To better understand how they see themselves, children were shown child body shapes ranging from very thin to obese and were then asked which one look most like them, and which was their ideal figure. Results showed that the “ideal shape” for boys was heavier than their normal healthy weight. Even though some girls were at what is considered the ideal weight for their height, they desired an extremely thin, unhealthy body type. When asked about what they would consider the ideal for the opposite sex, boys chose a much thinner size for girls than what is considered healthy, and girls chose a much heavier body type for boys.
The authors of this study highlight that the media play a critical role in our children’s perception of how they think they should look. Girls who viewed more TV were more dissatisfied with their bodies than girls who viewed less.
How can adults help children develop and maintain a healthy body image? The research suggests that we start talking to children in elementary school about what is healthy compared to what our culture tells us is ideal. Parents and teachers can help children think critically about what they are seeing and reading in the media and discover any negative impacts these messages are having on their self esteem.