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Body Dissatisfaction: When Girls Start to Experience It And Ways to Help Girls Combat It

Body Dissatisfaction: When Girls Start to Experience It And Ways to Help Girls Combat It
NOVEMBER 16th, 2023
Girls doing crafts on a lawn
Body dissatisfaction is a global public health issue; science suggests¹ it’s widespread and rising. With 40-60%² of elementary school girls worried about becoming “too fat,” we have every reason to be concerned.

A distorted body image may seem a relatively new phenomenon in a sea of filtered selfies, beauty influencers, and ‘perfect bodies’ in films, ads, and other media.

Yet, back in 1978, psychotherapist Susie Orbach³ highlighted how women grew up in an increasingly weight-obsessed society and suffered from body image issues in her groundbreaking book ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue.’⁴

While the body positivity movement has advocated appreciation of all shapes and sizes, society still has much to learn. In fact, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy⁵ recently warned that social media may perpetuate body dissatisfaction and eating disorders.

So what is body dissatisfaction exactly, and at what age do girls experience it?
Find out below and discover how you can help your daughter develop a healthy and positive relationship with her body.

What Does Body Dissatisfaction Mean?

Body image is how a person thinks and feels about their body; this includes a picture they have in their mind about what their body looks like, which may differ from reality.

If that person has a positive body image, they accept their body and are comfortable with their shape and size. 

When somebody experiences body dissatisfaction, there is a difference¹ between how they view their body and how they want it to be. This dissatisfaction may lead them to believe they must change their size or shape to reflect their ideal body image better.

Body dissatisfaction may stop⁶ girls from participating in physical education or other activities⁷; they may be reluctant⁷ to put their hands up in school or even risk⁷ their health by extreme dieting.

Nearly 60%² of girls report dissatisfaction with their body shape, starting at an earlier age than you might think.

At What Age Do Girls Begin To Experience Body Dissatisfaction?

Overall, researchers argue⁸ that between ages 6-11, girls start thinking about their bodies and comparing them to the cultural ideal.

One study⁹ shows that girls under six are affected, and the International Journal of Eating Disorders reports that 34%¹⁰ of five-year-olds restrict their eating in a bid not to get fat.
When girls get older, this feeling of not being happy in their bodies increases, and at 9-10, 40%¹¹ have tried to lose weight. By age 13, 59%² of girls are unhappy with their bodies, growing to 78%² when they turn 17.

What Are Causes of Body Dissatisfaction?

Media are contributing factors; studies¹² link exposure to unrealistic body ideals in media to body dissatisfaction.

Social media has increased kids’ exposure to the ‘ideal’ body shape and unrealistic beauty standards, with Facebook’s internal research¹³ finding that Instagram’s algorithms are worsening teen girls’ body issues.

Other causes¹⁴ are:
• Family and friends who diet
• Peer pressure
• Our cultural tendency to judge girls by appearance
• Being ‘fat shamed’ and bullied
• The diet industry
• Perfectionism

5 Ways to Help Your Daughter Combat Body Dissatisfaction

1. Model Body-Positive Behavior

What is body positivity? It tells us to love our bodies and to ignore a toxic culture that’s making us hate ourselves.
If you find it hard to exude body confidence, focus on neutrality first, where you appreciate your body for what it can do rather than what it looks like. This line of thinking will help you foster a healthier self-image.

Model a positive attitude by cultivating a relaxed approach to healthy eating, making time for family dinners, organizing outdoor activities, and developing self-care habits.

Also, when discussing (other women’s) bodies, consider them instruments rather than ornaments.

2. Don’t Be Afraid of the F-Word

Fat, that is. If your child mentions someone she knows being fat, try not to say: ‘Fat isn’t a nice word,’ as you’ll reinforce her idea that fat means bad.

Instead, Jennifer Harriger¹⁵, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, advises¹⁶ to say something like: “Isn’t it cool how bodies come in all shapes and sizes?”

When your child says she’s fat, resist the urge to say she isn’t; rather, ask her why she thinks that to open a conversation.

Also, explain that fat is how we store energy; all bodies do this differently.

3. Empower Her Through Sports

There are many reasons why playing sports is beneficial for girls. It doesn’t just boost confidence; it gives them long-lasting health benefits and reduces time spent on social media.

But the main takeaway is this: compared to high school girls who don’t play sports; female high school athletes are 16%¹⁷ less likely to want to change appearance.

4. Rethink Her Toys

Recent research⁸ indicated that playing with Barbies and Monster High dolls changed girls’ perceptions of the ideal body shape compared to playing with more realistically sized dolls like Lottie dolls.
If your daughter is younger, inspect her toys to see if they perpetuate unhealthy beauty standards, and encourage playing with toys that break stereotypes, like culturally diverse dolls, legos, and STEM sets. Or check out these confidence-boosting coloring books.

5. Develop Healthy (Social) Media Habits

As a parent, your influence stretches further than you may think. For example, when parents reported⁶ more significant control over their kids’ social media screen time - those kids spent less time online, made fewer appearance-related comparisons and noted overall better mental health.
What can you do? Have an ongoing conversation about how all media can increase exposure to unrealistic beauty standards and so-called perfect bodies. Keep an eye on her screen time and seek out helpful media.

Between the ages of 6-11, your daughter will become conscious of her body shape and may start comparing it to others, possibly leading to body dissatisfaction. But you can take action to combat it and help her achieve body confidence.



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