Negative body image and preoccupation with weight are the norm for most women and girls in Western society, despite their potentially harmful consequences for psychological and physical wellness. While we know that many in this population experience negative feelings towards their bodies, we do not know if their beliefs about their body size are accurate and what effect a correct or incorrect assessment of one's body size has in terms of actual behavior. I examine this question among adolescent girls using data from the 2002 Health Behaviors in School-Age Children Survey. With a sample of 2,784 girls between the ages of 11 and 17, I run Poisson regression models to assess the relationship between actual and perceived body size and healthy versus unhealthy weight control behaviors, controlling for a number of indicators known to be associated with weight control, including parent and peer relationships, media exposure, and age of first menstruation. Results indicate that a discrepancy between actual and perceived body size is associated with increases in both positive and negative weight control behaviors, though the association with negative weight control behaviors is much larger. Starting puberty later is associated with a decrease in both types of these behaviors. Difficult family relationships appear to be more strongly associated with negative weight control than positive weight control. Other associations are discussed and suggestions for future research are offered.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Sociology



Date Submitted


Document Type





body image, weight control, body size, adolescent girls

Included in

Sociology Commons