• The Development of Body Image in Young Children: The Role of Muscularity and Adiposity

      Bryant, Eleanor J.; Waters, Gillian M.; Pepper, Lisa B.
      Negative body image can cause serious psychological problems. In some Western societies, body image concerns can develop at a young age, with early preadolescents preferring thinner bodies and reporting body dissatisfaction. The aims here were to clarify the significant gaps in published research, and to challenge existing assumptions around weight, muscularity, and body satisfaction in children. In addition, this novel research focused on young children’s body dissatisfaction, particularly young boys (aged 4-11 years). Traditional measures of body satisfaction are limited and do not incorporate muscularity, assess individual body parts, or indicate the direction of dissatisfaction. Here, new visual measures were developed along with a prototype application for a touch-screen tablet to measure body satisfaction in children. Through 4 innovative experimental studies the current research explored factors influencing body image: including gender, age, ethnicity, BMI, perceived body size, and sociocultural factors (e.g. cultural ideals and body size stereotypes). Results consistently supported the findings of study 1 which showed gender differences in body satisfaction: boys were more dissatisfied with their bodies than girls, and their dissatisfaction varied over the different body parts (torso, arms and legs). Stereotypical idealised body perception was evident: boys wanted to be muscular and girls desired to be lean. In study 2, ideal body choices saw boys choosing more muscular figures and girls more lean figures for the self, than the ones they choose for another boy or girl. Boys desired more muscular ideal figures than what they perceived the opposite sex would choose. Study 3 revealed the pattern of assigning positive attributes was gendered. Boys viewed the hypermuscular figure the most positively and girls the normal weight and lean figures the most positively. However, both sexes did not want to look like the overweight figure as a child or adult. Study 4 showed parent’s body satisfaction and their perception of their child’s current body size predicted child’s body satisfaction, and exposure to media predicted the child’s ideal and future ideal adult figure choices. Overall, a combination of factors involved in the development of children’s body image were revealed, including sociocultural influences, age, ethnicity, and perceived body size. The research carried out within this thesis has extended our knowledge of pre-adolescent’s body dissatisfaction, has developed innovative measures for use with younger children, and revealed fascinating findings around young boys’ body image.