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Embrace Kids 2023 Gift Guide

BY Zali Yager

Embrace Kids 2023 gift guide

Our body image experts weigh in on the body image implications of some of this year’s most popular gifts.

Chrrrrriiiiissssstttmaaaaaaassss… Whether you’re a grinch or Santa’s biggest fan, there’s no escaping the number of decisions you have to make at this time of year. Parents are often worried about the body image implications of some of the toys and gifts on their kids’ wish lists so our expert elves are here to help, with evidence-based guidance on everything from Barbies to watches.

Read up before you hit the shops!

Activity trackers 


There are a lot of kids’ watches with activity trackers in stores this year. Some are very helpful in getting kids to start to be aware of time and create alarms for going to school (and going to bed!) but they also track steps, which could be problematic if there is a focus on achieving activity goals for the sake of it. Anything that puts numbers to our food or movement could potentially be problematic for kids who might be vulnerable to body image concerns and eating disorders.

There have been a few studies that have found that self-tracking tools might lead to negative body image outcomes. A small survey of young people aged 18-25 in the UK who used fitness tracking apps and devices found that 36% of participants reported becoming obsessive about counting or logging diet and physical activity data, and this was almost as commonly reported by men and women – but the majority were using a problematic calorie tracking app, and not just wearing an activity tracking watch (Honary et al., 2019). Studies where they gave adults who hadn’t used an activity tracker a Fitbit to use for 10 days-4 months found no impact on body image concerns and disordered eating behaviours (Gittus et al., 2020; Boldi et al., 2023). 

Reframe: Focus less on how many steps you’ve done, and more on how you feel while you’re doing them. “What can we do to move our bodies that would feel good today?” Alternatively, focus on the other features, and less on the step count or active minutes in your conversations with young people about what is being tracked and what ‘being healthy’ means – for example, you might focus on sleep quality instead.

Add to wish list: Our Executive Director Dr Zali Yager snapped up some Garmin Vivofit Jr watches for her twin girls in the Black Friday sales – chosen because of the ability to set reminders for going to bed, and because you don’t have to remember to charge them! 

Skin care


Why my 10-year-old boy and 8-year-old girls are asking for skin care routines, I will never know (actually I do know, thanks YouTube Kids). The popularity of skin care among pre-teens does seem to be growing around the world, largely thanks to social media.

You probably don’t need researchers to tell you that social media can have a negative influence on body image – but they have done the studies, and found this to be the case (Fioravanti, 2022). Body neutrality content, which shifts the focus towards the functionality of bodies rather than appearance, has been found to have a more positive effect (Seekis & Lawrence, 2023) but there has been less research about makeup, skin care and other beauty content. 

Reframe: Instead of focusing on how skin care might make us look, focus on how it makes us feel. Skin care offers an opportunity for us to spend time on ourselves for self care, which can help us to feel relaxed and calm. Taking time to immerse ourselves in a lovely bath, and then rub yummy-smelling lotion into our bodies gives us the chance to be mindfully attuned to the lovely sensations of our bodies. When we talk about these types of benefits instead of preventing common skin concerns like acne or wrinkles, skin care becomes an opportunity rather than a threat. Take a moment to check what it says on the back of the tube, and buy from brands that don’t make their marketing all about appearance. 

Add to wish list: Allkinds’ Whipped Shower Foam is great for getting kids into the shower when they reallllly don’t want to… just make sure they don’t try to eat these yummy-smelling concoctions!

Dolls


Barbie is back after a bumper year with the
Barbie movie. Although many people think they have to avoid Barbie if they don’t want to introduce their kids to a whole lot of unrealistic standards about bodies, most of the research conducted with children has found that playing with Barbie doesn’t necessarily have a negative impact (Rice et al., 2016). It’s viewing the images of Barbie – often in colouring books, or in Barbie spin-off TV shows – where her thinness can be problematic (Dittmar et al., 2006).

Take a moment to see if you can find action figures that don’t promote unrealistic standards for men’s bodies. A classic research study compared the level of muscularity of action figurines since the ‘80s and reported exponential growth, particularly in the upper body (Pope et al., 1999). While there haven’t been any studies on the impact of playing with action figures, it’s probably wise to keep it closer to real-sized wherever possible. 

Don’t worry too much about the 3-5 year olds with the princess obsession. Research has generally found that exposure to Disney Princess movies increases adherence to stereotypically ‘girly’ behaviour for 4-7 year old girls, but didn’t have a negative impact on body image. Disney Princess engagement increased prosocial behaviour (helping others, being kind) and better body image. 

Reframe: When you inevitably get roped into playing Barbies with your kids these school holidays, change the conversation from “Look at how pretty that doll is” to “I wonder what she likes to do?”

