Media Influence on Children’s and Teens’ Body Image

Introduction

The rapid increase in body dissatisfaction rates at the dawn of the 21st century has attracted the attention of scientists, researchers, clinicians, and psychologists (Markey & Markey, 2010)… Negative body image contributes to different psychological and physical consequences such as dieting, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, and other extreme measures of weight and appearance control. The issue of body image is most acute for adolescents whose pubertal development results in physical changes. Further, at this age, adolescents start experiencing romantic relationships that promote precise attention to their body image and weight status. As a result, a large percentage of girls (up to 90%) and boys (up to 75%) experience body dissatisfaction (Markey, & Markey, 2010).

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In this article, the influence of media on the socialization of children will be discussed in detail. In particular, it is noted that children are influenced to adopt some of the behaviors that might be detrimental to their growth and development. The media portray some human features to be of value as compared to others. For instance, slimness is associated with beauty, whereas boldness is associated with primitiveness (Prabu, Natali, & German, 2009).

Therefore, studies conducted about body image allow us to determine several factors that influence high rates of body dissatisfaction among adolescents. Family relationships play a considerable role in a person’s development and perception of body image. From a study conducted by Dohnt and Tiggermann (2006), one can say that the influence of parents is explicit regarding the children’s body image formation. Parental encouragement of activities aimed at losing weight and keeping to a diet is likely to provoke body dissatisfaction among their children (Markey, & Markey 2010). Peer communication also contributes to shaping adolescents’ feelings and perceptions of their bodies. Regular peer interactions dedicated to the issues of beauty and appearance cause lead to the development of unwanted human behavior, which would lead to body dissatisfaction. In addition to peers’ and parents’ influence, the contemporary media produce the substantial impact on children’s body image. Television, cinema, radio, the internet, and print media affect young people’s understanding of their own bodies and the standards they should try to achieve in terms of physical beauty. Therefore, the present paper will focus on investigating the extent to which various socializing agents such as, particularly the media, influences children’s, and adolescents’ body image (Watson, 2006).

Defining Body Image and Prevalence Rates

The recent statistics from the mental journal indicate that the dramatic increase of children’s dissatisfaction with their bodies calls for investigations into the causes of such behavior. In one of the recent studies, 28.7% of people aged 20 to 24 of individuals are dissatisfied with their bodies (Markey, & Markey 2010). Some scholarly sources indicate that even higher rates of dissatisfaction are encountered among the children’s peers. Therefore, the mental health organization initiated research to define the problem and to outline possible solutions to it. This followed close attention to the issue of body image and body dissatisfaction. For instance, Slade’s (1988, p. 87) definition of the term body image’ implies that it is “one’s subjective attitude toward one’s own physical appearance. It can include both one’s own mental images and perceptions of his or her body as well as the feelings one

Both men and women experience body dissatisfaction, which results in psychological discomfort about their body shapes and weight. It is established that the body sizes is the leading cause of dissatisfaction. Body sizes are effects of poor diets because unbalanced diet leads to development of obesity. For instance, a study conducted by Radar programs limited on Media Influence proved that more than one third of women and 25% of men keep to different kinds of diet at any given moment of time. At the same time, Ryan & Morrison observed that two out of five women and about 20% of all men would forgo 3-5 years of their lives for the sake of obtaining the physical shape of their dream.

From the above statistics, it can be observed that due to media influences, people possess inaccurate perceptions of their bodies. For example, the above study indicated that three out of four females believe they are overweight, while only one out of four is obese. Media has promoted the beauty ideal that is hardly achievable for ordinary people. Thus, an average model weighs 117 pounds being 5’11’’ tall while an average woman weighs 140 pounds being 5’4’’ tall. A woman weighing 140 pounds is perceived to be healthy since weight would make her attractive irrespective of the beauty. At such weight, a woman must perform her duties well (Hayes & TantIeff-Dunn, 2010).

Research on Children’s and Youth’s Body Image Dissatisfaction

Adults’ obsession with body image is frequently passed on to younger generations. A strong relationship has been found between the early dissatisfaction with the body shape in children, and images in writings of various scholars on the body sizes. This means that characters possessing positive behavioral traits such as kindness, success, and contentedness are frequently depicted as young, thin, and beautiful human beings. At the same time, the characters reflecting evil are illustrated as ugly, unattractive, and flabby (Hayes & TantIeff-Dunn, 2010). A number of scholars support these statements in their studies of children’s animated movies where thin characters being courteous and kind they tend to prevail over the flabby ones, who are considered rude and aggressive. Thus, the contemporary media identify positive behavioral traits with pretty appearances and slim bodies (Seon-Kyoung, & Doohwang, 2010).

