A childcare charity has revealed that children as young as three are showing signs of being unhappy with their appearance and bodies.
The study further stated that almost a third of nursery and school staff said they had heard a child label themselves as “fat” while 10 percent of children felt “ugly.” It is upsetting to learn that nearly a quarter of those surveyed said that children aged between three and five were unhappy with their appearance and this figure is almost double for nearly half of six to 10-year-olds. Additionally, more than half of them said girls were more conscious of their looks than boys.
Dr. Jacqueline Harding, Director of Tomorrow’s Child, said: “By the age of three or four some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds – and even hold strong views – about how bodies should look. There is also research evidence to suggest that some four -year-olds are aware of strategies to lose weight.”
Harding added: “We know for sure that early experiences matter the most and we need to be very careful about how (even inadvertently) we signal to children that they should think negatively about their bodies and how they look.”
Are girls more conscious of their looks than boys?
The Good Childhood Report 2016 conducted by Children’s Society (their fifth in-depth study into children’s well-being) suggests that girls in Britain are becoming unhappier – 14% of girls aged between 10 to 15-years are unhappy with their lives as a whole and 34% with their appearance. However, the study found that boys’ sense of happiness remained stable.
Lucy Capron from the Children’s Society told BBC in a radio interview: “This isn’t something which can be explained away by hormones or just the natural course of growing up, actually this is something that we need to take seriously and we need to address.”
In the same report, each gender was analysed separately to determine what ‘happiness’ meant for both girls and boys.
▪ Happiness with appearance was significantly more strongly associated with emotional problems for girls than boys.
▪ Happiness with life was more strongly associated with emotional problems and behaviour problems for girls than boys.
▪ Happiness with appearance and with life as a whole were significantly more strongly associated with total difficulties scores for girls than boys.
This proves that associations between emotional problems and happiness with appearance and life as a whole, are strongest for girls.
What advice would you give your teenage girls?
Body image expert Nicky Hutchinson said: “It’s this generation. You have to promote yourself all the time, it’s a PR job.”
Hutchinson added that social media has encouraged people to present a personal brand from a young age and to seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares, which undoubtedly amounts to enormous pressure on girls.
Also, the physical changes that teenage girls experience after reaching puberty, makes them feel more self-conscious and the issue escalates when young girls begin comparing themselves with photoshopped images of models and actors. In such situations, parents and teachers have the power to change the way they think and feel.
Here’s how you can help them develop a healthy body image:
Encourage them to express their feelings
Firstly, you need to find out what teens are really thinking about their body image. This makes it easier for you to help them overcome their insecurities and to become more confident about their body. Ask these questions:
- What is it that you like about your body the most?
- Which body part would you like to replace?
- According to you, which celebrity, athlete or a model has an ideal body?
- Are you satisfied with your body weight and height?
Boost teenage self-esteem
If your teen has a negative body image, then they will also be a victim of low self-esteem and low confidence. In order to boost confidence, ensure that you give compliments and highlight their positive features and traits on a regular basis. Parents and teachers play a very important role in influencing teenagers – your positive words will surely make them feel good and add to their confidence.
Talk about artificial perfection
Youngsters are glued to the internet and television these days and hence begin comparing their own bodies with images of actors and models. You must explain to your teen that everything they watch online or on TV is not entirely true. Talk to them about all the factors that go into making people look like the way they do online/TV, which includes: lighting effects, makeup, camera angles, etc. Furthermore, encourage them to think beyond appearances; body weight, height and skin colour.
Act as a role model
If you really want to make an impact on young people, then you must practice what you preach. Refrain from voicing negative opinions about other people’s appearance, especially words like ‘fat’ and ‘thin’, instead, consider using neutral terms like ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. The narrative surrounding body image largely determines the way youngsters feel about their own bodies. Changing the way we speak about appearance and body types can have a powerful impact in the long term.