Body Image Pressures In Children


I never thought I’d have to deal with Body Image Pressures as early as this…

My Mother In Law recently told me about a conversation that she and my FIL had with my daughter, who is 5 years old.

“Grandma and Grandpa, what do you want to be?”

Grandma “You mean, when we grow up?”


Grandpa, “That’s easy – a Cowboy”

“And you Grandma?”

“Hmmm, I think I’d be an Heiress”

“What’s that?

“Well, it’s a woman who is very rich and sails on her yacht in the Mediterranean sea”

“Oh….” {in thought}

“But Grandma, I think you have to be thin to do that”


Of course her Grandparents thought this was too funny and cute, and when I was first told I laughed too. But then it got me thinking…
What would make a 5 year old think that being rich and doing adventurous things would only happen to those that are thin? Well…that’s not right!

As a Mom, I initially blamed myself for such an opinion formed. Then I realized that it could not have possibly been me. After all, I try very hard not to use curse words in front of the kids { yet I’m not perfect, and they do hear me mutter a curse or two, when it can’t possibly be contained. Like today when I smashed my toes to pieces. But, that’s another story…}.

Yet there are two words in particular which are forbidden and I mean absolutely Forbidden for use within my girls’ earshots – ‘Fat’ and ‘Diet’. I refuse to imprint negative views on body shape and form, and the need to lose weight around my kids. Personally, I have struggled all my life with weight, yet it’s a silent battle when it comes to my kids’ knowledge. For instance, when working out and am asked by my daughter why I’m doing it, I say, “To Be Healthy” or “For a healthy heart”. When trying to instill proper nutrition for my kids or limit sugar and grease I don’t ever say, “too much can make you fat”. Instead I would perhaps say that “too much is very unhealthy for you”.

So, I come to the conclusion that my daughter formed her impressions based on media. TV, magazines and news coverage about her favorite pop star putting on a few extra pounds. My heart hurts to think that, at 5, my daughter believes that money and happiness comes to those that are only thin. This conversation has impacted me in more ways than I can describe. I feel so frustrated that my approaches at parenting could very well be crumbling before my eyes – at age 5. You often hear about children with anorexia and bulimia in their early teens – is now seriously the time to watch for warning signs?

What do you think?
Are today’s kids feeling more body image pressures, than ever before?

Is there too much emphasis on weight instead of focusing on healthy behaviour?

And, what, as parents, can we do, to double and triple enforce more positive attitudes for today’s children?



  1. I am a sister of a recovering anorexic/bulimic and have a very strong opinion on this subject. I am also the mom of two girls (ages 3.5 and 2 yrs). Even before having my girls I have had a very strong opinion on this matter. I feel that society in all forms, media, toys, clothes, etc have done a disservice to girls today. Everywhere one turns around today the message that you have to be thin and beautiful to make it is thrown in our faces. In my opinion, this is disturbing. 8 years ago when my sister was in treatments for her eating disorders, there was a young girl of 8 years old being treated for anorexia! Very sad!

    Like you, I try not to use the words, fat, or diet in front of my children. The only reason i might use the words diet is in talking about having diabetes and being on a diabetic diet. I do exercise regularly but this is done as a way to lose weight and get my diabetes in control.

    My husband and I are very careful to dress our young girls, just as that, young girls, not little women. I am disgusted with a lot of the clothes that are designed for young girls today. Since when is it okay for a 4 year old or even an 8 year old to look like Britney Spears? Not! I am very happy to dress my girls in dresses, etc that cover! I personally love that many companies are making skirts with shorts built in for modesty sake! It’s about time.

    I am also very opposed to the whole idea of Barbie. Sure, I and my sisters played with Barbies as young girls, but I really do not like the message that she sends to young girls. Now that my 3.5 yr old is starting to play with fashion dolls more and more, I have purchased alternatives like Only Hearts Club or American Girl. Princess play is very big in my house but I am careful to make sure my girls know that inner beauty and strong character is much more important and that they are God’s Princesses.

    I hope this helps! Great post!