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Older children also have a number of problems with the adequate assessment of their body image (Hayes & TantIeff-Dunn, 2010). Champion and Furnham (1999) investigated a number of earlier empirical works dedicated to understanding body dissatisfaction among adolescent girls. The majority of girls starting from the age of nine think they are overweight. According to Champion and Furnham (1999), their weight seems to be inappropriate for the existing standards of physical attractiveness. Paxton, Wertheim, Gibbons, Szmukler, Hillier, & Petrovich, (1991) conducted a survey of 221 male and 341 female high school students. Their assessment indicated that two thirds of both boys and girls considered thin believe body proportions are a substantial factor influencing their lives. In other words, they value their thin body sizes in different capacities. Moreover, 13% of girls admitted engaging in at least one extreme behavior for weight losing per week (Paxton et al., 1991).

Some scholars have suggested different views that explain the influence of body sizes to the lives of children. This would mean that there is contrary evidence reflecting children’s dissatisfaction with their bodies because of their thinness. Thus, Dohnt and Tiggemann (2006) identified that 60% of 5-year-old children want their bodies to be fatter and heavier than they perceive them to be. However, most of the works dedicated to the study of the body image and its impacts on children reveal that there is tendency where children aged of six years experience dissatisfaction as regards to their bodies. Hayes and TantIeff-Dunn (2010) explained this trend by exploring children’s age development. While babies and young children engage in pretend plays through adopting the character role, older children focus on social comparisons with characters they adore. Thus, children over six are able to recognize the discrepancies between their bodies and popularized standards of physical beauty (Hayes & TantIeff-Dunn, 2010). As a result, popular beauty messages arouse body dissatisfaction and other negative manifestations among children and girls in particular.

Girls vs. Boys

Body dissatisfaction has always been considered more prevalent among girls and women than it is among boys and men. However, recent research indicates that boys and men are increasingly likely to report body dissatisfaction (Ricciardelli, 2003), Cafri et al. (2004), Grogan (1998), Champion and Furnham (1999). Moreover, adoration of the beauty of the female body is a historical trend observed by many authors and researchers, which indicates that both girls and boys are subjected to beauty ideals via the media and popular culture that dictates what their bodies should look like. Popular culture implies that women should be feminine while men should be masculine. Femininity is associated with thin bodies while masculinity is related to muscles meaning men should have strong muscles. Female ideals are conceptualized as more rigid and unachievable in the modern media, which brings about greater rates of dissatisfaction with their bodies nowadays. Nevertheless, male ideals of body image also exist, which are reinforced by various media. Hence, males have become obsessed with developing a muscular figure that often leads to health-threatening behaviors such as use of steroids, ephedrine, and dangerous diets (Cafri, 2004)

The present trends regarding body image among children have been observed within centuries, and they continue to be true at the contemporary period despite the societal revolution that took place in the middle of the 20th century and marked the fundamental change in women’s perceptions regarding themselves. These changes have been brought about by cultural evolution and industrialization, which have altered the perceptions of females regarding their bodies. The size and shape have been transformed in the contexts of health and attractiveness.

Thus, thin body types promoted by the contemporary fashion magazines and other resources (Grogan, 1998), replaced ample curves of women in the middle Ages. Today, slimness is associated not only with physical beauty, but it has become a symbol of self-control, youthfulness, elegance, success, and social attractiveness. The fashion industry has produced and popularized a vast amount of “the physically impossible, tall, thin, and busty Barbie-doll stereotype” models like Claudia Schiffer and Elle MacPherson (Grogan, 1998, p. 204). Though today’s female body image involves a muscle tone as, which reflects gender equality, slenderness has remained the key feature of the social perception of women’s physical beauty (Grogan, 1998).

It is obvious that muscles are observed better on slim bodies with flat stomachs. Though men are typically less obsessed by the media images and are less apt to have dissatisfaction with their bodies, their perceptions regarding their own bodies is also shaped by social factors such as media images, peer pressure, self-identity, and self-esteem (Kirk Kiss, & Burgess-Limerick, 2004). Thus, men are reported to see slenderness and muscularity as symbols of fitness, and believe that this shape of men’s bodies is strongly associated with being in control of one’s own eating and lifestyle habits (Grogan, 2008). As a result, the contemporary culture and its perception of bodily beauty affect both women and men of all ages.

Consequences of Body Dissatisfaction

The issue of body image, its impact on women’s life styles, and the perception of female beauty have been a popular topic since the second part of the twentieth century. Markey and Markey (2010) stated that at the start of the twentieth century, body image studies initially focused on personality or self-concept and frequently scrutinized samples of psychologically impeded or if not psychologically ailing or impaired individuals’ sense of self (not essentially their physical body). From the above statement, the body image research, which emerged in the 1980s as a natural consequence of the growing interest in eating disorders, indicates the connection of many disorders cases with the body dissatisfaction. Today, the topic of the body issue is not only adopted by medical, social, or psychological journals but is also intensely discussed by a variety of adolescent-oriented magazines and other information sources (Markey, & Markey, 2010).

