Young Children and Body Image
Children as young as 3-years-old are exhibiting signs of poor body image. According to the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) in the United Kingdom, childcare workers have begun to observe habits in children that include critiquing body image and complaining about body weight.
Consequences of Negative Body Image
Ryerson University instructor and registered psychologist, Dr. Oren Amitay, says that children this young may not completely grasp the consequences of fearing foods and calling themselves fat. He elaborates that children can internalize the way that their parents and peers talk to them, fostering negative feelings at a young age.
Amitay continues, “They understand there’s a certain body that’s portrayed as negative and they see there’s a relationship with food.”
Where does this behaviour come from?
The reason for these insecurities? First and foremost: parents and peers, says PACEY. Moreover, the toys that children play with often have unrealistic body features, shaping poor ideals about body image (ie. G.I. Joe and Barbie). This is in addition to the ever-growing world of social media, which also holds a large influence.
“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.” – Dr. Jacqueline Harding (PACEY)
Several adults that Dr. Oren Amitay has seen for eating disorders were often exposed to external influences at a young age.
What can parents and guardians do?
Try to refrain from talking about your weight or your child’s weight with a negative connotation. When speaking of exercise, emphasize that it is for health and stamina – not just for weight loss. Avoid discussing weight loss in an aesthetic manner and work with your children to put a higher value on overall health. Doing so will improve body image for the future.