Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Disordered Eating and Gender Socialization in Independent-School Environments: A Multilevel Mediation Model

Mensinger, Janell Lynn PhD


Schools play a primary function in adolescent socialization, including the adoption of gender-role attitudes and behaviors (Brody et al., Gender and the culture of schools, Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA, 1998). Despite the association between gender-role attitudes and disordered eating, particularly since the second wave of the Women's Movement (Boskind-Lodahl, Signs: Journal of Woman in Culture and Society, 2, 342–356, 1976; Palazzoli, Self-starvation, London: Chancer, 1974), schools have rarely been studied in the eating disorder literature. The present study sought to address this gap by first developing a measure, the School Gender Socialization Scale (SGSS), to assess a school's gendered social climate. Using the SGSS, a direct relationship was hypothesized and supported between the degree of conflict with respect to gender-role norms experienced by the female students at a school and the severity of eating problems reported there. A multilevel mediation process demonstrating how the gendered social climate of a school leads to greater disordered eating is suggested. Schools rated higher on conflicting gender-role norms evidence greater numbers of students idealizing the Superwoman construct, which is characterized by unyielding autonomy, exceptional standards for achievement, and an ultra-thin body. In accordance with feminist theory, adolescents idealizing the Superwoman tend to report more eating disturbances. Implications regarding eating disorder prevention efforts in school systems are discussed.

Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pa.

Corresponding author: Janell Lynn Mensinger, PhD, Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, 423 Guardian Dr, Blockley Hall, Room 510, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19104 (e-mail:

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.