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As it has already been mentioned, one of the substantial negative consequences of girls’ obsession with the current body image is low levels of self-esteem. Unreal standards of body beauty promoted by media and social culture are impossible for girls to achieve. Affected by media, family, and peers, most of the contemporary girls take a number of actions to make their bodies slimmer (Krcmar et al. 2008). This psychological dependence on popular culture and beauty norms results in eating disorders. Thus, the researchers showed that today 50% of girls under 15 start dieting (Champion & Furnham, 1999). To contrast, the US Center for Disease Control revealed that the majority of American states except few have obesity prevalence among children over 25% (Bissell, & Hays, 2011). This shows that eating disorder is one of the major causes of poor body shapes among children. Therefore, low self-esteem is caused by unreal standards of physical attractiveness, which is promoted by social culture. The behavior provokes two main physical consequences, which are closely connected with children’s psychological condition. As a result, many of the modern children suffer from either anorexia or obesity.

Anorexia and bulimia are considered psychological diseases since they are an eating disorder evolved due to emotional desires rather than physical inability to consume food. In an attempt to achieve body proportions as those promoted by media culture, girls try their best to perform physical exercises and check on their diet. Those unable to control their eating practices use other dieting methods, which would perhaps result in poor health condition. Research reported that 13% of the 10th grade students try to emulate some behaviors that would help them develop desired body shapes such, by using laxatives and diuretics. Some use unscrupulous techniques such as those that facilitate vomiting. The studies of various scholars discover that free access to the contemporary media resources, which encourage slim body beauty, results in both intentional and unintentional restrains of food consumption. Thus, the influence of the beauty culture on girls’ mentality and psychology is evident.

Another serious consequence of the popularization of slenderness is obesity. Since children are unable to achieve desired physical proportions, they would probably forfeit eating in order to become seemingly beautiful and attractive. While fashion model become thinner, females are considered getting heavier. Being fat, which is contrary to the models’ weight, is associated with a number of negative social attributes such as lethargy, self-indulgence, and slovenliness (Champion & Furnham, 1999). Children introduced to such weight interpretations and beauty stereotypes experience problems as regards to eating behaviors from early childhood. As opposition to the current standards of physical attractiveness, a vast number of today’s children suffer from obesity. A range of studies conducted by American organizations such as the US Center for Disease Control and National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey team identified high rates of children classified as overweight (Bissell, & Hays, 2011). The severity of body image consequences is essential to investigate media, family, and peer surrounding as the major factors of children’s obsession with the body perfection.

Media Influence

Media have become an inseparable part of everyday life; it is present everywhere – at home, at work, in the street, etc. One of the most popular and thus, powerful components of media is television. Millions of people spend hours in front of their TVs watching shows, observing new fashion trends, and listening to the broadcast ideas and concepts. The impact produced by the television content is significant; however, it is obvious that it is much greater in the context of children and teenagers who learn a considerable amount of information and are acquainted with society through the television. Females who start comparing themselves with media ideals while developing a sense of self-awareness (Northup & Liebler, 2010) represent a large number of the youth audience. Most of the children’s favorite shows aired on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel promote thinness as a beauty standard and emphasize the necessity of possessing physical attractiveness. There is a vast amount of publications discussing whether media influences kids’ perception of beauty and society and their behavioral traits or not. The most prominent accomplishment in this field is the Social Learning Theory of Albert Bandura; thus, it is reasonable to examine its concepts in this work.

Social Leaning Theory of Albert Bandura

In 1977, Albert Bandura suggested his Theory that has turned out to be one of the main studies in the framework of knowledge and growth. Based on the traditional approach, Bandura’s theory includes a social element as a core factor of learning enforcement. The main concepts of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory comprise the assumptions that people learn through observations; internal mental state makes its contribution to the process, and learnt information does not result in a behavioral change. Bandura’s theory is of a terrific value not only for psychologists, but also for those individuals involved in the sphere of education since it emphasizes the importance of behavior modeling in the classroom environment. Thus, it is essential to discuss its concept in detail to clarify factors contributing to children’s sense of self-efficacy and encouraging them to perform some kinds of conduct.

Bandura proclaimed that observational learning is an integrated component of learning. Through his studies and observations in this field, Bandura discovered that children imitate behaviors seen in other people. One of Bandura’s experiments concerned a Bobo doll expressing aggressive ways of conduct. Children start imitating aggressive actions and behaviors when asked to play with the doll. On this basis, Bandura determined three models of learning through observations – a live model, a symbolic model, and a verbal instructional one. The first involves an actual person demonstrating some behavioral traits; the second is applied to fictional or real characters acting out behaviors in films, TV shows, or books. The third model entails elucidation and depiction of different actions. Therefore, media resources are the subjects of one of the basic model of observational learning. It is possible to conclude that characters and individuals illustrated by media provoke some behavioral norms possessed by children (Krahé, & Krause, 2010).

Another concept of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory concerns intrinsic reinforcement. Thus, such mental states as satisfactions, pride, or sense of accomplishment produce a considerable impact on the learning process. Through this concept, Bandura connects learning studies with theories of cognitive development. In the context of media influence on children, one may assert that positive attitude towards media content and personal desire to be and look like beloved media characters touch upon cognitive processes of children. Thus, media influence children’s perception of different life concepts not only through eyesight, but also through mental states. The third Bandura’s concept claims that observational learning does not surely lead to the change in behavior.

