Understanding Body Image Experiences and Coping Mechanisms in Adolescents with Physical Disability




Rosario, Priscilla Marie

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This narrative-based approach explored questions about how body image developed over time and how physical disability impacted perceptions and attitudes about the individual’s body, in particular among adolescents who use wheelchairs due to congenital physical disability. Data was collected using semi-structured interviews. Throughout the school years, peer pressure and messages about ideal beauty had negative effects on body image and satisfaction with the self for the individuals interviewed. Physical disability played a significant role in mediating messages about body image; in the context of social relationships, permanent functional limitations of the body meant the individual could not meet perceived expectations associated with a cultural ideal for appearance. Individuals described the coping mechanisms developed as they transitioned into young adulthood. This included reframing negative perceptions with faith-based attitudes that affirmed a positive body image, one with the self as valuable in God’s view. Social support and positive self-talk enhanced their self-image. Body image attitudes and perceptions experienced change from mostly negative in Middle and High School to more positive as individuals built more social support and an optimistic outlook towards their abilities.