Add to wish list: Miniland’s doll collection features dolls of different origins to celebrate inclusivity and representation.

Books 


Picture books can be a great way to introduce some of the key messages that can build better body image – like celebrating diverse bodies, focusing on the functionality of what our bodies can do, and being kind to ourselves. We’ve reviewed some of the best picture books out there for 3-12 year olds in our guide here if you need some ideas. 

Research found that reading the book Shapesville twice improved body image among girls (Dohnt & Tiggemann, 2006). Similar themes – of people coming in a range of shapes and sizes, and with their own strengths – are depicted in other children’s books, including Embrace Your Body by TEC’s own Taryn Brumfitt. In all the events and talks Taryn has done in her year as 2023 Australian of the Year, she says the best part has been getting out to schools and reading Embrace Your Body to kids in their first few years at school!

Reframe: No matter what book you are reading, take the time to point out and celebrate all of the diversity in the ways that the characters look, or the different flowers in the garden, or the different types of dogs. Reinforcing that we should all look different is helpful at any age. 

Add to wish list: Purchase the Embrace Your Body and Charlie’s Tales books here.

What’s in your stocking, Mum? 


Often we consider the gifts for our children so carefully, but the impact of the gifts for the grown-ups can be just as powerful. Great Uncle Johnny giving Great Aunty Sue a set of scales, fitness equipment or diet cookbooks “so you can lose a few pounds” role models all the things you don’t want it to.

Christmas can be a tricky time to navigate this type of family influence, but if you manage to get in at the time, or have a conversation afterwards where you can re-emphasise acceptance and appreciation of all bodies, you are doing well. 

Reframe: Try to reframe the need to eat well and move our bodies for weight loss to a focus on eating well and moving our bodies because it feels good, and it’s good for us.  

Add to wish list: Great Aunty Sue could probably do with an Endota spa voucher to relieve the stress of living with Great Uncle Johnny!

 

References

Boldi, A., Silacci, A., Boldi, M.O., Cherubini, M., Caon, M et al.(In Press). Exploring the Impact of Commercial Wearable Activity Trackers on Body Awareness and Body Representations: A Mixed-Methods Study on Self-tracking. Computers in Human Behavior, 151, pp.21. ff10.1016/j.chb.2023.108036f

Coyne, S. M., Linder, J. R., Rasmussen, E. E., Nelson, D. A., & Birkbeck, V. (2016). Pretty as a princess: Longitudinal effects of engagement with Disney princesses on gender stereotypes, body esteem, and prosocial behavior in children. Child development, 87(6), 1909-1925.

Dittmar, H., Halliwell, E., & Ive, S. (2006). Does Barbie make girls want to be thin? The effect of experimental exposure to images of dolls on the body image of 5-to 8-year-old girls. Developmental psychology, 42(2), 283.

Fioravanti, G., Bocci Benucci, S., Ceragioli, G., & Casale, S. (2022). How the exposure to beauty ideals on social networking sites influences body image: A systematic review of experimental studies. Adolescent research review, 7(3), 419-458.

Gittus, M. , Fuller-Tyszkiewicz, M. , Brown, H. E. , Richardson, B. , Fassnacht, D. B. , Lennard, G. R. , Holland, E. & Krug, I. (2020). Are Fitbits Implicated in Body Image Concerns and Disordered Eating in Women?. Health Psychology, 39 (10), 900-904. doi: 10.1037/hea0000881.

Honary, M., Bell, B. T., Clinch, S., Wild, S. E., & McNaney, R. (2019). Understanding the role of healthy eating and fitness mobile apps in the formation of maladaptive eating and exercise behaviors in young people. JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 7(6), e14239.

Pope Jr, H. G., Olivardia, R., Gruber, A., & Borowiecki, J. (1999). Evolving ideals of male body image as seen through action toys. International journal of eating disorders, 26(1), 65-72.

Rice, K., Prichard, I., Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2016). Exposure to Barbie: Effects on thin-ideal internalisation, body esteem, and body dissatisfaction among young girls. Body Image, 19, 142-149.

Seekis, V., & Lawrence, R. K. (2023). How exposure to body neutrality content on TikTok affects young women’s body image and mood. Body Image, 47, 101629.

Meet The Author,
Zali Yager

Dr Zali Yager is the Executive Director of The Embrace Collective [TEC], a DGR-status health promotion charity on a mission to help people everywhere build better body image. In her research position as Associate Professor in the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University, Zali was also the Chief Investigator on the Goodform project for boys, a WADA-funded, randomised controlled trial of this 4-session school-based program.Connect with Zali via LinkedInInstagram and her website. Find out more about The Embrace Collective on Instagram. Sign up for the EK Support Squad to receive body image resources and support for young people.
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