Date of Graduation

Spring 2011


Master of Science in Psychology



Committee Chair

Brooke Whisenhunt


gender differences, body image, self-objectification, appearance-related teasing, preschoolers

Subject Categories



Women tend to have greater body dissatisfaction and higher rates of eating disorders than men. Little is known about body image and gender differences in preschool children, and the current study was designed to explore early roots of self-objectification by investigating gender differences in the verbal feedback that preschoolers receive. Using a semi-structured interview, 40 preschoolers (19 girls, 21 boys) were interviewed about teasing and complimentary words they hear from peers and adults. The children's parents completed a questionnaire indicating the frequency with which they use various words towards their children. Based on pilot data, the words were divided into 3 categories: Appearance (e.g., "cute," "fat"), Physical Competency (e.g., "fast," "weak"), and Character (e.g., "good," "stupid"). Results supported the hypothesis that parents used appearance-based words more frequently toward girls than boys, t(45)=2.58, p<0.05. However, this effect did not remain when only appearance-based teasing words were considered. Boys reported receiving significantly more feedback related to character than appearance, t(20)=2.87, p<0.01; there was no such difference among the words girls reported. Results suggest that although parents use more appearance-based words toward girls, girls of this age do not report receiving these words more often than other feedback. Children's responses to hypothetical teasing and complimenting tasks revealed trends suggesting they may associate appearance with femininity. Socialization factors are in place early in development that likely teach girls to focus on appearance; these data may be helpful in developing early interventions for parents and teachers to improve young girls' body image and self-esteem.


© Lindsey Heath Steding

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