At what age do children become self conscious of how they look?

Firstly, I must preface that this has nothing to do with the particular parent, child or their parenting skills.  It could have been any child even my own.

We were at a Christmas party on the weekend.  There was a pretty little 4-year old girl in a lovely party dress.  She accidentally spilled a glass of red wine all over her dress.  Her mother whisked her off to change, but she was very upset, not because she was worried about being told off, as it was a genuine accident, but because she ‘didn’t look pretty anymore’.  This comment freaked both her mother and I out a bit and we did chat about it.  The mother also mentioned that she overheard the girls use the word ‘skinny’ in the nursery playground but didn’t know in what context.

This isn’t the first time.  When my daughter was two I distinctly remember her pal leaning over to her and saying ‘I like your jeans’.  I was absolutely stunned. WTF?  How does a 2-year-old know what they like and what they don’t like when it comes to fashion.  I can appreciate that they may like chocolate, toast or mummy and daddy but clothes??  They couldn’t even dress themselves yet.

How does this happen at such a young age?  Is it parental role models? Media?  How can we stop it from happening?

I would love to hear your ideas.



Author: mediocremum

A slightly older mum of one, who drinks far too much red wine and has an unhealthy obsession with her slow cooker. During the day she's an ICT Trainer, Social Media/Online Marketing consultant and does a bit of public speaking. Full Profile on Google+

17 thoughts on “At what age do children become self conscious of how they look?”

  1. The Kid has very set ways about what he will and won’t wear now. He is 7 years old. He has been like this, I think, since he started school. We are not really a fashion concious family so it does surprise me he is so set about what he will wear. He really likes to be smart. He wore a tie to the school disco but some other kids laughed at him so he took it off.

    If I have made an effort when I am going out, such as wearing a dress (!) he does comment that I look pretty. I just think it is the changing world, it is a shame that the child in your post felt she didn’t look pretty anymore. It is probably nothing more than the dress is messed up – could it be that we read more into comments these days?


    1. That’s a very good point about reading more into comments but think why it worries me so is the high prevalence of eating disorders, bullying, self-harming etc.

      1. yes, I know what you mean. The Kid has come home from school saying he is fat. He is in no way fat and at 7 he shouldn’t be worried about his weight anyway!

  2. You know I think a lot has to do with the child. I am bring both my boys up the same and Maxi doesn’t give two hoots what he looks like, he doesn’t have the desire to conform, infact he likes to look different, have long hair.

    Mini on the other hand, wants to look the same as other children in his class, insists on wearing what others wear and had short hair. He hates his glasses and came home from school this week and told me he as fat cause he ate all the pies (another child told him this) he is 5, not fat in the slightest.

    Neither me nor MadDad focus on looks, it is what is inside that counts.

    1. Same here….I have no idea about fashion and really want to emphasize ‘what’s on the inside’ just as you said. I no longer take her clothes shopping for her with me as it always turns into a battle. I grew up in jeans and t-shirts and I’m trying to do the same with her but I’m slowly losing the battle.

  3. My son is only 2 & thankfully haven’t had any issues with him in regards to clothes etc. apart from when he wants to wear his dads high vis jacket lol.
    It may be a girl thing. Such importance is put (normally innocently or without thought) on what little girls look like. How many times when a little girl see’s a family member/friend or even old lady in the street are they addressed with “ooh you look so pretty today”?
    That’s enforcing the already prevalent media message that girls have to look pretty to be accepted. I try my hardest when meeting a little girl to make sure the 1st thing I ask her is along the lines of “what books do you like” or “what’s your favourite school subject” as at least this is placing some kind of worth on their mind rather than their physical appearance or clothing.
    There is nothing wrong with little girls taking a pride in their appearance but when it becomes something that worries them if they don’t perceive themselves as perfect then in my opinion that’s a cause for concern.

    1. Very good point. I have a very, very, very bad habit of calling my daughter ‘pretty girl’. It’s just a term of affection but I can see that I really shouldn’t. However, I am lso aalways telling her how kind, smart and fun she is and that people like being around her. I will definintely be dropping the latter.

  4. i sort of agree!! there s a lot of peer pressure created initially via the media and again by a small minority of parents that makes kids of a younger age to our generation feel they need to look a certain way or else..

    however we could look at it another way. When she says doesn’t look pretty any more, could she mean she’s not looking smart any more? My mum didn’t let me go out in scruffs, but i didn’t care what i looked like , but i grew up knowing how to present my self effectively and appropriately. If i spilled red wine on my posh frock, especially if i hadn’t had any red wine to begin with, I’d be fairly upset, but I would probably verbalise in a completely different way! Fortunately(!!) a little girl doesn’t have my expansive vocabulary to work with!

