Peer Sexual Harassment and Disordered Eating in Early Adolescence

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Peer sexual harassment is a pervasive problem in schools and is associated with a variety of negative mental health outcomes. Objectification theory suggests that sexual attention in the form of peer harassment directs unwanted attention to the victim's body and may lead to a desire to alter the body via disordered eating. In the current study, we used latent growth modeling with a sample of 406 U.S. adolescents to examine the relationship between longitudinal trends in peer sexual harassment from 5th to 9th grade and disordered eating in 9th grade. Longitudinal trends in self-surveillance were proposed as a mediator of the relationships. Results indicated that the relationship between upsetting sexual harassment at 5th grade and disordered eating symptoms at 9th grade was mediated by self-surveillance at 5th grade. Girls reported more upsetting sexual harassment, more self-surveillance, and thus more disordered eating than boys did. These results are in accord with objectification theory, which proposes that sexual harassment is a form of sexual objectification and may lead to self-surveillance and disordered eating.

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