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'Skinny ideal' worries Swedish 7-year-olds

TT/Rebecca Martin · 15 Aug 2011, 10:41

Published: 15 Aug 2011 10:41 GMT+02:00

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“That the girls don’t start a diet straight after thinking about losing weight is a new, and in many ways pleasing, discovery,” said author of the study Josefin Westerberg-Jacobson of Uppsala University to local paper Upsala Nya Tidning (UNT).

According to her this could mean that there is still time to counteract the bodyweight fixation before it leads to the development of eating disorders.

The study has followed the girls since they were between 7 and 11 years old.

Over the course of eight years, the scientists have given them a series of questionnaires regarding their attitudes to food, eating and their own body weight, as well as their mealtime and exercise habits.

Ann Wallbom Fagraeus, a specialist on child and youth psychiatry, has worked with eating disorders since 1993, and told daily Aftonbladet that the skinny ideal is creeping down in ages.

“What we are seeing generally is that the adult world’s demands on what you should be able to handle is now reaching young kids. The idea that ‘children should be allowed to be children’ is not easy to maintain today,” she told the paper.

According to the study, as many as one in five 7-year-old girls wished she was thinner. This number then increased as the girls grew older.

When they had reached 16, more than half of the girls wished they weighed less.

The number of girls who actively tried to lose weight also increased with age from a few percent of the young girls to almost half of the older.

“Among the girls aged between 14 and 18, one in eight used extreme dieting measures such as skipping meals, using dieting pills or taking laxatives, “ said Westerberg-Jacobson to UNT.

According to the study there were many reasons for why the girls wanted to lose weight.

Most answered that they wanted to feel happy about themselves, but many also wanted to avoid being taunted at school and comments from family members – especially fathers.

“It is extremely important that fathers support their daughters in having a natural puberty, which means gaining weight and getting female curves,” said Wallbom Fagraeus to Aftonbladet.

Wallbom Fagraeus also stressed that the mother’s body image and attitude to body weight was also very important for how the daughter perceived herself.

Story continues below…

In order to combat the body weight fixation, Westerberg-Jacobson thinks that society needs to question the 'skinny ideal', which is prevalent on TV and in the media.

“There are girls out there who could benefit from losing weight but extreme dieting methods are a bad way to achieve this,” she said to UNT.

The study has been published in the trade journal European Eating Disorder Review.

TT/Rebecca Martin (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

12:37 August 15, 2011 by jacquelinee

Well, if fashion designers were held more accountable for the images they put out, (the fashion industry in general) The images projected of rail thin models being the ideal is ridiculous. That body type represents less than 10% of women in the world. Over 90% of girls and women are made to feel inadequate by the fashion industry. That is their goal - That is how they sell products, by making women feel bad and UNbeautiful...then, they will buy their clothes/ makeup/diet aids/products, too feel more beautiful. It is a scam, and young girls and even many older women buy into it.

Also, there are the obvious logistics to having rail thin models. Less fabric to use (short/tight/ ultra small sizes) = less money spent on materials = higher profit margins. Easy one.

Anything looks good on a hanger. Designing for bodies that are straight up and down with no curves is is far easier and requires less tailoring and actual work to make a garment fit well and look good on female curves. Another easy one.

Often, designers are gay men: Domenico Dolce and Steffano Gabbana better known to the world simply as Dolce & Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent,

Alexander McQueen, Marc Jacobs, Christian Dior to name only a few. Obviously, although it is known gay men have great fashion sense, it also stands to reason that their idea of beauty comes fromm the straight up and down body of guys. So many design concepts reflect that and the models have that unisex androginy making them often look like teenage boys. The media is continually bombarding girls and women with the messages "You need to lose weight" " You can never be too thin" in one form or another.

It is a sad reality and our daughters, sisters, mothers, friends are all victims. One company I do applaud is "DOVE" They have set out to advertise and make commercials showing average girls and women of all ages, weights and degrees of beauty in their ad campaigns to sell their products by making women and girls feel GOOD about themselves and...It has paid off in sales figures too. I applaud them.

It is a very sad reality, and our young women are victims. As parents, friends, consumers, it is our responsibility to educate our daughters, friends etc. WHY the media makes starvation look fashionable and to boycott products perpetuating this image.
12:48 August 15, 2011 by Uggla
Males have a big impact on their sisters, daughters, wifes, girlfriends, friends. What they say does make a difference. They need to step in and help change this way of thinking.

I am so very very tired of corrupt society putting unrealistic ideas into young girls and women's heads.
14:54 August 15, 2011 by eppie
@jacquelinee although I agree that the fashion world is pretty weird, I don't think it is because of thin models.

The media is always the first to jump on the bandwagon and start crying outrage because of thin role models.

Basically this is however nothing more than arrogant westener talk. The number of women who are unhealthy fat is much, much, much larger than the ones whoe are unhealthy thin. But (to stay in your rant style) that is probably because they can make lots of money on fast food and soda drinks.

It is overweight that is one of the world biggest problems in the coming future, not underweight.
16:19 August 15, 2011 by jacquelinee

I agree with you on this one to a degree. The health issues related to obesity speak for itself. The ease and convienience of "fast food" has contributed a great deal to this also, It is also the responsibility of parents and educators to address this issue. Self medicating with food has become a global problem and one that needs addressing by food companies as well. However, this article is about th eopposite issue.

There is a huge difference between both eating disorders. The portrayal of overweight people vs underweight people in society in gerneral and the media in particular also speak volumes. Overweight people are the butt of jokes, portrayed as lazy, dirty, stupid,ugly, often uneducated and definately undesirable. underweight people are portayed as successful, fashionable, popular, beautiful, desirable, sexy.

