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An American girl in the classroom: How the self-image of adolescent girls affects their behavior and performance in the classroom

23 May 1997


The purpose of this qualitative study was to answer the question: How does the self image of adolescent girls affect their behavior and performance in the classroom? There was also a series of five sub-questions which directed the flow of the research: 1) Why do adolescent girls often have low self images?; 2) What is the effect of "look ism" on adolescent girls?; 3) What is important to adolescent girls?; 4) Who influences adolescent girls?; and 5) What are the goals of adolescent girls? My research addressing these questions was based primarily on the work of Dr. Mary Pipher, Naomi Wolf, Beverly Stitt, and a number of other educators, feminists, and psychologists. Pipher is an author who paints a compelling portrait of the adolescent girl's life, Wolf describes our society as one that values an unattainable and stifling idea of beauty, and Stitt focuses on the gender-biased classrooms of America. Each of these diverse authors contributed greatly to my research paper, both in creating questions and supplying answers. The study took place in a suburban high school located thirty minutes from a major ci1:'j in the Pacific Northwest. The research spa..Tl..l1ed a nine month period. The participants were high school females in grades nine through twelve. Information was gathered in a variety of classrooms through three primary methodological approaches: observations, surveys and interviews. After collecting and organizing extensive field notes, survey responses, and interviews, various patterns emerged dealing with the self image of female adolescents and their performance and behavior in school. Namely, certain relationships appeared evident, such as the link between low self image and low academic success, as well as the link between low self image and minimal classroom participation. Moreover, in accordance with Pipher and Wolf, adolescent girls seemed overly preoccupied, in general, with physical appearance and weight, and this can be linked to cultural phenomena that exist in our society. Taking that a step further, I derived from my research that the lower the self image of the adolescent girl the more she appeared to be negative about her herself in all ways, including intelligence, competence, beauty, and weight.


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