Children and Body Image

My beautiful girl is 7 and the questioning of her body image has already started.  I started having a few ‘I’ll skip tea Mum’, ‘I won’t have a biscuit, I’m on a diet’ from her.  When I questioned her gently about it she said that she wanted to be skinner – seriously she’d disappear if that happened!.  Trust me we are not a diet obsessed family, healthy eating and moderation are the order of the day here and I don’t think I have ever used the word ‘diet’ in front of her.

But this doesn’t seem to be isolated to just my daughter.   I read on Frugal Family that her seven year old daughter was saying similar things, which she also dealt with in a very sensitive and sensible way.   But I find it just terrifying, I don’t remember worrying about my body or what I looked like until I was well into my teens.

When I sat down with Miss L and discussed why she thought being skinny was good, she said she’d seen models and stars in photos both in magazine and online that were thin so it must be good. So much for me not buying fashion magazines – that didn’t work! 

Thankfully Miss L has used photoshop on my laptop, so I explained that people don’t really look like that but are enhanced to look like it.  Here’s a really good youtube video showing before & after shots of celebs to show how they have been changed for photos and how no one actually ever looks that perfect.

After we looked at this,  we got a photo of me and I let her play with it and ‘photoshop’ it and she saw that the whole thing isn’t real.  I see it as media education she now knows not to believe everything she sees in the media as being ‘true’ and ‘real’.

We’ve now made it into a game and if she sees a photoshopped picture now she shouts ‘fake’. She then has to explain what they could have changed on the photo – I rather like this game it’s actually quite fun.  Since then I’ve stopped getting food refusals and she’s eating normally and healthily again 🙂  But it worries me that there are little girls out there worrying about their looks having such an unrealistic set of expectations at such a tender age.

Have you had the same problem or come across this with your children?

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  1. Great post Liz. My daughter is almost 6 – very tall and well filled out for her age and has a huge appetite. Thankfully this hasn’t started yet but I will be using the photoshop example whenever it does crop up. Scary that it starts so young

  2. A fantastic post, and a great way to deal with subject. I find it really scary that children are worrrying about such things at such a young age, it was bad enough when 13/14 year olds were worrying but I dooubt you are alone in having a 7 year old feeling such things. I guess all it takes is one child with a parent who is over obsessed with looks to bring these things into school and pass it on. I love the ‘fake’ game, so many photos are over photoshopped its ridiculous.

    1. It’s true, she asks why I’m not on a diet when other Mummy’s are – but it is something that comes from school too. try the fake game it’s lots of fun 🙂

  3. I am already getting this from my 6 yo. My blog post last night highlighted what happened when we watched an advert for hair removal cream.
    It worries me that children of such a young age are being bombarded with pictures/adverts on ‘kids tv’.
    She also has mentioned not eating any unhealthy things because she’s getting fat – this from the girl we have trouble buying trousers for as she has no waist or fat!!
    I am not obsessed by my weight or ever have been but with another girl in the house I worry this is going to drive me insane!!

    1. I’m glad my little one isn’t alone in thinking like this. I agree kids TV has an awful amount of adult aimed ads, which give a false view of body image – Special K ads I’m looking at you!. Oddly I think the ‘healthy’ eating message at school is also being a bit over done and not given in context. I had questions about cheese not being healthy the other day and was it ok for her to eat? Going to yours now x

      1. Hi Liz

        Thanks for replying here and on my blog. I’m worried that our girls are growing up too fast what with clothes ranged for older children, the whole Suri Cruise heels fiasco and now they’re concerns about their body shape.
        I’ve added a discussion on British Mummy Bloggers to see if there is something that can be done about this!

        1. Brilliant I’ve just replied on there. I find it shocking too the clothes that are aimed at such young children, I don’t want my 7 year old looking like a 14 year old either!

    1. Great video, thanks so mcuh for sharing it. Good luck with your little girl, I hope you don’t have this for a while yet x

  4. It’s such a shame to hear that girls are starting this younger and younger. I myself started having problems when I was 9 years old, but it was mainly to do with the fact I had a close friend who was 15 suffering from anorexia. But it started my obsession early and it became fully fledged when I was 16 and has never really left me. Mine was very much brought on by the fact my own mother walked out of teh family home to have an affair leaving me with a man who was not my biological father and whom hated me and i’d never spoken to much in all my years. I was left to my own devices to begin with, which meant no-one cooking meals. It resulted it me having the one thing I could control in my life. Food couldn’t reject me, but I could reject it, unlike everyone else.
    Teach them well and make them feel secure and hopefully they will never have a serious problem. unfortunatley it’s always a worry. Most girls go through this phase at some point in their lives, it’s just whether it manifests itself.
    Infact I briefly mentioned body image in my latest post when i was debating with myself why woman often don’t go swimming.

