The topic of body image has become widely researched in the past thirty years, but preadolescents
have been neglected in this area of research. This dissertation explores the
body and dieting concerns of pre-adolescent girls in South Africa in order to address this
paucity. A qualitative study was conducted, with data collected via a vignette technique and
a semi-structured interview which were analysed thematically. A contradiction was noted
between what girls expressed to be true in terms of the importance of appearance and how
they perceive those that do not adhere to cultural norms of appearance. Weight and
appearance were described as unimportant when evaluating a person, but negative
attributes were given to the heavier girl in the vignette, opposed to none to the thinner girl.
Appearance-control beliefs also emerged as a salient theme, with participants believing that
the heavier girl in the vignette could not help that she was overweight. The latter was
interpreted as pity, and masked as empathy, as participants suggested ways in which she
could lose weight, and it was expressed that she would be a happier person if she did lose
weight. Dieting was a well-known concept among participants, with some stating that they
had previously engaged in dieting behaviours.