Kids Are Super Unhappy With Their Bodies, and the Media Isn't Helping

One in four children has been on some sort of diet by the time he or she is seven years old, says new study.

(Photo: Donald Lain Smith/Getty Images)

Jan 21, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

In case you had any doubt that the media's unrealistic beauty standards are seriously affecting kids' self-esteem, a new report released on Wednesday by the children's advocacy group Common Sense Media confirms just how bad the problem is.

It comes as no surprise that young girls are internalizing images of the exceedingly thin women portrayed on television, in movies, and in magazines, but the study—which reviewed existing research on traditional media and emerging studies about social media—shows that those images are doing more harm than we previously imagined.

On children's TV shows and family films, for example, female characters are nearly twice as likely to have uncharacteristically small waists compared with their male counterparts. They're also more than three times as likely as their male costars to wear sexy clothes, have exposed skin, and have a thin body.

It's no wonder that 80 percent of the country's 10-year-old girls have been on a diet, and more than half of girls even younger—ages six to eight—report not being as thin as they'd like to be.

Hospitalizations for eating disorders in the under-12 age group are also on the rise, with more than 1.3 million young girls diagnosed with anorexia.

Girls aren't the only ones feeling the pressure to conform. Boys also overwhelmingly say their weight causes the most dissatisfaction with their body. Many of them grew up playing with action figures, whose measurements now exceed those of even the biggest bodybuilders.

Think kids are too young to process the implications of toy figurines? Perhaps most astounding, the report shows that even infants have a general sense of their body; that view quickly develops alongside the growth of their physical and cognitive abilities.

By the time kids are interested in joining social networks, nearly one in three is stressed out about how he or she looks when posting photos, and even more are worried about how they look in photos they're tagged in.

Selfies, on the other hand, appear to offer a silver lining. Researchers say selfies depict a realistic portrayal and a positive display of self-esteem. Viral videos and online slide shows are also helping to combat the gender stereotypes otherwise seen in mainstream media.

Body image isn't shaped entirely by the media, the report found. Parents, peers, and cultural factors can all impact the bigger picture—for better or for worse.

One takeaway? Kids are way better off when making and viewing their own independent media on the Internet and not consuming the polished images pumped out on TV and in movies and magazines.