When do children become aware of their own body image?

When do children become aware of their own body image?

Children become aware of their own body image as young as eight years old according to a new study by the University of Melbourne, led by Dr Elizabeth Hughes.  At this stage according to the study, with this heightened awareness, young children can be at risk of self-esteem issues developing. The trigger seems to be the onset of puberty.

The researchers collected information about 11oo local youngsters, a mix of boys and girls using KEDS, The Kids’ Eating Disorder Scale (a system where simple questions are posed to boys and girls using eight photos of boys and eight photos of girls whose body images range from underweight to overweight). They also tested the children’s hormone levels. The researchers spotted that girls showed more signs of having a poor body image than boys but interestingly the boys who had higher hormone levels also showed signs of unhappiness about their physique.

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Dr Hughes commented, “What we have learnt is that pre-pubescent children, as young as eight and nine, are vulnerable to poor body image and the dissatisfaction does appear to be linked to hormone levels associated with the onset of puberty.”  “Basically the higher the level of hormones, the more unhappy the children were with their body size; however children with heightened levels of hormones also tend to be taller and heavier than their peers, and this could be the cause of their poor body image.” “It may be that children who are taller, heavier and more physically mature, feel more conspicuous amongst their peers,”

It is hoped that the research will encourage discussion about strategies earlier than may presently be happening and add valuable insights to the discussion about when eating disorders may begin.

The research, ‘Body Image Dissatisfaction and the Adrenarchal Transition’ is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. https://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(18)30209-X/fulltext