You know what’s becoming more prevalent in kids’ minds? Body image and self-esteem issues.
It’s a weird thing to hear. At the age of seven, you’d think that kids would be focused on more trivial matters. Something more uncomplicated, like whether to play tag or kickball on the playground today. Perhaps as they transition to the adolescent years, existential thoughts about image become more commonplace, but it is incredibly alarming to see the rate at which they seem to pop up in preteen minds.
An ongoing study of nine and 10-year-old girls by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute states that 40% of the sample have tried to diet in an effort to lose weight. Another study (both featured on the University of Washington’s Teen Health and the Media webpage) found that 53% of a sample of 13-year old girls were unhappy with the way that their bodies looked.
It should not be normal for children to worry so strongly about their bodies, or take action-packed measures to change their looks. Kids believe strongly in this because it’s something that constitutes ‘normal,’ and are socialized from a young age to fit with that idea of ‘normal.’ However, it brings to mind whether it should be normal to consider body image so strongly at that age, or at any other.
Some critics may argue in favor of body image concerns, especially in light of what some believe to be a national epidemic of child obesity. There is a fine line between what constitutes self-confidence versus health issues and people need to examine how it affects children from a perspective that considers how an image-obsessed culture impacts long-term mental health.
Historically, children and preteens have not worried so much about body image to the point of dieting and developing eating disorders. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, some statistics that indicate so include the fact that the rates of people developing eating disorders have only increased since the 1950s, and most notably, “there has been a rise in incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930,” supplemented by various studies.
A recent TakePart piece addressed how many of these issues stem from the constant consumption of advertising. However, even if we tried to limit children’s consumption of media, some of these attributes remain imbued in American societal values.
One of my high school sociology teachers once posed a question to my class: “How many of you, when talking to younger girls, compliment them on their looks first?” She followed it up with another question: “How many of you, when talking to a little boy, ask them what they want to be when they grow up first?” It was, perhaps, one of the most shocking things I’ve witnessed, because almost every single person in my class raised their hands. People who will someday choose to have and interact with children still value “looking good” among girls, and that won’t necessarily change just because advertising changes. However, changing that advertising could be one step in breeding a more inclusive culture.
Reflecting on the culture that breeds worrying about self-image from a young age is hopefully the push that some need to change that. It’s clear that the culture of image consciousness is something that even resonates with the young, and will continue to if we don’t make an active effort to change it.