    Jeans.. did they have flowers on? or glittery shiny bits? Yes you could get upset and think its fashion thing, but maybe its just a little girl liking shiny pretty things? Personal preferences and the development of likes and dislikes start early. I think if I went back to this stage ( my kids 16, 14,11,6.. the girls being the middle 2) it would maybe worry me too, but my 14 yr old who loved flowers and pink clothes as soon as she could pick them out of the drawer (much to my horror!) decided she hated pink at 6 and would only wear black! There was certainly no peer pressure there! Her decision however was based on her striking ginger hair looking rubbish in pink and amazing in black! Shes grown up to be a confident intelligent caring considerate brave young lady who thinks most models need a good dinner down them :D I’m very proud of her and not worried at all about her future.

    Having said all that, I do actually believe though the clothes that are available, and the media and what we are happy for our children to see on television, and comics and also us as parents are sexualising our girls in particular at a very young age and with that comes the stresses and worries that normal teens go through! And its not fair… however there is little we can do to change it, unless the world changes with us, so we need to try our best to instil personal confidence and self belief in lots of other ways and that way the peer pressure and the media pressure will be less important to them

    1. Come to think of it, the jeans did have little patches on them, not sparkly but could see the attraction. Great observation. You’ve made some very great points. I completely, agree with the last section about the clothing industry sexualising our kids. I’m forever, horrified, when I see some of the things on offer. Animal prints for little girls, faux fur coats. I think the worst we had was a multi pack of pants. One of them had a little dog on them with diamantes and they said something like ‘diamonds are a girls best friend’ they were age 2. They went straight into the bin.

  5. Me and a few mums had a chat about this the other week. A few girls in my dds class have started to roll there skirts up to have “short” skirts..there 8. Lucky for me me dd is not this group and has not really said anything about it. And knows that its school uniform and yo have to wear it. The Head yesterday told all the classes that on party day there is to be no short dresses or skirts or high heels…
    Things have been changing for years, 10 years ago i remember the dad of the little girl a looked after coming back from school so shocked at what some girls had on…”kiddie porn” he called it.
    Now you can blame the media and the shops for selling the items..BUT when it comes down to it the parents,family members are buying the clothes not the kids.
    My dd has said and said it this morning “do i look pretty in this” and i always say yes, but you do know you would look pretty in a bin bag,its not what you wear that makes you look nice its being a nice, happy, kind, loving girl that you are that makes you the beautiful person you are.
    I worried that she would {but has not yet} be upset about her scar from her open heart surgery. She has said once that someone pointed it out at school and how glad she was that she didnt have it ,My dd said it was her magic skin,and if she didnt have it she would not be here…proud mummy :)

  6. Its all a bit scary I think. Poppy is 3 and doesn’t choose what to wear yet, although she does think dresses and skirts are pretty and I do tell her she looks pretty all the time too. I would be horrified to hear the words “fat” or “skinny” come out of her mouth. Its all soo worrying and what is going on with leopard print outfits for children? I like my little girls to look like little girls and hope they innocent for as long a possible! x

  7. Wow that’s a bit frightening-2 and 4 seems so young to already be affected by peer pressure/ fashion and clothes size. Childhood should be sacred but it’s so hard to protect children, however young from the media and our society’s emphasis on conforming to being skinny/Western ideas of beauty etc.

  8. 2 is very young to be saying that! I have a 5yo relative who always compliments me on what I’m wearing or how nice my hair looks, not sure where he picked up compliments from but I’m not complaining ;) the 7yo will often tell me that I’m fat, that I have a big bum, big boobs etc. But she just likes to test my boundaries, she will grab at herself and say she is fat which is just wrong, she says the children at school say she is (she’s not at all)

  9. Catching up! :) I’ve always encouraged my kids to pick their own clothing, its backfired a bit but they do know what they like. I think its an important part of decision making for them. I try to avoid really short skirts etc etc but we do have a lot of pink and in fact Fifi has a little fur coat I bought for her (precisely because its exactly like one a relation had in a picture from the 1950’s). I think there is a real danger in over analysing what children are saying and doing. It also depends very much on culture (im thinking gypsy girls etc) so its quite hard to analyse.
    We dont really use words like ‘pretty’ much, but we do use ‘cool’ a lot, which is probably because we are have a boy too!

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