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How Young Children’s Media Exposure is Shaping Their Body Image

Children today are bombarded with ads in TV, apps, and movies. And then there’s traditional media such as magazines, newspapers and printed advertising material (the kind that clogs your letter box).


Both traditional print and digital media exert a very powerful influence over young children’s formation of body image.


Media conveys powerful (and often subliminal) messages about ideal bodies.


And if you think it’s only girls who are affected, you’re mistaken. Young boys’ formation of body image is also impacted by media.


Recent research from Common Sense Media found that a number of factors impact on young children’s formation of body image. The study involved a review of the existing research on the links between body image and media. It found that both traditional media (movies, TV, magazines, ads) as well as digital media play a pivotal role in children’s body image.


The report confirmed two things that many parents and educators have suspected: (i) children’s body image now develops at a very young age and (ii) there are multiple factors that are influential including parents, some media, and peers.


Here’s a quick summary of the study:



Three Tips to Minimise the Adverse Impact of Media on Children’s Body Image


  1. Talk About Body Image– Talk to your child before, during and after they watch TV, DVDs or movies (where possible. I know that it’s not always possible to sit down with your child every time they watch something). Openly discuss how the characters are portrayed.
  2. Find Healthy Examples– Talk to your child about healthy body images. Find examples in books, magazines, newspapers, printed advertisements and digital media.
  3. Watch What You Say– Be mindful of what you say yourself. Children are sponges. They absorb everything that we say (and do). Our off-the-cuff comments about your own weight or appearance (or that of others) are internalised by children.

I’d love to know in the comments below, what positive models you’ve found in the media when it comes to young kids and body image? Is this something that you worry about with your little ones?

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I’m Dr. Kristy Goodwin

Researcher, speaker, author, and mum - and not only do I GET it, I’ve dedicated my entire career to helping my fellow professionals and parents explore this exact digital dilemma.

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