Video games linked to negative body image in young girls

Spanish researchers have linked video game play to body dissatisfaction in young girls, suggesting the portrayal of female video game characters could be a contributing factor. 

The researchers studied screen media use and body image satisfaction in 792 children aged under 10 from schools across Barcelona, Madrid and Seville, publishing their findings in the Mediterranean Journal of Communication.

They surveyed participants in grades 1, 2 and 3 about what screen media they used and asked a range of body image questions such as ‘how much do you like your … [body part]?’

While no negative effects were identified correlating television use with body image, the study did identify an association between girls’ video game use and negative perceptions of body image including body, eyes and skin colour.

There are a range of factors which influence children’s body satisfaction. While family and peers are the most influential, other factors such as media consumption are identified as contributing to lower levels of body self-esteem.

The researchers suggested a number of possible reasons for the results, although they noted that further research was needed.

In general, body-shape pressure tends to affect girls more than boys. The researchers note video games may have a greater impact because of the interactive element and the need to pay closer attention.

Author Dr J. Roberto Sánchez-Reina says media – including games – normalise the body standard of “beauty is white, thin and feminine”. And despite more female characters appearing in lead roles, many still conform to these body standards.

Playing video games is a common pastime for children and adults alike. 

Cosmos recently reported on Australian research showing 67% of households with children aged under 8 years old had at least one gaming device.

In Australia, 82% of children aged 5-14 play video games, averaging 106 minutes per day, annual research commissioned by the local video games industry shows.

Players are split relatively evenly between women (46%) and men (53%), and adults surveyed strongly agree with the need for more diverse representation in games. 

While the video games industry had improved the gender diversity of playable characters over time, female characters are rarely depicted with large body types and are more likely to be sexualised than male characters.

Research into diversity in video games by the Geena Davis Institute found only 1.5% of characters in them have a large body type, and nine in ten of those characters are male.

The study also found female characters only make up about 28% of lead roles, but are ten times more likely than male characters to be depicted in revealing clothing, and five times more likely to include nudity.

The Institute recommended the games industry stop sexualising female characters and create more diverse playable characters which better reflect the broader population.

For parents they suggested calling out harmful stereotypes in games, and identifying positive role models.

Body image remains a top personal concern for young people in Australia. Cosmos recently reported on a global review of research published in PLOS Global Public Health identifing key risk factors for negative body image and disordered eating as female gender, high body-mass-index and pre-existing body image concerns.

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The low representation of playable female characters in video games broadly reflects the representation of women in the video games industry.

In Australia, of more than 2,000 employees in the industry, 75% are male, 21% female, and 4% transgender, non-binary or gender diverse. Globally, 22% of the video game workforce is female.

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