Stop the madness: Six-year-old girls wish they were skinnier

Add this to the list of things that make your heart sink a little: According to a Cambridge University study, girls as young as six believe they'd be better if they were skinnier.

The Telegraph reports that when asked to choose their ideal body from three digitally altered images-one of which was their actual body size, and two others that were consecutively smaller-a whopping 50 percent of the six-year-olds surveyed chose the body that was three sizes smaller than their own. Worse, when questioned about their choice, many of the girls said being skinnier would make them more popular.

I don't know about anyone else, but it's news like this that makes me think I was raised in Fantasy Land. It's not that I was an innocent kid in every realm, but at age six, I really didn't know or care what my body looked like. I definitely would not have had the information necessary to conclude that a skinnier body was a more popular one. And while there were tiny things that pricked at my self-consciousness as I grew older (I remember have a particularly hard look in the mirror after a friend's brother called me "puke face"), for the most part, that stuff was on hold until I hit the hell that is puberty.

As much as I know my childhood is long gone, there are things about it I would like to preserve for my kid, namely the idea that your body-that thing that carries you up trees and takes an occasional beating from running downhill too fast-isn't anything you need to wish looked different.

Is this a foolish wish in light of all the recent news on our rising childhood obesity epidemic? Maybe so. Maybe I should focus my hopes on something more profound, like a child who extols the virtues of green vegetables and understands that Coca-Cola is not so much a soft drink as an inside-out corrosive agent, but honestly, at this point I'd settle for a six-year-old who likes their tummy.

How does that happen? While most articles geared towards helping parents navigate body issues focus on the teen years, Our Bodies Ourselves, a health resources founded on the essential women's tome, has some great suggestions, starting with telling your daughter she is beautiful, but also telling her she excels in an area that has nothing to do with looks-she's a fast runner, or a good reader, or great with those poster paints.They also suggest combatting the onslaught of the Paris Hiltons by pointing out women who come up in the world by their wits, or talent, or ability to hurl themselves down a mountain to capture a gold medal at the Olympics. And lastly-help them understand that "advertisers and their clients (from fashion magazines to music video channels) must make girls feel bad about their bodies in order to turn a profit." Honestly, half the time, I need someone to remind me of that fact, so keeping it at the forefront of my mind seems like a healthy move.

What about you? Did you have an ideal body size when you were little? Do your kids think about it now? How do you talk to them about what they look like?