However, the modeling process proposed by Bandura comprises steps covered by the contemporary media. A person is likely to model behaviors seen under the following conditions are present – attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. Effective learning requires full attention; thus, the content should be entertaining and catching. The ability to comprehend and store information is a key factor for the observational learning. When the information is acquired and preserved, it is time to put into practice the performance of the acquired action. Motivation plays the crucial role in provoking behavior imitations with the learner; punishment and reinforcement are the key components of motivation.

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The contemporary media address all the stated above aspects; it provides fascinating content catching children’s attention in the way to make it clear and understandable by children. Being obsessed with characters observed most kids are eager to imitate behaviors of their ideals. Media resources provide vivid example where thin and beautiful characters are always rewarded with love, money, or career while ugly individuals express jealousy and dissatisfaction with life challenges. Individuals possessing such virtues as honesty, kindness and obedience always get something considerable in return while characters experiencing malice, envy, or deception are punished. Thus, children are highly motivated to adopt and exercise some particular behaviors in life. The investigation of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory allows asserting that its principles advocate for significant impact produced by media on children.

Media Resources Influencing Kids’ Behavior

There is a wide range of media resources present and available in the modern life. Television, radio, and advertising are probably the major media manifestations present in a rich diversity. The most popular and consumed kind of media among children is television due to easy access to it (Kater, Rohwer, & Londre, 2002). Moreover, television does not require additional knowledge or skills like reading necessary for magazine advertising. In its turn, television content is highly varied; there are different shows, films, programs, video games, and many more. The main impact is considered to be produced by TV shows promoting beauty as a symbol of success and establishing particular beauty standards. Fashion shows make their contribution to children, especially girls’ obsessions with a particular body proportions. Video games provoke a sense of self-identification with children encouraging their imitation behaviors. Thus, it is considerable to discuss these three media types in detail.

It is impossible to declare that media content should be concerned only in the context of negative influence on children and adults’ behavior. There is a wide range of TV shows and programs dedicated to the clarification of female’s roles in the contemporary society. Thus, in contrast to earlier trends, modern media illustrate women and girls as self-confident, intelligent, and assertive human beings (Banet-Weiser, 2004). One of the most popular commercial networks Nickelodeon provides a vast amount of television, internet, and video production emphasize girls’ powerful position in civil and consumer worlds. However, this positive accomplishment of the modern society in the context of female issues is degraded due to its close connection with beauty promotion. Preadolescent and an adolescent girl audience are taught that successful and powerful women should also be slim and attractive (Banet-Weiser, 2004).

Music shows and programs about music celebrities also occupy a considerable sector at broadcasting time. According to Monnot (2010), the role of female pop singers is crucial in the process of girls’ development in the age span from nine to 11 years. Female singers are associated with the standards of the contemporary femininity’. In contrast to the radio providing sound perception of music, television is filled with physical visions of modern singers. As a result, adolescent girls make much effort to move and look like their idols through wearing similar clothes that are inappropriate for their age. Besides, they start dieting to achieve the same body proportions as female singers who are mostly thin, tanned, long-legs, and long-haired. Thus, video media resources produce a significant impact on girls’ social life and the development of their sexual identity (Monnot, 2010). Such self-perception as objects of physical attractiveness and desire provoke sexual stereotypes and wrong life values (Clark, & Tiggemann, 2006).

The great role on forming children’s perception of society and its values is done by children’s TV shows, films, and animated movies. For instance, Disney production promotes the concept of ‘thin’ beauty (Northup & Liebler, 2010). Their findings revealed that most of the media content is focused on emphasizing physical beauty as a symbol of success. Preschool children spend approximately 3.5 hours in front of their TVs per day. During this time, they are introduced with a vast amount of TV shows, films, and programs where thinness and physical attractiveness are promoted as main female qualities. In advertising pauses, children get another portion of information speculating on physical beauty and sexuality. It is necessary to admit that television content is also filled with information degrading such behavioral traits as drunken driving, smoking, and poor nutritional habits. However, the main emphasis is paid to physical appearance as a formula for success, recognition, and health (Schutz, Paxton, & Wertheim, 2002)

It is obvious that media influence girls more. Nerveless, it is impossible to eliminate its impact on boys’ body image. Ryan and Morrison (2009) referred to a number of publications revealing recent increased interest to men’s body due to the expansion of media resources. Contemporary television and advertising promote of masculine male beauty, which is a traditional approach to men’s physical appearance. The ideal man should have broad shoulders, narrow waist, and muscular arms, legs, stomach, and chest. Men of all ages, nationalities, and sexual orientations desire this ideal masculine physique (Ryan & Morrison, 2009). Though men’s muscular beauty is associated with thinness, some extra fat is not demonstrated as the major obstacle. Thus, media production introducing a standard of male physical attractiveness emphasizes muscles development as a symbol of strength and health. No much attention is paid to the issue of slenderness thus, men and boys are less vulnerable to the obsession with body image that women and girls (Ryan & Morrison, 2009).

