Understanding Appearance and Identity in School-Aged Children

Miia Lähde: Understanding Appearance and Identity in School-Aged Children

Oppiaine: Sosiaalipsykologia

My doctoral thesis is a social psychological study of school-aged children’s experiences and perceptions concerning bodily appearance. Positioning in the fields of childhood and youth research, the study focuses on how appearance is made meaningful as part of the self – and identity – among 10–13-year-old girls and boys.

The aim of the study is to increase understanding about the meanings of appearance in this sensitive yet less studied a period of children’s lives, characterized as early adolescence by developmental terms. While it seems that pressures of appearance are established at ever younger age in the current context of media, consumerism and visual culture, there is still relatively little research about the embodied lives of early adolescent girls and boys. From this perspective, the study contributes to broader discussions on the psycho-social wellbeing of children and young people and the increased emphasis on appearance as part of the individual identity projects.

Theoretically, children are seen as actors who actively create their own identity, making appearance meaningful as part of this process. The study employs discussions from the psychological body image research and the sociology of the body about the body as lived, experienced and socially constructed, aiming to create dialogue between the two research traditions in the context of children’s emerging identities. Identity is applied as a key theoretical and methodological concept, which allows to analyze children’s relationship with appearance as consciousness about the self, self-understanding, and, at the same time, as socially and culturally mediated and negotiated agency.

The empirical research combines qualitative and quantitative methods, using different forms of children’s self-reports as data: questionnaires (especially an adapted form of the CDI, the ‘Children’s Depression Inventory’), theme writings and semi structured interviews. All data are gathered in a school context, within three diverse but related research projects (2002, 2006 and 2009).

The doctoral thesis has been funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the University of Tampere and Alfred Kordelin Foundation.