belief in their own lower self esteem tend to ascribe it to fictional characters as, “Mary-Jane” to conform to the habit of dieting. (Hill. Pallin, 1998). This indicated a social rather than an intrinsic individual influence in their decisions. Another influencing factor is mother – daughter relationship in girls during this period of stress and gender incongruity including that of mothers on dieting daughters. (Hill. Pallin, 1998).

Thus girls who had seen their mother dieting had a greater craving for the same. Hill. Pallin, 1998). The role of social relationship with the mother has also been highlighted by Usmiani and Daniluk (1997). The authors have indicated that body image is what one perceives of ones body and not just what is the actual physique thus, there may be grounds to believe that the influence of the mother and social relationship with the parent of the same gender may impact on self esteem during the critical period of puberty when the girl child particularly develops a keen sense of difference between the male and the female body. Usmiani. Daniluk, 1997). Social acceptance of deviant behavior has also been indicated by other studies carried out by Bukowski, Et Al, (2000).

It was seen that both in the case of same as well as opposite sex peers, the adolescents displayed an attraction towards those peers who were more aggressive and tend to demonstrate norms which were not necessarily consistent with good behaviour in school or class. Bukowski, Et Al, 2000). That social pressure would be playing an important role in developing eating habits and notion of body image has been observed by Thelen Et Al (1992). This study has envisaged a wide range of the child population from second to sixth graders. The observations are indicated as per table below which would see the salient growth of awareness of the body in the maturing child. (Thelen Et Al, 1992).

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