The major illustration of the standards of body beauty promoted by the modern media is fashion models. Their perfect body proportions are seen on television, magazines, advertising, etc. Thin and long-legged models represent the world of fashion and beauty that is so intriguing and desired for girls and women. In modern media, thin females are used to glamorize different beauty products while average-sized women are employed to promote household product. The research of Prabu, Boyne, and German (2009) discovered that weight difference does not provoke any purchase drop among the consumers. However, such weight-based distinction of female roles creates proper perception of body image and the role of physical attractiveness in women’s life. Regular observations of slim models arouse dissatisfaction with body proportions possessed by girls and women of average/normal size due to their inability to achieve impossible beauty standards broadcast in media (Fauquet, 2010).

In addition to the beauty standards represented on television and advertising, video games produce a significant impact of children’s perception of body image. Characters in video games reflect trends existing in society; thus, they contain many violent scenes popular in other media resources. Male characters are mostly illustrated as strong and muscular warriors; female characters are also frequently involved in fight scenes. At the same time, they wear immodest clothes on their fashion model like bodies. The researches show that children playing video games identify themselves with game characters through temporal adoption of their properties (Klimmt, Hefner, & Vorderer, 2009). Video games are a kind of entertainment exercised by children in a regular manner. The performance of game characters is based on individual social-psychological models of self-concept and self-perception (Klimmt, Hefner, & Vorderer, 2009). Therefore, contingent acting out of game characters’ behavioral traits – mostly aggression and obsession with physical attractiveness – aroused untimely or exaggerated development of sexual identity and negative manifestations of conduct. In the modern world filled with technology advancements like computers, game devices, and varied software, it is essential to consider the impact produced by video games on children’s behaviors and perception of body image.

Media Message

The stated above information is sound evidence that the main message of the contemporary media is the issue of body image. Most of the media content illustrates females in different sexual roles whose peculiar features are thin bodies, long legs, big breast, etc. Northup and Liebler (2010) identified six major beauty ideals proposed and promoted by the contemporary media – classic, trendy, athletic, brainy, next-door girl, and alternative. Classic beauty is characterized by traditional femininity such as long hair, fashionable clothes with little amount of accessories, and a general soft image. Trendy female character is a person obsessed with her appearance, boys’ perception and attention, and clothes. Athletic kind of beauty is peculiar to girls naturally pretty who are more interested in sports than boys are or fashion (Northup & Liebler, 2010).

A brainy girl possessed a wide range of intellectual abilities; she is the one turned to for an academic answer or advice. She is often illustrated in glasses and modest clothes, and she is never an object of romance. The next-door girl character is a mixture of traditional femininity and athletics. Though she is quite pretty and concerned with fashion trends, she seems to be unaware of her beauty while drawing male’s attention (Northup & Liebler, 2010). A girl in black clothes usually large represents alternative or Goth character. It is hard to identify her natural beauty since her face is frequently covered with much distracting make-up accomplished by aggressive or detached conduct (Northup & Liebler, 2010). The stated above beauty categories reveal that contemporary media illustrates different kinds of female characters – beautiful kittens, smart career-builders, or those protesting against society. However, beautiful characters are illustrated as objects of love, attraction, or sexual desire while smart or alternative girls are deprived of it. Since every woman starting from her early ages wants to be liked, such a depiction of women may provoke the establishment of wrong life values. Boys who also watch a lot of television are taught that physically attractive girls are more nice and friendly than their brainy peers (Northup & Liebler, 2010).

Results of Media Influence

As it has been already stated, media content produces a significant influence on children’s behaviors and perception of the concept of body image. As a result, children, especially girls, start imitating what they have seen on television, advertising, video games, and magazines. Dohnt and Tiggermann (2006) conducted a research of girls’ audience aged from five to eight years to identify media influence on them. They discovered that most of the preadolescent girls are dissatisfied with their body proportions due to slim and beautiful women seen in media. As a result, their levels of self-esteem turned to be lower than of those not concerned with body image. In addition, majority of the girls surveyed revealed the desire to look like women illustrated on TV and fashion magazines. There was little interest in imitating friends’ appearance since their peers also experience body dissatisfaction (Dohnt & Tiggermann, 2006).

In their attempt to imitate beauty ideals promoted by media, children exercise dieting and disordered eating. According to a number of studies, eating disorders are mostly diagnosed to women. Recent researchers show the rapid increase in eating disorders among young children reflected in binge eating, negative body image, abuse of diet pills, diuretics, and laxatives, over exercising, and restrictive dieting. A longitudinal panel study of children revealed that despite the existing gender difference in body obsession, there is no dependence on age and ethnicity (Moriarty, & Harrison, 2008). Instead, the current tendency shows that females of different nationalities including Chinese, Japanese, Latin American, etc. tend to achieve the same body proportions as girls and women in media (Holmstrom, 2004). The research of Lawrie et al. (2006) proved the statement that media promotes a thin beauty ideal. The content of the contemporary media emphasizes the importance of physical attractiveness among both boys and girls. Due to individual mental states of the audience, media produce different impact of children perception levels of body image. However, 965 students involved in the study agreed that the main message perpetuated by media is the beauty of thinness in contrast to disgust of being overweight (Lawrie et al., 2006).

