Aim. This study aimed to explore the role of peer influences in the development of body dissatisfaction and dieting awareness in young girls.
Method. A sample of 81 girls (aged 5–8 years) were recruited from the first 3 years of formal schooling. Girls were individually interviewed. Body dissatisfaction was assessed by means of figure rating preferences, and dieting awareness by responses to a brief scenario. A number of sources of peer influence were also assessed.
Results. Year 2 girls were found to display significantly greater body dissatisfaction than younger girls. All girls, irrespective of age, preferred a similar thin ideal figure. Year level constituted the only significant predictor of dieting awareness, with older girls demonstrating a greater understanding of dieting than younger girls. Importantly, girls' perception of their peers' body dissatisfaction emerged as the strongest predictor of their own level of body dissatisfaction.
Conclusions. Body dissatisfaction in girls first emerges during the junior primary school years, between ages 5 and 7 years, and appears to be a function of shared peer norms for thinness.