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by Norine G. Johnson, Michael C. Roberts, and Judith Worell (Editors)
American Psychological Association, 1999
Review by Marilyn Graves, Ph.D. on Jan 16th 2003

Beyond Appearance

This tome appears to be more of a textbook than a casual read. It has sixteen chapters, all written by different people and varies widely in writing style and general accessibility.

The introductory statements are written by Dr. Dorothy Cantor, then president of the American Psychological Association and writer of other more interesting works of her own. She explains that this is a compilation of 32 contributors who formed a task force to study the topic of adolescent girls. Each chapter addresses a sub area in the general topic of adolescent girlhood. For example, Chapter 3 is a review of research regarding competence and self-esteem in adolescent girls. Many of the studies are of a survey or self-report format. A few are longitudinal studies such as the Michigan Study of Adolescent Life Transitions (pg. 56).

The general format of most chapters is to present research and at the end present some general conclusions. This is a typical one: “gendered self-concepts and self-esteem vary across domains and ethnic groups . . . it is not the case that females, in general, are less confident of their abilities than males. Nor is it the case that females, in general, have less self-esteem than males.” The conclusions in this chapter continue with, “girls are more negatively affected by failure experiences and by anticipated failures than are boys.” (p. 77).

The Michigan study (p. 57) is perhaps the most interesting one. Begun in 1982 and sampling 3,000 sixth graders in twelve school districts in Michigan, it included 2,000 respondents now in early adulthood who were still a part of the study as of the book publication date of 1999. One of the conclusions of the study was that self- rating by girls tends to predict their occupational choices. They tended to rate themselves higher in English and social areas and thus tended to gravitate to those areas of employment. Not surprising from what we generally hear in casual conversations around the water cooler but here is documentation of it.

In Chapter 4, the writer addresses what contributes to resilience from developing an eating disorder. The writer suggests that though the prospects of developing an eating disorder of diagnosable proportions is small, “ a large majority undertake diets and suffer from subclinical eating concerns, body dissatisfaction, and what has been termed ‘a normal discontent’ ” (p. 101). The writer then assesses risk for co-existing disorders like depression.

There is a chapter on girls of color (Chapter 7). It points out difficulties for ethnic minority girls in this age group. It assesses barriers to development of positive identity because of “sexism, racism, and classism” and suggests there is a lack of research in this area (p. 167). Other topics in the book address areas like gender influences, friendships, sexuality, school experiences, dating, and health care.

A part of the book is a series of excerpts from a survey proposing to find out about the “state of the hearts of adolescent girls” (p. 431). Its intent was to stimulate dialogue.

The appendix lists some actual questions and answers. For example, “why is popularity so important to most girls?” (p. 416) or “why do all the cute guys date sluts?” (p. 423) are two questions girls asked. The researchers answer to this later one involves an explanation about teenage prostitution. This is probably wide of the margin as to what the fourteen year old meant by her question. Perhaps she just meant to ask why boys like slutty girls. This makes one wonder how well the researchers actually understand the minds of the age group they are studying.

In short, the study of adolescent girls is a hot and sometimes controversial area of interest these days. This textbook, which one might see in a developmental psychology class, is not user friendly for the general reader. While the recounting of past research with the extensive references at the end of each section may just the ticket if one is looking for something specific, it is not worth it poking around in the muck looking for occasional jewels. Certainly some of the chapters are well-written but others are tedious.


© 2003 Marilyn Graves


Marilyn Graves, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Tennessee working with children, adolescents and adults. She is also the occasional writer of parenting articles and book reviews.


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