Five-year-old girls who want to be thin

Contributed by Hannah Corlass at Totton College

Is it worrying that young girls don’t like their bodies, and know what a diet is?
This study aimed to find out how aware of dieting and body dissatisfaction young girls (5-8 years old) are, and how peers affect this awareness. Previous research has shown that the desire to be thinner has become so common in women it’s considered ‘a normative discontent’.

Eighty-one girls from the first three years of two private, single-sex schools were individually interviewed about their awareness of dieting and how teasing and likeability can change in relation to body shape, size and weight. For reasons of sensitivity, all questions were designed so that the participants didn’t have to go into detail or give reasons for their answers – they were just required to say yes or no.

When the girls were asked to point to a picture of their ideal figure, all, regardless of age, chose the thinner model. However, the girls in year two had the greatest body dissatisfaction when asked to answer yes or no to questions about dieting, weight and likeability. Twenty-two per cent of the girls could fully define the word ‘diet’, most of them being the older girls. Also, all the girls were aware of how teasing and likeability can be influenced by weight and body shape.

Awareness of dieting and weight seems to appear at a young age, with peer influences and opinions having a great affect on this. “This study has confirmed that a substantial number of young girls express a wish to be thinner and are well aware of dieting as a way of achieving the thin ideal”, said the researchers Hayley Dohnt and Marika Tiggemann at Flinders University in Australia.

Dohnt, H.K. & Tiggemann, M. (2005). Peer influences on body dissatisfaction and dieting awareness in young girls. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 23, 103-116.
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