The distinct affect regulation functions of body image flexibility and inflexibility: A prospective study in adolescents and emerging adults

Anna L. Brichacek, James T. Neill, Kristen Murray, Elizabeth Rieger, Clare Watsford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Body image flexibility and inflexibility are alternative ways of responding to body image threats. Affect regulation offers a framework for understanding how these responses impact health outcomes; however, research in young people is limited. This prospective study tested two potential affect regulation functions in adolescents and emerging adults (N = 351, 66.7% female) via online surveys completed five months apart. Specifically, body image flexibility and inflexibility were tested as (a) direct predictors of adaptive (body appreciation, intuitive eating) and maladaptive (muscle-building strategies, disordered eating) outcomes, and (b) moderators of the indirect effect of a social comparison threat via body appreciation. Results from hierarchical linear and conditional process models showed that body image flexibility and inflexibility served distinct affect regulation functions. Whereas body image inflexibility directly predicted adaptive and maladaptive body- and eating-related outcomes, body image flexibility protected against the negative effects of social comparison on intuitive eating via body appreciation. Findings suggest that adolescents and emerging adults could benefit from learning body image flexibility skills and reducing inflexibility to promote positive body image and prevent body- and eating-related disturbances. Future research should investigate how body image flexibility and inflexibility relate to other established threats and outcomes in diverse demographic groups.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101726
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBody Image
Volume50
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - May 2024

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