    1. Shirley, you said it exactly!
      My heart goes out to your sister and your entire family as I am sure as much as she was in turmoil and in pain – everyone else was as well. I think at first people chuckled at, say, Barbie’s unrealistic body proportions. Yet, this is just one small example of how it is indeed all around them. As much as I try to shield her from all this influence – I feel like it’s a battle I can’t compete with. Like I said, it’s everywhere. I do hope that my voice, in the end, outshine all others.

      thank you so much for sharing your story Shirley.

  2. That is disturbing. My 3.5 yo son has recently started coming up with stuff that I know I’ve never told him about and yet he knows about it. I restrict what he sees, hears, and reads, and yet it all slips through. It’s quite frustrating and I’m not entirely sure it can be stopped. We just have to do the best we can to teach our children the truth and hope what we tell them sinks in better than what the media is throwing at them.

  3. Hello Tammi,

    Glad you started this discussion it is great. My job with Alberta Health Services is to promote positive body image in children and youth. So you will be happy that we do go into schools to try and reinforce positive body image and let kids know that the media is not real! We have just started a body image play for Grade 5 that address many of the issues that you ladies have mentioned. Although that my not change some children’s attitudes it does present the real issues and at some point they may remember it in the future.

    It has been proven that Mom’s are the number one influence on body image over and above the media. So if you are trying that is all you can do and like you say hopefully that is what will stick with them. Promoting healthy choices will go along why in their future. And please do not blame yourself as they hear things everywhere all you can do is keep reinforcing the positives.

    We do have resources at the Mental Health Office downtown for Mom’s and teachers so if you ever feel like you need them you can let me know. I am back to work in September.

    Keep up the good work ladies.
    Denise Fredeen

  4. I think everything you said here is incredibly accurate – which is so sad and heartbreaking. But do you know about the Healthy Media for Youth Act?

    Its a bill currently in the US House of Representatives that encourages healthy media images of girls and women for the benefit of all youth. Girl Scouts strongly supports this bill and its three parts:
    1. a grant program for media literacy programs for youth
    2. research on the health effects of media images on youth
    3. a national taskforce to create voluntary standards for more girl-positive media

    To support this bill visit!! Stand up for girls and women and promote healthier media images!

  5. I do think this kind of stuff is in the media too much! I have two son’s, and I’m really starting to limit what my oldest watches. My youngest really doesn’t watch TV at all. We used to let our oldest watch the old Dukes of Hazard, but not anymore. Daisy is too sexual for him. Yep, even though my husband watched the show at Mica’s age, we’ve decided to ban it. We had two incidents where Mica said something about a woman’s breasts and one time where he was being lifted up by a friend and touched them. I’m sure it doesn’t help that I breast fed my youngest too. I think that stuff influences boys as well! I was actually going to talk to his doctor about this issue. It really took me off guard and has bothered me.

  6. Tammi, I’m like you and don’t use the word fat. We call it a “bad word”. My daughter (6) said it one particular time and I was about to talk to her about it. Then she explained she was talking about a fat cat. I guess that’s allowed! lol…

    My daughter has just recently noticed that she’s short. Kids have made comments about how she can’t be going into grade two or that she can’t do what everyone else her age can do. It’s important we teach our kids to be happy with themselves regardless of what people say to them.

    She’s also had kids at school say that she likes “baby” things. Personally if my kid wants to watch Winnie the Pooh and Nemo I’m all for it. She’s never seen Hannah Montana or anything comparable –( just inappropriate commercials that come on in the early evenings of course!)

    I don’t know why our society has put so much emphasis on being older quickly and looking perfect — especially for girls.

  7. This is a very tough topic because I believe that body image issues are affecting children (not only girls either) younger and younger and it is undoubtedly because of the media.

    Even I, almost 21, get depressed and self conscious because of the media daily hounding us with these images of thin, artificially beautiful people that we can’t possibly measure up to, so I can’t imagine what a little child the age of 5 thinks.

    Our society is so corrupt in self image that it’s scary to think about the younger generations-I really think there needs to be more positive campaigns out there like the Dove one that promote self love and appreciation to show these girls that it’s okay to be different.

  8. I think what you are doing is awesome, as far as emphasizing exercise for “health” rather than “weight loss,” and avoiding such words as “diet” and “fat.” It’s hard to control what our kids internalize via the media, but all we can do is make sure we’re reinforcing the CORRECT messages at home.

    Good job mom!

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