Body image is a big thing in today’s society. It affects nearly every single woman in America, with around 91% saying that they are unhappy with their bodies. That’s hardly surprising, given that only 5% of women naturally possess the body that is so often revered by the media and popular culture. It affects men too, with nearly 81% saying that they worry about their flaws and imperfections. What is most worrying, though, is just how deeply it is affecting our children. A study by the Girl Guides found that an astonishing one third of girls between seven and ten years old feel judged by their appearance, while a quarter of them feel the need to be perfect. While we strive to give our children the very best in life, we seem to be failing at giving them body confidence, but what exactly is the problem, what are the causes, and is there anything we can do about it?
There are numerous studies on just this issue and they all point to the same conclusion – that our children are suffering. One researcher found that 10% of seven to ten-year-olds have had something mean said to them about the way they look and the American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing found that a massive 80% of ten-year-olds are afraid of being fat. In a study by the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), almost a third of nursery and school teachers have heard a child call themselves fat or ugly and 15% of young girls feel embarrassed or ashamed by the way they look. Those are scary statistics but it gets even worse, as Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, explains. It’s about more than having the confidence to wear what you want and be who you are without being judged – although they are great things to have. When people—and children in particular—are persistently judged on how they look, Smethers explains, they are likely to suffer higher levels of depression and mental illness. So by allowing society to affect our child’s body confidence issues, we’re not only giving them low self-esteem but we’re potentially making them ill too.
Children, especially as they approach adulthood, have always considered what they look like to a certain extent—what to wear to the prom and how to impress their latest crush, for example—but it’s getting worse and it’s becoming more prevalent. It’s not just about those special occasions any more, as the modern world pushes the anxiety to the forefront on a daily basis – but why? The media definitely takes its share of the blame as newspapers, magazines, and advertisers put forward their idea of the ‘perfect body’ which, as we’ve already seen, reflects such a tiny part of real life and real people. Learning by example plays a role too, as children watch and learn from adults who themselves suffer body confidence issues. It’s a vicious circle as more people have a negative body image, more children learn from it, which in turn provides a larger example to even more children.
There is another worrying trend that is having an effect though. With the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram, children are not only exposed to ‘ideal’ or ‘perfect bodies’ on a more regular basis, but they are being judged and are judging others every single day, and it’s becoming the norm. The whole set up of these sites plays right into the issue as children strive to get the most ‘likes’ or ‘favorites’ and rate each other’s photographs, status updates, and life events. As if being judged for their looks at school and social events wasn’t enough, they now must contend with it everywhere they go, 24 hours a day, through their computers, smart phones, and tablets. There are even challenges and internet trends that make it a whole lot worse, such as young people creating videos for YouTube only to ask ‘Am I Ugly?’ and similarly, asking for feedback on their looks on other sites. It’s an example of peer validation taken to the extreme.
Despite the fact that this issue seems ever-growing and insurmountable, there are things that we can do to lower the impact on our children. The internet, when used correctly, can be a wonderful tool for socializing and learning but we must ensure that we talk to our children and guide them on how to use such tools to their advantages while minimizing their dangers. This can be anything from restricting access until they are ready, to discussing the dangers of the internet and the importance of creating a safe online environment.
Children learn by example too, so by modeling a positive body image as adults, children will naturally follow our lead. Say body positive things to your children and be aware of what you talk about with other adults whilst your children are in the room, especially in regards to ‘being fat’ or ‘ugly’ and needing to diet – whether in reference to yourself or to others. Cook with your children and teach them about healthy foods without reinforcing negative implications. Talk about the difference between treats and everyday foods but stay away from distinctions such as ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ which have potentially harmful connotations. Most of all, though, love yourself, lov
 Do Something, 2016, 11 Facts About Body Image [online], available at: https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-body-image, accessed 12.16.2016
 David Campbell, 2012, Body image concerns more men than women, research finds [online], available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/jan/06/body-image-concerns-men-more-than-women, accessed 12.16.2016
 Alexandra Topping, 2016, Girls as young as 7 feel pressure to be pretty – body confidence study, [online], available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/oct/04/girls-as-young-as-7-feel-pressure-to-be-pretty-body-confidence-girlguiding-study-reveals, accessed 12.14.2016
 Staff Reporter, 2016, Girls as young as SEVEN under body image pressure, [online], available at: http://www.healthizmo.com/girls-young-seven-body-image-pressure, accessed 12.14.2016
 Katherine Schulten, 2013, Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies? [online], available at: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/is-there-too-much-pressure-on-girls-to-have-perfect-bodies/?_r=0, accessed 12.14.2016
 Lydia Willgress, 2016, Children as young as three have body image issues while four year olds know how to lose weight, study finds, [online], available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/30/children-as-young-as-three-have-body-image-issues-while-four-yea/, accessed 15.12.2016
 Staff Reporter, op cit.
 Alexandra Topping, op cit.
 Caroline Knorr, 2014, Is social media’s ‘camera-ready’ pressure bad for teen body image? [online], available at: http://www.today.com/health/social-medias-camera-ready-pressure-bad-teen-body-image-2D79601219, accessed 12.14.2016
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