Many of the studies regarding children's acquisition of prevailing cultural concepts of physical attractiveness are flawed by small and unrepresentative samples, measurement instruments of questionable reliability and validity, and experimental designs that do not protect against bias. Additional studies in which these methodologic flaws are overcome must be carried out if we are to understand truly when and how cultural concepts of beauty are acquired. Nevertheless, the majority of the studies already done find that children acquire prevailing cultural values of beauty before adolescence and that thinness is desirable to girls considerably before puberty. It is suggested that the etiology of eating disorders and the reasons for their increasing prevalence will not be discovered by studying only clinical cases. We propose that those interested in this important health problem study children before adolescence in an attempt to learn how preoccupation with weight begins and why thinness is believed to be attractive. Once these are understood, a greater challenge will be the development and testing of interventions—be they in the schools or using the media—which can effectively prevent this public health problem. When culture and biology clash, people may suffer.
- Received October 30, 1986.
- Accepted March 11, 1987.
- Copyright © 1988 by the American Academy of Pediatrics