Body image self-conscious emotions get worse throughout adolescence and relate to physical activity behavior in girls and boys.Soc Sci Med. 2022 12; 315:115543.SS
Body image is a commonly-reported factor perpetuating declines in physical activity levels during adolescence. However, the evidence is predominantly qualitative, cross-sectional, and focused on girls. Furthermore, the affective dimension of body image has been overlooked compared to the perceptual (e.g., misrepresentations of body size) and cognitive (e.g., dissatisfaction) dimensions. Affective body image includes a range of self-conscious emotions including guilt, shame, envy, embarrassment, and authentic and hubristic pride. This study examined (i) body-related self-conscious emotions over time, and (ii) associations between body-related emotions and physical activity over five years during early-to-mid adolescence. Potential gender differences were also explored. Self-report data for this study were collected once a year over 5 years as part of the MATCH study. The main analyses involved mixed-effects modeling. Participants (n = 776, 55.8% girls) initially aged 12.6 (SD = 0.6) years who provided data on at least one occasion were included in the analysis. Girls reported higher body-related guilt, shame, envy, and embarrassment than boys, and boys reported higher hubristic pride than girls. Over five years from early to mid-adolescence, body-related shame, guilt, envy, and embarrassment significantly increased for boys and girls, authentic pride did not change, and hubristic pride increased for girls only. Controlling for gender and puberty status, body-related guilt, shame, and embarrassment were negatively, and body-related authentic and hubristic pride were positively, associated with physical activity over time. Body-related envy was not significantly related to physical activity. These findings suggest that adolescents express greater negative body-related self-conscious emotions over time. Since these were negatively related to physical activity, interventions focused on reducing negative body-related emotions and enhancing positive body-related emotions may be valuable in adolescence to help curb declining physical activity.