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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Mother-daughter conversations about appearance : body image development through joint projects Polak, Emily L


In nearly two decades of research, objectification theory has provided a comprehensive sociocultural account of how women and girls internalize a sexually-objectified, critical lens of their bodies and appearance. Self-objectification and the associated behavioural and affective experiences of body surveillance and shame have been found to be related to a variety of mental health concerns for girls and women, including disordered eating, depression, and sexual risk-taking. While objectifying cultural messages are an omnipresent influence in body image development, there is evidence that the mother-daughter relationship has significant impact on this process. The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe how mothers and their adolescent daughters construct one another’s perceptions, attitudes, and behaviours regarding their bodies and appearance, from the perspective of their joint, goal-directed actions. Using a case study design and the constructionist action-project method, the conversations about appearance and bodies of six mother-daughter dyads were analyzed. The daughters in these dyads were from 13 to 17 years old, representing pubertal onset, a turbulent time for navigating peer and media pressures. By tackling issues like make-up use, revealing clothing, cosmetic surgery, and athletic activities, these mother-daughter conversations and their individual recalled thoughts and feelings on viewing the video-playback of the conversation exhibited how both congruent and conflicting behaviors and values can be transferred within their relationships. Findings point to mother-daughter joints projects that range from mutual objectification, avoidance of vulnerability, to sharing values such as thinness or athleticism, and supporting one another with empathy. Action-project analysis of these case studies revealed that many appearance-related projects were enacted within overarching identity and relationship projects. These cases provide evidence of the processes by which body image is socially constructed within the mother-daughter relationship.

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