Body Image Issues Affect Young Children Even More Than Before
SAN ANGELO, TX – Television viewers get bombarded with never ending images and portrayals of the ideal body shape, establishing difficult to achieve beauty standards; as a result, the number of people who are unhappy with their bodies increases steadily. Alarmingly, kids under the age of five are already showing signs of body image concerns. Questions about their looks are becoming more frequent, and these children become more and more self-conscious about their appearance; this stress about their bodies and looks may even carry over into adulthood.
According to StatisticsBrain.com, 91 percent of women are, in some way, unhappy with their body. Furthermore, 58 percent of college girls feel pressured to be a certain weight, and 81 percent of 10-year-olds have expressed a fear of being fat. If these compulsive concerns with the body are not addressed early on, body image obsession can develop into a serious medical condition.
National Eating Disorder.org defines body image as "how an individual sees themselves when they look in the mirror or when they picture themselves in their mind."
What is the Cause?
Contrary to popular belief, it is not just the media that perpetuates the unrealistic body image for males and females of all ages. There are many factors that contribute to this issue, and there are ways to limit young children's exposure to negative body image portrayals.
According to a study conducted by Common Sense Media, body image is learned and formed through a variety of factors. A child’s self-esteem can cause a boy or girl to become dissatisfied with his or her body. Children, for example, might believe or feel pressure that everybody expects them to be thin.
Parents are crucial in making sure that their children are not exposed to the mentality that only the people with a slimmer shape are happy and successful in life. For example, when a father expresses concerns about his daughter’s weight, the daughter might interpret this as there being something wrong with the way she looks. Likewise children, especially girls, who grow up in homes where their mothers exhibit discontent with their own bodies, are likely to face the same issues. This is not to say that parents shouldn’t be concerned or outspoken about their child's weight and health, but a parent should make sure that their kids are not exposed to body image issues and pressures at a very young age.
But it is not only the parent who majorly influences a child's self-image; peers also play an important role in how boys and girls view themselves. A negative comment from someone in their age group can be devastating to a child who is already suffering from body image issues. It is crucial to remember that a strong bond between a parent and a child can help a child weather negative comments from peers. If children have a difficult time talking with their parents about their concerns, then peer comments might hold a tighter grip on them. Parents should therefore work on building a strong relationship with their children.
Cultural values and social expectations are also very influential in shaping the way children relate to their bodies. Cultural values and social expectations tell children what is okay or not okay within these cultural norms. Extensive research has shown that different racial and ethnic groups impact children's body image and understanding of self. Here, children are subjected to cultural expectations within a larger community, outside of their close circle.
The combination of all these factors expose kids to an unhealthy environment that can greatly impact their future.
LIVE! had the opportunity to interview a local grandmother who has experienced this issue first hand. This grandmother has twin five-year-old granddaughters who look very similar, but are not identical and have a slight difference in their body shapes. Last year, when the girls were four, one of them came home upset because one of her classmates had called her fat, and she asked why she was not "thin like her sister." The grandmother detailed how, at the age of four, her granddaughter was already concerned with being fat, something that had not been an issue before.
"It's very alarming," she said.
The most concerning aspect was, however, that even though the grandmother and the family have done a lot to assure the little girl would not take comments like this seriously, or even consider weight an issue, the topic continues to bother the now five-year old.
How Can Parents Help?
According to Lisa Sobrero, a licensed professional counselor and registered play therapist at the West Texas Counseling Center, said parents need to be at the forefront of this issue.
Young children do not have the capacity of “filtering out what is wrong and what is right,” Sobrero explained. This means that when they are bombarded with issues like body image they may not understand what it all means, but they know that for some unknown reason, they are not meeting the expectations of those around them. According to Sobrero, it is also crucial for a parent to filter what their children are exposed to on television and social media.
Sobrero explained that in her experience, the teens and tweens that present problems with body image have more often than not presented similar issues during their early years of life.
She also underscored the importance of creating a home environment that fosters positive feelings. She urges parents to “walk the talk” and to ask themselves if they “are sending the right message." Children learn to view themselves by how they observe their family and friends perceive and conduct themselves, so, for the sake of those children, it's important to present positive images and a healthy standard.
A four-year-old should never have to worry about being too fat or having to lose weight. Thus, it is up to the adults and important figures in these children’s lives to build up their self-esteem and to teach them how to form a healthy body image, and to protect them from negative outside sources that disturb and confuse children at such a young age.