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The face of appearance-related social pressure: gender, age and body mass variations in peer and parental pressure during adolescence

Susanne Helfert* and Petra Warschburger

Author Affiliations

Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam, Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 24/25, 14476, Potsdam, OT Golm, Germany

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Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health 2013, 7:16  doi:10.1186/1753-2000-7-16

Published: 17 May 2013



Appearance-related social pressure plays an important role in the development of a negative body image and self-esteem as well as severe mental disorders during adolescence (e.g. eating disorders, depression). Identifying who is particularly affected by social pressure can improve targeted prevention and intervention, but findings have either been lacking or controversial. Thus the aim of this study is to provide a detailed picture of gender, weight, and age-related variations in the perception of appearance-related social pressure by peers and parents.


1112 German students between grades 7 and 9 (mean age: M = 13.38, SD = .81) filled in the Appearance-Related Social Pressure Questionnaire (German: FASD), which considers different sources (peers, parents) as well as various kinds of social pressure (e.g. teasing, modeling, encouragement).


Girls were more affected by peer pressure, while gender differences in parental pressure seemed negligible. Main effects of grade-level suggested a particular increase in indirect peer pressure (e.g. appearance-related school and class norms) from early to middle adolescence. Boys and girls with higher BMI were particularly affected by peer teasing and exclusion as well as by parental encouragement to control weight and shape.


The results suggest that preventive efforts targeting body concerns and disordered eating should bring up the topic of appearance pressure in a school-based context and should strengthen those adolescents who are particularly at risk - in our study, girls and adolescents with higher weight status. Early adolescence and school transition appear to be crucial periods for these efforts. Moreover, the comprehensive assessment of appearance-related social pressure appears to be a fruitful way to further explore social risk-factors in the development of a negative body image.

Peer pressure; Parental pressure; Adolescence; Gender; Age; BMI