Intergenerational influences in body image among Mexican American obese adolescent females and their maternal caregivers



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Grounded Theory and thematic analysis were utilized to examine interview responses from Mexican and Mexican American adolescent females with obesity, their mothers, and when possible, their grandmothers, regarding the messages the adolescents have received about their physical appearance and body size. The adolescents were receiving services at a weight management program at the time of their involvement in the study. Semi-structured individual interviews were conducted with nine Spanish/English-speaking adolescents and their maternal caregivers (comprised of nine mothers and three grandmothers), transcribed verbatim, and translated from Spanish to English, where applicable. Data of nine mother-adolescent dyads analyzed using Grounded Theory was a model illustrating the process by which these adolescents receive messages about their physical appearance and body size, the manner in which adolescents navigate these messages, and their mother’s role in the process. Results suggest that the adolescents receive dialectical messages of “being overweight is undesirable” and “accept yourself” and that they originate from various sources (e.g., their mother, other family members, peers and friends, and medical professionals). In addition, the messages are reflective of the contexts of media, culture, and their status as an adolescent receiving treatment for obesity. Further, the data revealed that the mothers utilize a behavior of constant vigilance around their daughters and also use themselves as models to provide these messages to their daughters, both in direct and indirect ways. And finally the data indicated that the dialectical messages the adolescents receive elicit emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactions, as well as influence their body image self-schema. Thematic analysis of the three mother-adolescent-grandmother triads included the themes of “messages provided/received” regarding physical appearance and body size, and “maternal caregiver relationship dynamics” within the mother-grandmother dyad data. Implications for future research and clinical practice are discussed.