Struggles with body image can start in elementary school
“If I lose 10 pounds, I’d be so much prettier.”
This is a phrase that causes concern among loved ones of college girls who struggle with their appearance. However, it’s not just 20-somethings who struggle with body image – kids younger than 10 years old are also unhappy with the way they look, according to new research.
Five percent of 8-year-old girls and three percent of boys of the same age said they were unhappy with their bodies in a survey of 6,000 British children. Six years later, when these kids were 14 years old, 39 percent of the girls had dieted in the past year and 8 percent had binged. Twelve percent of boys also had dieted, and 3.5 percent had binged.
“A major reason for an increase in eating disorders, poor body images and dieting — all at an increasing young age — has to do with what is in the media and social media,” says Sarah Katula, psychiatric advanced practice nurse at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill. “Young girls are bombarded with ideas of beauty that are unrealistic, unattainable for most and often not even real.”
Media played a large role in skewing the perceptions of children in the survey, research showed. About 20 percent of girls reported feeling “quite a lot” or “a lot” of pressure from the media to lose weight. Children with mothers who experienced anorexia, bulimia or both were also at an increased risk of being dissatisfied with their bodies.
“Mothers who are constantly dieting and unhappy with their bodies can also influence their daughters again, on what is of value,” Katula says. “Even fathers can negatively influence their daughters if they are prone to commenting on women’s bodies or how women look.”
To help girls develop a positive body image, Katula recommends keeping girls involved in sports, music and intellectual activities.
“They can ‘distract’ girls from the everyday barrage of societal messages that are only focused on aesthetics, quite shallow and often misogynistic,” she says.
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