Though it is impossible to imagine modern life without media since television, radio, magazines, etc. have become an everyday kind of entertainment, it is essential to pay attention to the content of information provided. The overwhelming depiction of thin women and muscular men influences substantially children’s social behaviors, self-esteem levels, mood variables, and body satisfaction. The results of media influence on girls are extremely serious causing psychological and health disorders. Thus, girls reading fashion magazines are seven times more vulnerable to exercise a variety of unhealthy weight control behaviors and six times are more likely to involve in extreme practices on weight control in contrast to girls not interested in fashion readings (Lopez-Guimera, Levine, Sanchez-Carracedo, & Fauquet, 2010).

In the study, 69% of 548 surveyed preadolescent and adolescent females agree that media content has influenced their perception of ideal body image, and 47% declared the desire to lose weight after observing media beauty standards (Lopez-Guimera et al., 2010). Northup and Liebler (2010) cited that 50% of the contemporary dieting girls are of normal weight, and 62% of girls in general want to have thinner bodies. Staring from the age of six, modern girls experience a desire to be thin and start dieting at seven years (Northup & Liebler, 2010). Thus, the consequences of media influence on children’s body perception, especially girls, are quite negative and require appropriate actions from society that has created this tendency of physical attractiveness obsession and ideal of thinness.

The Influence of the Family

The family has always had a tremendous effect on the growth and development of the child. The family is often considered a primary socializing agent implying that it is responsible for shaping the behavior of an individual at an early age, including the body image. In most families of the world, preparation of food is the role of the mother (Richardson, & Rehr, 2001). Research shows that nothing has changed since the mother is still depended upon to fulfill some of the domestic roles. A number of activities related to eating such as shopping for groceries, planning and preparing of meals, analyzing the effects of food on the health of children, reading nutrition signs, discussing the preferences of various family members and coming up with decisions related to diets, are the roles of the mother. Studies in the US and Europe suggest that the family plays a critical role as far as educating children on the best diet is concerned (Attie, & Brooks-Gunn, 1989). The family would frequently teach children to use the best nutritional practices, as well as employ proper dietary practices. This shows that the family has a big influence on the eating behaviors and feelings of children.

A study conducted by Jaffe and Worobey in 2006 on body image indicated that a strong relationship exists between mothers and daughters regarding eating, dieting and the body image. Verbal and non-verbal messages received by daughters from their mothers influence their body images. Mothers would communicate to their daughters in a manner suggesting that they ought to possess certain body images. Mothers would do this through various means such as teasing, pressurizing daughters to abandon some form of behaviors, and restricting their children on some forms of food. Through such actions, parents are known to influence the body images and eating behaviors of their children (Forbes, Adams-Curtis, Jobe, White, Revak, Zivcic-Becirevic, & Pokrajac-Bulian, 2005).

Mothers and Daughters: A Critical Bond

Studies show that children would probably develop varying attitudes regarding their bodies at a tender age. Boys would try as much as possible to emulate their fathers by employing all available means to develop muscles. They would lift weights in excess or even utilize drugs that would enhance muscle growth. On their part, girls would undertake all steps to ensure that they lose weight to attain the recommended body sizes. They would therefore employ weight lose strategies such as dieting, doing an exercise in excess, and using drugs such as laxatives and diuretics. However, this would be in line with what a female family member advices them to do as regards to weight lose. Even in their early ages, mothers teach girls the importance of ideal bodies, which would be appreciated by culture. Preschool children learn that fatness in women is not acceptable. In this regard, they would reject images of fat and obese women in favor of the slimmer images perceived to be role models. In the course of development, girls would develop a negative attitude towards fatness and would seem to be dissatisfied with their own bodies just in case they are fat. This would mean that girls would simply seek advice from mothers on the best drugs or practices to be employed in order to reduce body sizes. Some girls would even use dangerous drugs to achieve the ideal body size. Research shows that body dissatisfaction among girls start at a tender age and goes on to maturity. The situation worsens when the girl attains the adolescence age.

McCabe and Ricciardelli (2004) observed that mothers and the best female friends influence the behavior of girls regarding their body images. Girls would frequently consult such female relatives or friends pertaining to weight lose. The two scholars noted further that girls would be dissatisfied more with their bodies if mothers or close friends encouraged them to lose weight. The current society does not encourage fatness among women hence mothers would try to prevent their daughters from intimidation by urging them to control their diets. Recent studies show that the family influences largely the health of a child. Some children have battled with dieting problems in their lives, leading to complications such as obese. A mother would speak to her daughter suggesting that the mother’s body image is perfect and the child needs to develop such a body. This does not mean that the mother should be slim. Some mothers are fat and they would justify their body images by convincing their daughters that such bodies have their some merits. In this regard, the girl child would want to develop such a body since the mother highlighted its advantages. Mothers who are concerned about their own health would always influence their children since they would urge them to develop ideal bodies that would be admired by each person in society.

