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Self-esteem in Females:

A Literature Review

             Self-esteem is generally referred to as an individual’s evaluation of oneself, including feelings of self worth (Coopersmith; Rosenberg; as cited in Wild, Flisher, Bhana, & Lombard, 2004).  Self-esteem is referred to as the overall consideration one has for the self (Frost & McKelvie, 2004).  Much research has been completed, studying levels of self-esteem in relation to gender.  Results consistently shows that females aged eight to seventeen  score lower on self-esteem measures than males of the same age group (Wild, Flisher, Bahana & Lombard, 2004; Frost & McKelvie, 2004).  Current research also suggests that pubescent development is occurring earlier in preteen girls, which may make them vulnerable to low self-image, which has been highly correlated with low self-esteem.  Additionally, this may put them at risk for engaging in risky behaviors (Doswell, Millor, Thompson, & Braxter, 1998).

            Preadolescence and adolescence are times of rapid growth and change characterized by physiological, emotional, and many other changes, signaling the onset of puberty.  This transition from middle childhood through adolescence can be terrifying for a young female.  This is represented by the suggestion that self-esteem changes with age.  Evidence from studies note a higher self-esteem among females under eight years of age, and a significant drop in self-esteem among females aged eight to seventeen (Frost & McKelvie, 2004; Doswell, Millor, Thompson, & Braxter, 1998).  This significant drop in self-esteem has been linked to the many physical changes that a female experiences when entering puberty.  This includes: increase in height, weight, redistribution of body fat, and a change in body proportions (Doswell, Millor, Thompson, & Braxter, 1998).    

            Additionally, an important variable connected to self-esteem is concept of body image. (Doswell, Millor, Thompson, & Braxter, 1998).  Much research shows that younger females are becoming increasingly concerned about their weight and appearance.  This factor has a large significance to one’s self-image (Frost & McKelvie, 2004).  A study completed by Frost and McKelvie (2004) noted that self-esteem was drastically correlated with body image for all participants. These researchers also contribute the change in self-esteem among females aged eight to seventeen, to the fact that one’s overall view of himself/herself, is based partly on satisfied she is with her body and physical appearance (Frost & McKelvie, 2004). 

            Petersen, Schulenberg, Abramowiz, Otter, & Jarcho (as cited by Doswell, Millor, Thompson, & Braxter, 1998), note that self-esteem in relation to boy image is how the young woman perceives herself in relation to her ideals.  They note that the development of healthy self-esteem is tested significantly during the pubescent years of middle childhood and adolescence.  Empirical literature supports the idea that self-esteem is fragile and changing, and tends to be on the low end during this life stage of females (Doswell, Millor, Thompson, & Braxter, 1998). 

            Moreover, the onset of puberty and adolescence may hasten changes in self-esteem making females more susceptible to certain high risk behaviors.  Many theorists have predicted that individuals with low self-esteem are more likely to adopt certain risk behaviors (Wild, Flisher, Bhana, & Lombard, 2004; Doswell, Millor, Thompson, & Braxter, 1998).  For example, Wild, Flisher, Bhana, & Lombard (2004) have noted that smoking, problem drinking behaviors, and unhealthy weight loss behaviors have been risk factors associated with females and low self-esteem.  Also in this study, self –esteem was significantly associated with body image, a descriptor of the association between unhealthy weight loss behaviors and self-esteem. 

            Concurrent with the concerns regarding body image, develops the topic of problems and concerns among females in general.  Harper and Marshall (1991) noted that one of the most frequent findings from their investigations was that during adolescence females report more problems than boys do.  Girls are more self critical and place more importance on perceptions other have of them.  Their research has also shown a significant decline in self-esteem among females during the ages of puberty.  This is suggested to be related to the confusion and confliction regarding a search for identity and role development (Harper and Marshall, 1991). 

            Lastly, research on the development of self-esteem and relationship with parents has suggested the possible significance of the parental relationship on the development of a positive self-esteem in females.  A child’s sense of worth is very much an indication of success in her interactions with others and therefore should be greatly influenced by her interactions with those most crucial to her, meaning her parents.  A study completed by Dickstein and Posner (1978), note that self-esteem and parent/child relationships are significantly correlated.  It was also noted that a female’s self-concept was directly related to her relationship with her mother.  The researchers suggest that by facilitating positive communication among the adolescent and painting a positive picture of women, it may help to alleviate some of the confusion experienced during adolescence (Dickstein and Posner, 1978). 

            Additionally, many resources are available for promoting positive self-esteem among preadolescent and adolescent females.  These resources hope that by raising self-esteem they may help protect females from adopting unhealthy risk behaviors associated with low self-esteem (Wild, Flisher, Bhana, & Lombard, 2004).  This website was designed with hopes that educators, parents, and teens could use this information to promote positive self-esteem in young women as they go through the confusing stage of adolescence.



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