Identity and the Body: Trajectories of Body Esteem From Adolescence to Emerging Adulthood

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Although Erikson (1968) originally conceptualized identity development as a process of becoming at home in one’s body, little work has been done linking identity development and research on the body. This study examines how trajectories of the development of body esteem over time are related to young people’s sense of identity and psychological functioning in a longitudinal sample from age 10 to 24 (N = 967). Using group-based trajectory modeling, three cubic subgroups were determined for each of the three types of body esteem: appearance, weight, and attribution. These groups demonstrated significant variations in the ways in which body esteem changes over time. These trajectory groups importantly differed in relationship to gender, identity coherence, identity confusion, and psychological functioning. Results are discussed in terms of the need to use a sociocultural perspective to explore the body’s relation to identity development and the importance of disaggregating mean-level findings using person-centered approaches to determine high-risk groups.

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