Self-Concept Clarity and Body Dissatisfaction



In this chapter, we outline a theoretical model in which early adverse experiences lead to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating by impairing the development of a clear and coherent sense of self. We review empirical evidence linking early adversity and lower self-concept clarity. Relative to individuals high in self-concept clarity, those low in self-concept clarity are in turn more likely to have internalized societal standards of attractiveness and are more likely to compare their appearance to others. Individuals who internalize attractiveness ideals and engage in appearance comparisons report being more dissatisfied with their bodies, and body dissatisfaction is one of the most robust predictors of disordered eating. Consistent with theorizing that people low in self-concept clarity are more vulnerable to external sources of self-definition, we propose that this path to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating may be particularly likely for those people who are low in self-concept clarity and who also perceive strong external pressures to look a certain way. In sum, we propose that low self-concept clarity (potentially as a result of early adversity) can lead to harmful outcomes to the extent that it makes people vulnerable to internalizing unhealthy external identities. Thus, providing people low in self-concept clarity with positive sources of identity may be one way to mitigate such outcomes.


Self-concept clarity Identity Body dissatisfaction Disordered eating Early adversity 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UNSW SydneySydneyAustralia

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