    1. It’s true girls get really easily fixated on this kind of thing, and like you say with some girls it takes with them more than others. I’m so pleased you overcame it to an extent and that you understand your situation and from what you say have obviously fought it well. Off to read your post now.

      1. Let me know what you think, leave a comment if you like-I’m new to blogging so every little helps! Bit off a random one but it made me anaylse the situation for the first time.

  5. My daughter is a young ten and has just started commenting on her size, and the fact that not everyone is the same shape or size. She’s very accepting of people for what they are, not what they look like, though. I hope it continues.

    1. That’s brilliant! Lily doesn’t see differences in other people just seemingly herself. But I think we’ve beaten it now and hopefully she has a better perspective now.

  6. Fabulous video and I have to say that is an EXCELLENT way to deal with the problem. Well done you!

  7. By six I knew I was physically revolting. Adults and children were happy to point it our for me. Thing is I look back at the pictures of me and I’m not fat just not rake thin. I am fat now, somethings just come true when you hear it enough. What is my point? It wasn’t photoshop and glossy magazines giving me those ideas, it was the people all around me. I look at my own daughter and wonder how hurtful she finds comments about her physical appearance and what effect it will have on her.

    1. That’s terrible that people around you made you feel so awful. I know when I was growing up adults thought they had the right to say whatever they thought to children without a second thought. I do hope that times have changed and our children won’t hear the same kinds of things.

  8. It’s a difficult one isn’t it? And you are dealing with it so well. My daughter is seven next month and she is very tiny. So far there have been no issues about her size but I know there will be in the no-too-distant future. I love the way you have handled it, I’ll do that. I think it is also important for children to remember how special and loved they are no matter what they look like – difficult though in an increasingly image-obsessed world. Like you, I was much older when I had the same concerns. Fabulous post, Liz. x

    1. Thanks so much and I completely agree they have to be told they are special and beautiful so much. I must admit I didn’t think I’d be dealing with questions like this until she was 12. But considering we had questions about baby making at 3, I should have known better!

  9. What a wonderful way to deal with it! I shall bear this in mind if we have troubles in the future. It’s so hard to think that 7 year olds are having these thoughts!

  10. Liz this is a great post and a very sensible way to deal with the issue.

    I was so shocked by the video. I didnt realise the extent of the “air brushing” that they are allowed to get away with.

    Hopefully your chat has made her realise what really goes on behind the scenes.

  11. Interesting point you make – my daughter has no idea about diets or anything like that. She’s into girl magazines but not fashion although she loves fashion tv and wants to be a designer. I’ve recently bought a whole stack of feminist literature as I know I’m heading towards the difficult teen years (and I’m still one at heart). One in particular has surprised me; Fat is a Feminist issue by Susie Orbach originally published in 1978 – it’s a self help book for compulsive eaters which was a complete surprise to me as I thought the context was more about female imagery in the media. That said, it explores the relationship between mother daughter and food – much of it is dated – but it’s a deep insight and a good read because of some great case studies. Possibly worth a visit for you if you’re getting these kinds of questions.

    1. I read ‘Fat is a Feminist issue’ when I was about 14 and it is a really good book. And what you say about Mother/Daughter issues with food is very true. My Mum spent the 1970’s pretty much living off Rievta (sp?) and then the 1980’s at Weight Watchers. I am the anti Diet girl, despite occasionally looking into them and researching them I’ve yet to actually ever do one, I just can’t bring myself to. I think it’s my form of rebellion.

      Good luck with the teen years, it seems to be coming up fast here and I’m dreading it a little bit, to say the least.

  12. It is amazing what Photoshop does. we have a 4 month old so it’s always good to have the headsups as to when the world of plastic marketing starts to take effect, ,great blog thank you.
    if anyone wants a Photoshop do-over then just mail me a pic and I will send one back. It is quite funny, i did one of my sister holding the little one and even my sister said i had taken it a step too far, she looked 20 years younger!