Pierson and Cohen (2003) posited that mothers perceived to be slim would still want to lose weight to attain the BMI index. In the same way, such mothers would want their daughters to continue losing weight. The findings by above scholars indicated that mothers wanted their daughters to be thinner as compared to other girls in society. If given some drawings of girls showing various shapes, mothers would want their daughters to be close to the thinnest or emaciated drawings as opposed to the heavier or obese figures (Rutger, & Engels, 2009).

Ramifications for Mothers, Daughters, and Families

Mothers manipulate the body images of their children through developing negative or positive feelings. If a mother develops a negative attitude towards a certain body size, the daughter would have to change the diet or use drugs in order to reduce the body size. Therefore, negative remarks on body image from the mother serve to hearten deprived eating habits among girls. The development of the self in girls is influenced by the mother-daughter relationship. A girl would grow in accordance to the wishes and preferences of the mother. Research shows that mothers should be attentive to the messages they sent to their daughters regarding body images since such messages might affect their children either positively or negatively.

It is evident that mothers can help their children to develop a body image that is desirable in society. Before influencing the body image of children, mothers start asking themselves whether they feel good about their own body sizes. If their body images were perfect, they would encourage their children to emulate. This would also have an implication on the body size of the daughter (Grogan, 2008). Negative comments affect girls in a negative way because they might start engaging in practices that are harmful to their normal growth. For instance, they might start using harmful substances aimed at reducing body weights. In society, the girl child is sensitive to the comments as opposed to boys. It is established that mothers have a strong influence to the lives of their daughters as compared to the mass media.

Influence of the Peers

Peer pressure is an important variable as far as body image of children is concerned. Over the past years, researchers have tried to investigate how the relationship between parents and their children is reflected in the development of companionship (Johnson, 2001). It is noted that parents play a critical role as regards to the intimate relationships of their children. Moreover, parents influence their children regarding adolescence depression, eating disarray, and general well-being. During adolescence, children try to emulate the lives of their peers, particularly when it comes to body image. Adolescence is usually considered a stage where the social atmosphere and social interactions play a big role in determining the health and satisfactory image of a teenager.

The establishment of relationships among peers may perhaps influence self-perceptions pertaining to body images and self-competences. Therefore, the body image influences peer relationships largely, as many people would think. As time goes by, adolescents spent less time with their parents and more time with peers. Some scholars, such as Archibald, Graber, and Brooks-Gunn (1999) observed that even though parents play an important role in the lives of young adolescents, their presence in the lives of children is still valid as far as self-perception is concerned. Similarly, the formation of intimate relationships is salient, together with the development of contacts with same sex friends. Therefore, it can be observed that peer influence is the major cause of desired and undesired behaviors, feelings, and principles among youths (Presnell, Bearman, & Madeley, 2007).

Some models of family functioning, such as psychoanalytic model, postulate that detachment among children is a normal developmental indicator of parent-child relationship during adolescence. Recent models, such as the Bowlby’ lifetime model, hypothesize that attachment and connectedness to parental figures among children is productive to growth and development of children. Peer pressure among youths is known to transform group norms and standards (Musher-Eizenman, Holub, Edwards-Leeper, Persson, & Goldstein, 2003). Peers have their own methods of ensuring that group members abide by the set rules and regulations. For those who follow the rules and regulations, they are rewarded while those going against are severely punished. Among peers, certain body images would be adopted while some would be discouraged. This would still depend on the mass media since the media suggests that certain body figures are ideal as opposed to others. Quite a number of researchers illustrate that the quality of relationships between adolescents and parents are complex. This affects the self-esteem of adolescents in many ways.

Youths would frequently relate to friends more as compared to their parents, which would further affect their capabilities in social circumstances. This means that friends influence the social life of an adolescent tremendously. It would also mean that friends and parents have different roles to play as regards to the behaviors of children. In a study conducted in 1990s, it was established that same-sex relationships among peers influences the socialization of children as opposed to any other relationship. Such children would frequently share information regarding intimacy and companionship. Children of the same sex would consult over intimate relationships, including outlining the best body figures that would attract a partner of opposite sex. However, it is true that children rarely consult their friends over issues related to conflicts. They would easily talk to their parents concerning issues that threaten their lives but not their friends. This again explains the importance of both parents and peers to the well-being of children. Therefore, adolescents rely upon their friends in establishing intimate relationships, self-disclosure, and forming true companionships (Auslander, & Dunham, 1996).

