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Body Image Issues Begin as Early as Age 5

girl looking in mirror
It's well known that many Americans, especially women, dislike their bodies. Much of the blame for this problem is placed on the media for airbrushing models and celebrities into unrealistic, typically unattainable beauties -- and on society for glorifying these retouched versions of people.

We usually assume that the battle with negative self-image begins when adolescents hit puberty, but a new report from Common Sense Media suggests that these issues are beginning even earlier than that. Although the report is not comprehensive, information was compiled from numerous body image studies to determine what influences a child's attitudes and behaviors, and at what age.

Researchers discovered that children begin to express concerns about their bodies as young as age 5. And at this young age, parents usually play a role in influencing their kids -- as Common Sense Media notes, "you are your child's first teacher," meaning that kids can still pick up on subtle but negative body image message you give (even if you're not harshly criticizing your body).

Even though body image research is often focused on girls, boys are influenced, too. According to the report, one-third of boys (and more than half of girls) between the ages of 6 and 8 believe an ideal body is thinner than their current body size. And 1 in 4 kids have already tried dieting by age 7. And get this—while a Barbie-like physique is knowingly unattainable, the measurements of male action figures surpass the measurements of even the largest bodybuilders!

To counteract the negative body image, Common Sense suggests that you talk openly about appreciating your body, steer clear of commenting on others' appearances, and participate in healthy habits for your well-being (and not just to look better in the dress you're wearing soon!).

"A lot of the negative body image comes from internal views of oneself, and when you can really shift that conversation from how someone looks to how someone feels, then kids can really start to think about what their choices are, and how they have control over how they feel, and that brings positive self-esteem and self-awareness," says Seeta Pai, vice president of research for Common Sense Media and author of the report.

Also: Read these tips on how to talk to your kids about body image.

Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She's a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn

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Image: Girl looking in mirror via Shutterstock