40.2% of 5 to 8 year old girls desired to be thinner

A study The Contribution of Peer and Media Influences to the Development of Body Satisfaction and Self-Esteem in Young Girls: A Prospective Study explores how young girls feel about their bodies when viewed through the influences of the media and their friends. It also looked at the relationship between body satisfaction and self-esteem.

The researchers took 97 Adelaide school girls aged between 5 and 8 years old. Interviews were conducted at the beginning of the study and again a year later (time 1 & time 2). Each interview consisted of a set of questions taking approximately 15–20 minutes to complete. As weight and shape constitute potentially sensitive issues, all questions were carefully designed to be as innocuous as possible. The questions were repeated after a period of one year.

The study found that “as early as school entry, girls appear to already live in a culture in which peers and the media transmit the thin ideal in a way that negatively influences the development of body image and self-esteem.”

Body dissatisfaction and the desire for thinness, is so prevalent among women and adolescent girls that it is now described as a “normative discontent” (Rodin, Silberstein, & Striegel-Moore, 1985). In recent years this desire has extended to girls as young as 6 years old, some have even dieted at this age.

The burning question in this study is: How do children learn about the thin ideal body image and ways to achieve it as young as 6 years of age?

The answer seems to lay in 3 key influences that shape the world of young girls; they are parents (especially mothers), peers and the media. 
 
Method
Body Satisfaction – assessed using two different measures:
Desire for thinness: the girls were shown 9 young female silhouette drawings, ranging from very thin to very fat. Girls were asked, “Which girl do you think you look like?” (current figure), followed by “Which girl would you most like to look like?” (ideal figure). Girls responded by simply pointing to their choices.
Appearance satisfaction:  the girls were shown 2 pictures and told, “This girl is happy with the way she looks at the moment. This girl is not happy with the way she looks at the moment. Which girl is most like you?”

Self-Esteem:  the girls were asked “Some girls are not happy with the way they do a lot of things; other girls think that the way they do things is fine. Which girl is most like you?”

Peer Influences: 3 variables were used to examine peer influences:
Perceived peer desire for thinness:  the girls were asked to identify the figure they thought their best friend looked like and the figure they thought their best friend would like to look like.
Peer discussions: the girls were shown a picture of a group of girls and told, “These girls talk about lots of different things together.”
Imitation: the girls were asked whether they try to model or imitate others. They were asked, “These girls often try to dress and look like: (1) the women on TV or in magazines; (2) their friends. Do you ever try to dress or look like: (1) the women on TV or in magazines; (2) your friends?”

Media Influences
Television: Girls were provided with a list of 12 popular children’s television shows (including Rage & Video Hits) and asked whether they watched them a lot (2), sometimes (1), or never (0).
Magazines: the girls were asked whether they looked at magazines and, if so, to name the magazines. Then they were asked whether they looked at the magazines a lot (2), sometimes (1), or never (0).

Results
The study found that girls who talked about image and copied how others looked were less satisfied with their own appearance.  Also the girls’ perception of their peers’ desire for thinness was significantly related to their own desire for thinness.

Findings also showed that girls who watched television shows with an appearance emphasis, such as Friends or Rage, were less satisfied with their appearance.

Finally the study said that “it is now clear that children, too, live in a culture in which the media are a salient source of appearance information.

Recommendations
The study recommended that prevention and intervention efforts clearly needed to be targeted as early as school entry when beliefs about weight and shape are less consolidated.

“It is clear that these prevention and intervention efforts should educate children, parents, and teachers on the role of peer and media influences on body satisfaction and self-esteem.  Programs designed to reduce peer influences or teach media literacy could also be developed at an age-appropriate level.”

Finally the study found that “girls who desire to be thinner have subsequent lower self-esteem. Therefore, programs should aim to bolster self-esteem in young children, perhaps by emphasizing other aspects of self than appearance.”

The study confirmed that girls as young as 5 years old live in an appearance focused environment in which the thin ideal body image is transmitted not only through family and peers but also through TV, magazines and other social media.

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: The Contribution of Peer and Media Influences to the Development of Body Satisfaction and Self-Esteem in Young Girls: A Prospective Study. Authors: Hayley Dohnt and Marika Tiggemann, Flinders University.