Examining the Prospective Bidirectional Associations between Subjective and Objective Attractiveness and Adolescent Internalizing Symptoms and Life Satisfaction

Natasha R. Magson, Ella L. Oar, Jasmine Fardouly, Ronald M. Rapee, Justin Y. A. Freeman, Cele E. Richardson, Carly J. Johnco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Research has consistently shown that more physically attractive individuals are perceived by others to be happier and better psychologically adjusted than those perceived as less attractive. However, due to the lack of longitudinal research in adolescents, it is still unclear whether poor mental health predicts or is predicted by either objective or subjective attractiveness during this critical developmental period. The purpose of the current study was to examine prospective bidirectional associations between both subjective and objective ratings of attractiveness, life satisfaction and symptoms of social anxiety, depression and eating disorders (i.e., internalizing symptoms) from early to mid-adolescence. Participants (T1: N= 528, 49.9% girls; M-age = 11.19; SD = 0.55) were followed annually over four time points. The cross-lagged panel model results revealed evidence of prospective associations between both forms of attractiveness and life satisfaction and internalizing symptoms, which were driven more by changes in the mental health outcomes than by changes in the subjective and objective attractiveness ratings. The results also indicated that the pattern, strength, and direction of the associations tested were robust across boys and girls, and white and non-white ethnic groups. Overall, the findings suggest that it is important to find effective ways of educating adolescents who are unhappy with their appearance that making changes to improve their mental health, rather than focusing on their physical appearance, will have benefits not only for how they perceive themselves but also for how they are perceived by others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)370-392
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Volume52
Issue number2
Early online date12 Nov 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2023

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