At what age does media begin affecting my child's body image?

Body image is developed early in childhood, and even very young children can exhibit body dissatisfaction. Common Sense's report on body-image studies, Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, found that more than half of girls and approximately one-third of boys age 6–8 indicate their ideal body weight is thinner than their current weight.  

The study also found:

  • By age 6, children are aware of dieting and may have tried it;
  • 26 percent of 5-year-olds recommend dieting as a solution for a person who has gained weight;
  • by the time kids reach age 7, one in four has engaged in some kind of dieting behavior; and,
  • between 1999 and 2006, hospitalizations for eating disorders among children below the age of 12 spiked 112 percent.

Although body image is influenced by many factors, media is one of several sources. Young children engage with some of the more extreme body portrayals in media in the form of dolls and action figures. And female characters in family films, on prime-time TV, and on kids' TV shows are nearly twice as likely to have an uncharacteristically small waist as their male counterparts.

You can help guide your kid away from negative body-image media messages by actively seeking out movies, games, TV shows, and music with positive messages around physical health, as well as positive role models for self-acceptance. A few other ideas:

  • Try to avoid stereotypical female and male characters in your kids' media. When you encounter them, discuss them with your kids and share your values.
  • Challenge assumptions around heavyset and slim characters. Help your kids think about how different characters are portrayed and whether they foster negative ideas about weight.
  • Point out characters, athletes, and celebrities who use their bodies to achieve something versus just trying to look good.
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Kid, 12 years old

At the age of 11, I started to be more aware of my body weight. All of my friends weigh less than me so I need to be as close to them as possible. You see, even friends will change the way you look at yourself. They will call you heavy and underweight and stuff like that. Yes, I understand fat acceptance is a positive thing, but at the same time, it's harmful. I agree that nobody should be shamed based on their appearance but understanding when to change, is confusing. Media has many different thoughts on this issue. Try to talk to your kid in an understanding way instead of forcing them to do what you want.
Teen, 16 years old written by guiseppeb

Or you can say: "it's just TV." I think that's much easier, rather than having to dictate what your kid can and can't watch. If you keep repeating things suggested on here, the kid will catch on.
Teen, 15 years old written by GeorgiaMae18

At age 10 my body began to change and i gained quite a lot of weight, this was the start of my downfall. Throughout my life my mother had always been down about her body image and i began to develop these negative thoughts and feelings. At at 14 is where my real problems started, although i had lost my previous weight ( puppy fat ) I still continued to see myself as fat and disgusting due to my earlier insecurity. Although i saw myself as this it was far from the truth as i was a healthy weight and i had a good body shape. During this time i developed BDD ( Body Dysmorphic Disorder ) which i still carry with me today. Due to these problems i have an irregular eating pattern, sometimes eating healthy and most of the time starving myself. To this day i still hate my body, check myself constantly in the mirror, obsess about my looks and weigh myself about 3 times on average a day. It's horrible and i wish i could go back and change. Please for your childs sake, try and be positive about yourself so that they do not have the same problems as me.
Teen, 13 years old written by mavrc31027

I started to get more self conscious when I was around 11 years old. That was when my body started to develop and I got acne and boobs ect. I also started to worry about my weight even though I was a perfectly healthy weight. It's just phase every pre-teen and teenager goes through. Change can freak you out.
Teen, 14 years old written by Callie00

Nowadays kids (especially girls) are more insecure about their body images at younger ages. My 9 year old sister's body is developing right now; she's in a slightly "chubby" stage, though at a perfectly healthy and normal weight. She thinks that she's "fat" just because of how thin girls are in movies, TV shows, and magazines. She tried to do some dieting, but our mom stopped her and talked to her about body image and that all kids go through different shapes and sizes and that how girls and women are unrealistically portrayed in the media. So I'd advise for you to talk to your kids about that. Hope I helped. :)
Teen, 13 years old written by OliRan321

You might now realise it but kids can become aware of body image at a fairly young age. I have to admit that I used to be a bit on the chubby side when I was around eight and used to try and eat less food and do lots of exercise in secret.
Kid, 9 years old

At what age does media begin affecting my child's body image? Honestly, my parents say that you can never tell. Whenever your child really gets into watching shows alone, it might mean that it's happening. Just support your child through it. But, if we could tell, around the age of 9. (all of this advice is from this child's parent.)