Body Image and Young Children


Body Image is a big issue these days and this blog aims to tackle it as well as to provide parents with thoughts and ideas.


A healthy girl is standing in front of a mirror pinching her stomach. She turns sideways and breathes in…she looks upset and makes a face at her reflection. ‘At Nursery someone said I was fat. I wish I didn’t have a fat tummy. I’d like to look like Lily, she’s pretty’ The girl is 3. 10 years ago, the idea that pre-school children would be anxious about how they looked was almost unheard of but for many parents this sort of comment from their child has now become the new normal.  


  Recent research from PACEY (Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) found that 24% of childcare professionals have seen body confidence issues in children aged 3 – 5.  So, why is it that our toddlers are even thinking about this stuff when this used to be the domain of the adolescent?


Even if your child only ever watches Peppa Pig, let’s look at what else surrounds them…photo-shopped images on billboards, advertising, magazine covers.  Their own clothes have messages proclaiming they’re ‘Pretty as a picture’ or ‘Gorgeous’ and dressing up superhero costumes including padded 6 pack. They may not have their own social media account but they are seeing everyone around them taking selfies, analysing how they look, comparing themselves to others.


Children today live in a world where we photograph everything. They themselves are the most photographed children ever and many already have an online footprint before they are even born! We love to share cute pictures of our little darlings and they learn very quickly to pose and pout for the camera…we show them how gorgeous they are and they soon get used to telling us which picture is acceptable to share and which aren’t up to scratch.


And what message do they hear about food? They only have to tune in to our guilt around food and constant anxieties about obesity, food, dieting, to hear a lot of fat and body talk;


  • ‘I’m on the clean eating diet’
  • ‘She’s put on a lot of weight’
  • ‘Have you seen his 6 pack?’
  • ‘I’m being good – no cake for me!


It’s hard to protect our children from society’s message that what you look like is the most important thing about you and children are hearing it loud and clear!


We are Chris Calland & Nicky Hutchinson, Education Consultants who have specialised in children’s behaviour and emotional well-being for over 25 years. In our caseloads we became really concerned to see a rise in children’s body image anxieties and for the last 9 years we have focused on this issue. Having a positive body Image is an important part of mental health and we work in schools with parents, teachers and children to raise awareness and provide strategies to build body confidence as early as possible.


Our book ‘Body Image in the Primary School was published in 2011 and won a government award. It provided a series of lessons for teachers to use in class to help children question the messages bombarding them.


Recently, though we have seen that even primary school may not be early enough to start supporting our children with body image.


We often meet parents who are already concerned about their children before they even get to school and many are worried about how to approach this important topic in a safe way. Others tell us that their young children are confident individuals who don’t give their looks a second thought and they desperately want them to stay that way.


We have written ‘Minnie and Max are OK’ to address these issues.

It’s a storybook for all girls and boys aged between 3 – 7. The story is first and foremost a fun story for them to enjoy but it also sends a strong positive message about celebrating their own identity. It’s an important book for all young children, as it aims to raise self-esteem, and helps children appreciate their individuality. The characters are a little girl called Minnie and her dog, Max who are feeling unhappy about how they look and comparing themselves to others. They are taken to the park by Grandma and through the questions she asks them and the experiences they have, Minnie and Max begin to feel more positive about themselves.


There are some questions in the back of the book for teachers and parents to use if they want to explore the topic more fully. Our work involves helping every child feel good about themselves and flourish. And the early years is the best place to start!


As parents’ you are the biggest influence on your child and there are some simple ways to help them develop positive self-esteem and a healthy body image. Reading Minnie and Max are Ok will help and here are a few ideas in the meantime…


  • Be aware of how you talk about your own and others looks
  • Encourage as much outdoor play as possible
  • Recognise your child’s qualities and skills rather than just focusing on their appearance
  • Notice and celebrate people’s differences
  • Highlight the importance of what your child’s body can do rather than what it looks like.

To read more on the subject of body image check these articles:

Parent pack for child body confidence launched


Trendy dolls with a healthy body image

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About Chris Calland

I am an Education Consultant who specialises in children's mental health and emotional well being. In recent years I have had a particular interest in children's body image. I co-wrote 'Body Image in the Primary School' which is an award winning curriculum for Primary aged children and 'Minnie and Max are Ok' which is a story book for children aged 3 - 7 to build their self esteem and body confidence. I work within a company called 'Not Just Behaviour' and we work nationally to train and support parents, staff, children and university students. We have advised the Government on both Body Image issues and The emotional well -being of children.