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4 biggest influences on a child’s body image – are you one?

Young girl looking in the mirror concerned about body image

Body image is an issue for children today, particularly with the various factors at play that can undoubtedly have an impact.

And even if you don’t feel that body image is a concern for you, Mission Australia has identified it as one of the top three issues of personal concern for Australia’s youth.

We regularly think that body image is an issue for adults as well as teens growing up, but where does it all begin?

Body image issues begin before the serious consequences can be seen.

37% of three-year-old children would like to have a different body size*. It’s concerning to see that a significant portion of three-year-olds aren’t happy with the way they look, especially when adults feel nostalgia and crave for the innocence and simplicity of childhood.

These are the biggest influences on girls’ body image and may not be what you think.

The 4 biggest things that influence a child’s body image

Advertising and the media

Something so easy to cast our blame on is the media and advertising.

With a narrow representation of people in the mainstream media, it’s little wonder that people feel the need to look like the typical slender Instagram blogger or pop stars and actresses for that matter too.

Access to the internet doesn’t help this as the ABS reports that 60% of 5 to 8-year-olds now use the internet. Monitoring their use can assist in preventing the viewing of potentially negative content.

But the media and advertising certainly isn’t where all of our attention should be drawn.

Behaviour of parents

The behaviour of parents or others in the house is something that young ones will pick up on without a doubt.

Even little things such as standing on the scales, applying make-up and looking in the mirror more often than necessary are enough to make children aware that appearance is noted.

It’s also best to save comments and remarks about your own weight, whether positive or negative, for times when your children aren’t around so as to not draw attention to body image and the way we look as defining features of a person.

Things we say with good intentions

Children probably aren’t given enough credit for the things they remember adults say.

They also ask a lot of questions and it may be difficult to answer them in the best way so as to promote a healthy body image.

If they are answered in certain ways, even with good intentions, it can be interpreted or processed by children as implying that appearance is paramount.

For instance, if children ask things like why some people are larger than others, blaming it on their choices of food isn’t the right thing to say. And if they see you exercise, telling them that you do it to avoid getting fat probably isn’t the way to go either. Perhaps say that you are exercising because it’s healthy and makes you feel good.

Being too concerned about others

Comparing oneself to others is so common it’s almost seen as a natural thing to do at all ages.

Research has shown that by likening your body to others can make you feel worse about yourself. It is important to be aware of negative messages and to try to avoid making comparisons with others in regard to our appearance.

We need to accept that everyone looks different and comparing yourself to others will only deviate from this.

*Damiano, S.D., Hart, L.M., Cornell, C., Sutherland, F., & Paxton, S.J. Confident Body, Confident Child Parent Book: A parent’s guide to helping young children grow up feeling good about their body. Edition 2, Melbourne, La Trobe University, 2015.

About Merissa Forsyth

Merissa Forsyth is the CEO and Founder of Pretty Foundation. In 2013, putting a halt on a fast-moving corporate career, Merissa Forsyth established the Makeup Free Me movement which encouraged women and girls across ...

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