One of the leading health and fitness magazines in the U.S. Shape, has been put into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

The women’s fitness magazine posted a picture on Instagram of young girls who appear to be no older than 10 years old, decked out in stylish active wear, exercising at a gym.

The two girls are wearing cross-backed bra tops and gym tights.

READ MORE: Keeping fit: how to do the right exercise for your age

In the picture, one girl has her feet strapped into the ergo straps, while the other appears to be preparing for a floor workout. 

The picture has caused some division among Instagram users, with critics arguing that the image is promoting a negative self-image in young girls, making them worry about “perfecting” their bodies when they should be having fun in the playground.

Gym, fitness, exercise, fitness, girls

One woman comments that she has a problem with the picture because she does not believe pre-school girls should be “bombarded” with the fitness gospel.

“The ‘cuteness’ factor you were going for was missed for me as all I see are two toddlers in sexualised gym wear, working out on machines they are not old enough to be on,” she says.

Her message is echoed by another Instagram user who wrote, “This is a great illustration of how young we start girls on the ‘you must be perfect’ juice [sic].” 

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Other social media users say they are "disturbed" by the retailer (Bonds) of the child-sized gym bras, asking why they do not keep their bras age appropriate, instead of trying to turn young girls into “mini-adults”.

One reader comments: “Not a fan of little girls in sports bras like this… why do they need bras??” and another agrees: “I cannot handle the child-sized sports bras or anything else about this photo. It’s just…off."

However, some health enthusiasts thought the girls looked adorable;

"How fricken cute", "love this" and "omg so sweet," they gush.

Other Instagrammers were tagging their workout buddies, arguing that there's nothing wrong with the gym picture. Responding to the criticism, one woman writes:

“Kids love to exercise and they want to do the things they see adults doing so let’s capture that curiosity while they are young and help this next generation of kids hear the message that fitness is not only about cute outfits but something every person should actively pursue for enhancing quality of life.” 

READ MORE: How to create your own home gym

Another added that the post is merely "an innocent picture where children are possibly learning the importance of exercise. It’s never too early to learn about health and to care for your body.” 

But what do the experts think?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the United Kingdom’s National Health Service recommends that children from the age of six engage in one hour of physical activity every day to enhance their growth and development.

“Girls that young should not be subjected to strenuous exercises or talks about working out for flat tummies and weight loss. That will definitely have a negative impact on their mental health and self-esteem.

“Their exercise should come mainly from activities they enjoy the most, like sports or play-time at the park with friends,” says psychologist Jaco Van Zyl.

Certified strength and conditioning specialist Brett Klika who spoke to SELF agrees, noting that there's no need for rules and structure when it comes to physical activity for youngsters. 

"From birth to about five or six years old, merely make exercise play," he said, recommending the use child-friendly exercise equipment like balls and hula hoops.

The magazine has since deleted the controversial Instagram post.

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