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In kindergarten, children are learning to tie their shoes, count to 10 and play nice on the monkey bars. According to a new study that will make the parents of daughters cringe, the girls are also thinking about looking "sexy" – or at least aspiring to it.

In a new U.S. study published online in the July edition of the journal Sex Roles, researchers sat down with 60 girls from ages 6 to 9. The girls were shown two dolls – one dressed tight and revealing clothes, the other doll wearing a trendy, but much more covered-up outfit. The psychologists, from Knox College in Illinois, asked the girls a series of questions, among them: which doll represented their "ideal," which one they wanted to look like and which doll represented someone they would want to be friends with.

The girls chose the sexy doll most often, MSNBC reports. Researcher were surprised that even the youngest girls in the study selected the doll in the "sexy" clothes. "It's very possible that girls want to look like the sexy doll because they believed sexiness leads to popularity, which comes with many social advantages," lead researcher Christy Starr told MSNBC.

It shouldn't be a surprise that girls are getting the message at even younger ages. Another study, cited by MSNBC, found that 30 per cent of girls' clothing had a "sexualized" component to them, and you only have to go to a public swimming pool these days to see little girls in bikinis.

Pop culture was also a factor in the doll study: Girls who watched more television were more likely to choose the "sexy" doll. But mothers clearly had an impact: Girls who watched more TV but had religious moms, who the researchers theorized were more likely to emphasize modesty, chose the sexy doll less often.

The link between body image and self-esteem is well-documents: Girls who are more likely to absorb the message that popularity is linked to sexiness are also more likely to express shame and anxiety about their bodies.

As the researcher at Knox College point out, the desire to be popular is universal no matter what gender you are. But unlike boys, girls' idea of popularity appears to be closely linked being sexy and knowing it.