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Kids and Body Image: Does this Cartoon Make My Butt Look Big?

Posted Nov 17 2008 9:19pm
At first glance, a new study about kids' television viewing habits seems rather encouraging. A group of 1,055 3-12 year-olds was shown three different pictures of a popular female cartoon character, Bibi Blocksburg (the apparent love-child of Mickey Mouse in his Sorcerer's Apprentice days and Caillou the inexplicably bald-headed Canadian preschooler):


The pictures were set up Goldilocks style with the first showing Bibi too thin, the second normal and the third overweight. 70% of both the boys and the girls picked the normal image of Bibi as their favorite. Hooray for kids and their untarnished self-image, right?

I have a few questions about this study. First, it was conducted in Germany. Bibi is apparently a very popular character in Germany as evidenced by her sold-out line of Bibi bedding. So I'm guessing that all the kids in the study had seen her before - probably ad nauseum if they are as enamored of the TV as my kids are - and picked the image that looked most like what they were used to.

Second, again, this study was conducted in Germany. This could perhaps be an American misconception but my impression during the time I spent in Germany and in Europe is that people of all ages there are kinder to women's bodies there than we are state side. True there were as many, if not more, sexualized images of women on display there but people just seemed less critical. Or perhaps it was just that my language skills were rudimentary and so I had about a 10-minute lag following a conversation. (True story: I once was in a conversation with a Spanish woman for a good 10 minutes before I realized she was telling me about her recent miscarriage. And I'd been grinning and nodding the whole time like an idiot.) So yes, Europe gave us this:

The new trend for fall: Nonexistant thighs. You can't really stand anymore so better brush up on your leaning skills. Photo Credit

But still, I think German children - with their ridiculously adorable "GU-ten TAG" - have a leg up on American kids when it comes to a healthy view of women's bodies. To test out my theory, I ran my own study. Seeing as I only have three kids, it had a pretty small sample size. Two technically, since the baby doesn't really talk much. Anyhow, I showed cartoon pics of various female body sizes to my 4- and 6-year-old boys and asked them which they liked the best. The 4-year-old answered promptly, "Which ones are the bad guys? I like them."

I sighed and tried not to contaminate my study by answering, "I don't know, which one do you think is the best bad guy?" (Note: everyone is a "guy" or a "him" to my 4-year-old. I'd worry about his language skills except that he lives with all boys save for me and everyone knows that moms are not girls, duh.)

He frowned for a minute and said, "There aren't any good bad guys. None of them have guns." And then he walked off. That's research on children for you.

The six-year-old was a little more helpful. At first he shrugged and squirmed and refused to pick one but then he finally pointed at a Bratzz-like character with itty bitty waist, big lips and ginormous feet. "Why her?" I asked, trying not to feel like a failure as a mother.

"I dunno," he answered, "she just looks like what the girls at my school like. They have her all over their folders and stuff. So she's probably the best one."

So my boy liked the girl character that his first-grade girl friends liked the best. And the first-grade girls apparently preferred an icon who would torture and demoralize them later in life with her unrealistic and unattainable standard of beauty.

It starts young folks, it starts young.

What are your thoughts on this study? How do you think American kids would stack up to European kids, body-image wise? Seen any examples of this from the kids in your own life?

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