Three essays on adolescent social networks, body culture, and dieting Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Manturuk, Kimberly R.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology
  • This dissertation focuses on the social causes and consequences of dieting, an outcome that has been under-theorized in contemporary research. I present three papers examining the complex relationship between dieting, friendship networks, and cultural body ideals. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative data, I argue that dieting is a gendered symbolic behavior associated with peer group status and social network embeddedness. The first chapter presents a qualitative analysis of adolescent male body image. I examine how young men perceive, interpret, and are affected by mainstream cultural messages about appearance. While some boys do feel pressured to strive for muscularity, and experience social and self-esteem consequences when they fail to achieve it, there is more diversity among how men interpret body ideals and are affected by them than among women. This project elucidates how cultural male body ideals manifest in the lives of adolescent boys and illustrates the strategies young people use to interpret and evaluate complex cultural messages. In the second chapter, I present a theoretical framework that conceptualizes dieting as a potential pathway to status and peer esteem for young women. I conclude that dieting is less likely when girls have alternative pathways to status which also provide them with an alternative to popular culture's emphasis on the thin ideal. One such pathway is participation in sports, which provides peer esteem and an ideal that emphasizes fitness and performance. This demonstrates that, while adolescent girls are clearly influenced by body ideals, alternative ideologies may translate in to observable reductions in dieting. In the third chapter, I study the extent to which adolescents' opinions about their weight and weight-related behaviors are related to how their social network embeddedness. I find that friendship network size matters and not the weight beliefs of those in one's network. Boys who have more weak ties in their networks are less likely to diet, while a girl's risk of dieting decreases as the number of strong ties in her network increases. This suggests perhaps a reverse causality process. Adolescents who identify as overweight may do so because they have smaller social networks.
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  • In Copyright
  • Perrin, Andrew J.
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Open access

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