Adolescents would tend to spend little time with their parents and more time with their friends as they turn sixteen (Knauss, Paxton, & Alsaker, 2007). This would imply that they start discussing with peers issues affecting them as opposed to discussing with their parents. At this age, they would start talking about the perfect body images (Kashubeck, Marchand-Martella, Neal, & Larsen, 1997). Children would want to be like their close friends in terms of body figures hence they would seek the advice of friends on how to lose weight. Some youths would share secrets and inner feelings freely with their peers since they would be comfortable exposing their body problems to friends as opposed to parents. A study conducted in Japan by Mukai in 1996 demonstrated that same-sex friends and mothers influenced adolescent girls to adopt some eating behaviors and attitudes. The above scholar found out that girls consider mothers and same-sex peers to be role models, and they would try to emulate any figure possessed by such role models.

The role models usually urge girls to embrace thinness since it is the accepted figure in women. In Japan, just like in other parts of the world, role models deliver messages to girls suggesting that thinness makes women attractive. In this regard, overweight girls would always be criticized. The findings of Mukai were consistent with the postulations of psychological adjustment theory, which states that older adolescent girls tend to interact more with their peers as opposed to young adolescents. Levine, Smolak, Moodey, Shuman, and Hessen conducted a similar study in the United States in 1994. The study revealed that the need to be slim among girls resulted to various eating problems. The above scholars concluded their study by observing that older girls received much pressure from their friends to maintain certain body figures. In a study involving college students, the idea of social reinforcements and modeling could perhaps be employed to comprehend the sorority of children and reported cases of eating malfunctions. In the US, Kashubeck, Marchand-Martella, Neal, and Larsen (1997) analyzed the correlation between the need to be slim and the bulimic symptom among college students (Alta, Ludden, & Lally, 2007). The bulimic behavior could only be investigated by considering whether a student resided within the campus premises or went home after classes. This means that peer pressure could be high in case a student resided within the campus premises. Those students who lived in campus were found to suffer from eating disorders since they tried to put themselves in diet in order to comply with the demands of their peers. Students within campus would influence one of the group members to be slim, by forfeiting food.

Even though few researchers have tried to conduct studies regarding the influence of peers on the body images of children, it has been established that friendship affects the body image, diets, and behaviors of children. In 2001, Lieberman, Gauvin, and Bukowski conducted an extensive study on Canadian students and postulated that peer pressure influenced peer related components such as peer mockery, attractiveness, and negative peer relationships. The above-mentioned peer components were found to influence dieting and would perhaps affect the eating behaviors, as well as the self-esteem of students. In 1999, Paxton, Schultz, Wertheim, and Muir had conducted a similar study on Australian high school girls. The findings in Australia were close to the findings in Canada since friendship attitudes were believed to influence the body image of children, especially eating behavior and dietary expression.

Regarding the influence of peers on the body image of children, it is established that eating malfunctions and attempts to control the diet are related to the maturation and the desire to hang out with members of opposite sex. Girls would be interested in pleasing members of the opposite sex and would therefore explore all avenues to ensure that they are attractive (Lieberman, Doyle, & Markiewicz, 1999). This would entail checking the physical appearance, losing weight and maintaining an attractive body shape. Therefore, the desire to belong may put much pressure on an adolescent to maintain a slim body, which might end up affecting the eating practices of an individual.

Conclusion

The studies related to body image among children suggest that thinness among women and masculinity among men are the desired qualities of a perfect person in society. The studies postulate that women would do anything to attain the ideal body figure, which is related to slimness. Children would frequently try to do everything possible to ensure that they are acceptable in society. On the other hand, various socializing agents are responsible for the behaviors possessed by children. Each socializing agent affects children in differently. The family is usually the primary socializing agent and is expected to affect the child in many ways as compared to the peer, media, and other socializing agents. Regarding body image, the media plays a crucial role since it portrays certain body figures to be significant as opposed to others. Right from childhood, the child would be introduced to the ideals of perfect body images, which would give him or her desire to explore more. Information regarding the perfect body size is readily available in the mass media that is, both print and visual. While the family would only urge children to adopt certain diets, the media would influence children to believe that certain body figures are superior to others. The peer would ensure that children comply with the requirements of beauty for them to be accepted.

It is also concluded that self-assessment on physical appearance among children is an important feature as far as self-worth and psychological health are concerned. The discussion suggests that socio-cultural and psychosomatic components affect the development of children. The findings suggest that the socializing agents affect girls and boys differently. For instance, the mass media affects boys more as opposed to girls. The peer and the family are known to affect girls more as opposed to boys.

It should be noted that scholars have not yet generated enough data regarding the effects of various socializing agents on the growth and development of children. Children grow up knowing that only recommended shapes are allowed in society. For girls, they would want to associate with media personalities, particularly those in television. They would sacrifice their bodies, by using harmful substances in order to attain slim bodies. The studies from various parts of the world tend to suggest that women would wish to lose weight even if they have the slimmest bodies. In the case of Japan, students encouraged each other to lose weight in order to look attractive. In Canada, those found to stay in campus had poor eating habits since they strived to lose weight. In the US, mothers and other female friends influenced the eating habits of female children. Girls would always consult the adults on the best eating practices aimed at attaining desirable figure.

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