Although no one would really strive to be overweight, many strive to be bone thin, largely due to media bombardment. This is undeniable. Both are extremely scary states to be in. Unfortunately, if a young girl is overweight she is ostracized, ridiculed laughed at and bullied. If a young girl is rail thin she is admired, envied, popularized and praised. Both are dangerous, both unhealthy.

I am sad you view my post#1 as a rant. To rant means by definition

"To speak or write in an angry, violent manner" Actually, I was speaking neither angrily nor violently. I am however, passionately fearful for girls and women who are influenced by fashion/society/ the media etc. into believing that striving to achieve a weight that is unhealthy and often dangerous, is something to be desired and DO believe in educating and helping girls to value themselves for their own singular, individual beauty, personalities, talents and intelligence and having them love who THEY are rather than trying to morph themselves into someone else.
18:01 August 15, 2011 by eppie

I am sorry. I probably was expecting more before already reading your 1st post and was reading things you didn't write.

I agree with your second post.

However I wonder how these girls distill this 'beauty ideal' from the media. Indeed fashion models often are extremely thin......but it is also general knowledge that most men like thin......but not so thin.

The same for girls with an already heavy form of anorexia....they are thinner than anything that is in advertisements but still they think they need to become even thinner.....so I wonder if something else (besides fashion adverts) isn't the cause of this.
19:30 August 15, 2011 by kaotik
I thought European countries would have seen through this baloney. To me personally I feel that this type of insecurity has stemmed from Hollywood and the media from the States. My mother in-law who is already as thin as a rail, insists that she has a long road ahead to keep loosing weight. It's a form of sickness, mentally, it's sad.
21:47 August 15, 2011 by jacquelinee
@ eppie

It is true that most men like women who are fit. We are talking here about 7 year old girls too, far below the age of caring about boys. This is what is so scary and what we need to find a way to address. There is something gone terribly wrong when 7 year old girls who should be happily playing with their toys and friends are obsessing about losing weight. Kaotik has hit on part of it. Those scary skinny images of girls and women like Lindsay Lohan, Kalista Flockheart, Kate Boswell, Nicole Ritchie to name a few. Even many of their toys. Barbie is a freakishly proportioned dall, anorexic with unnaturally huge...(well, you know)

It is really a sad commentary this article.
22:41 August 15, 2011 by Svensksmith
Scrawny isn't fit.
05:42 August 16, 2011 by Luke R D
...and so the social engineers sit back and laugh
10:38 August 16, 2011 by Uggla
Adressing Overweight vs Underweight:


"There is a huge difference between both eating disorders. The portrayal of overweight people vs underweight people in society in gerneral and the media in particular also speak volumes. Overweight people are the butt of jokes, portrayed as lazy, dirty, stupid,ugly, often uneducated and definately undesirable. underweight people are portayed as successful, fashionable, popular, beautiful, desirable, sexy.

Although no one would really strive to be overweight, many strive to be bone thin, largely due to media bombardment. This is undeniable. Both are extremely scary states to be in. Unfortunately, if a young girl is overweight she is ostracized, ridiculed laughed at and bullied. If a young girl is rail thin she is admired, envied, popularized and praised. Both are dangerous, both unhealthy"

This is perfectly put! You took the words right out of my mouth. I like you more and more! :)
11:46 August 16, 2011 by jacquelinee
@ Uggla

Thanks. The truth stands for itself. Most little girls think they are very beautiful until they start school and then it begins to change. When my children started school I sat them down and told them that they would meet all kinds of children that may have different coloured skin or glasses or be chubbier or skinnier ot have a scar or a problem spaeking etc etc and told the that they were no better than these kids, they were all the same just looked different and that no one was any better than them also and they should try to be everyones friend.

I think this is 1 action all parents can easily do to begin to change perceptions. Even educational systems should have a class on media endoctrination in health education or social studies.

These predjudices are the basis for a myriad of problems within society and this trend that has appeared to have girls so very young with a poor body image is really frightening.

My parents instilled in me the value of my intelligence and talents and always told me these attributes would serve me better and last far longer than a pretty face would. I am very happy they were that wise and that right.
20:53 August 16, 2011 by Streja
When I was really skinny despite being healthy and eating normally random strangers used to walk up to me and call me names, tell me to eat meat and informing me that I had anorexia. There are actually skinny people out there who are bullied. Women are women even if they don't have curves or big boobs. No wonder so many skinny girls have breast augmentation surgery. Stop bullying skinny people!
10:56 August 17, 2011 by jacquelinee
@ streja

Bullying is unacceptable in any situation. I am so sorry if you were bullied, so was I and it is horrible. I am sure there are some who are picked on for being thinas well as chubby, but you must agree the negativity towards people who are heavier is far greater. I am not sure of your age, but you really must agree that in the past 20 years in general and the last 10 in particular, the trend to become scary skinny has become Chic and fashionable. There are many many body types all the way from those who are naturally thin to those that are more inclined to be chubbier. If you are healthy that is fine. But even you Streja, have to admit that seven year old girls obsessing about their weight is NOT a normal thing and something to be very concerned about.
14:27 August 18, 2011 by jomamas
It is unrealistic for us to expect women to be that skinny (and frankly it looks ugly).

It is not unrealistic for us to expect women to not be carrying an extra 25 lbs., as they are more and more (men as well).
11:57 August 19, 2011 by jacquelinee
@ jomamas

exactly, wish everyone felt that way.
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