Negative Body Images Start Young
De-emphasizing importance of body size is first step
-Jeannie Gedeon, MPH, RD
The pressure to be thin is a growing problem that has reached dramatic proportions. The number of young girls who show an unhealthy concern over body image is increasing, even in girls as young as 8 to 10. As the media bombards us with visions of beautiful, extremely thin women on billboards and TV and in magazines and movies, young girls may interpret these cues and begin to believe that they must be thin and beautiful to be happy, as well as base their self-worth and esteem on their bodies and their beauty.
Young girls (before preadolescence to their teen years) of adequate weight often perceive themselves as fat. Some girls become very self-conscious in their dissatisfaction with their bodies and actually become depressed and anxious about the way they look. In addition, those who develop a negative body image may also have low self-esteem and make inaccurate nutritional judgments, including severe restrictions such as crash dieting.
Preoccupation with body shape and size can lead to life-threatening disorders such as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Taken to the extreme, weight concerns can harm the physical, emotional and social growth of children. Parents can play a preventive role by watching for and responding to signs that their daughters may be concerned about their body image, weight and shape. A good strategy is to be on the lookout for any negative influence coming from friends, family or peers – even simple comments can begin to change young girls’ thoughts regarding their bodies.
De-emphasizing the perceived importance of body size is the first step in swaying children’s thinking toward size acceptance and normalized eating. Parents who have a healthy body image and don’t place much emphasis on dieting and beauty decrease the risk of their child developing an unhealthy body image. Having a healthy lifestyle and developing positive esteem are important values that children can learn from their parents, teachers and others who guide them.