Once kids reach their teen years, body image becomes closely related to self-esteem, so if kids do not feel good about their bodies, they may not feel confident about themselves. Having poor body image can also lead to depression, eating disorders, and even the desire for cosmetic procedures, all of which can damage health. Having positive body image leads to a feeling that inner beauty is more important than how one looks, which is necessary for teens to feel confident about themselves and their abilities. Although most people think of body image as a “girls’ issue,” more and more studies are showing that boys are affected as well.
Research indicates that when a young person does not feel like his or her body meets society’s image of perfection, he or she can have a difficult time developing a strong self-esteem. Where do young people learn about this ideal body? Through the media, of course!
Television and movies are media that show bodies in three dimensions, giving viewers a clear idea of what kinds of bodies are acceptable. Research has shown that soap operas and music videos in particular increase young people’s drive for thinness.
The Internet offers young people a chance to find information, both true and false, about how to improve their bodies. One dangerous new development is the phenomenon of pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites, which encourage young people to adopt unhealthy behaviors to lower their weight or increase their muscularity.
Magazines can be another source of media pressure. With the creation of “teen” versions of popular adult magazines such as Vogue, People, and Cosmopolitan, young people often read articles that claim to have miracle suggestions for how to “lose weight fast!” and “look years younger!”
Advertising, both on television and in print, is perhaps the most powerful medium for presenting unrealistic body types. Advertisers attract attention for their products by showcasing them with thin women and muscular men. With advanced techniques for retouching photographs, models’ bodies are often “improved” by computers, giving people an unrealistic sense of what bodies look like naturally.
The reality is that there are many different body types out there that are healthy, but they may not look like the media’s ideal. It is important for kids and teens to remember two things:
The Upside: Media Can Help Body Image
Just as media can give young people unhealthy role models to follow, media have the power to show what healthy bodies look like. For example, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty has focused on using real women, with real beauty and real flaws, for their print and television ads. They have also used the Internet to pass along two powerful 60-second videos.
Fortunately, more and more companies are creating ads that show many different kinds of bodies, including older women, athletes, non-white women, average-size and plus-size women.
See other positive advertising:
Research on Media and Body Image
Below are five selected studies on media and body image.
To search for other studies on media and body image in the CMCH Database of Research, click here
What Parents Can Do
Take a look at the media your kids use. Look for models who are air-brushed and touched up, unrealistic body images, and unbelievable promises (get bigger breasts through creams, create six-pack abs in 3 days, etc). Talk to your teens about these messages, and ask them what they think about how realistic they are.
If your child does not feel good about his or her body, start a family resolution to eat better and get more exercise. This is the only way to achieve a healthy body, and it will be beneficial for the whole family.
Get your kids involved in activities that make them feel good about themselves and their talents. Whether these activities include art, sports, dance, or music, kids should be in an environment where their talents are encouraged to develop in healthy ways.
Encouraging healthy body image from Kids' Health
Tweens, teens, and magazines from the Kaiser Family Foundation
Educate kids about advertising from the Media Awareness Network
For kids and teens:
Body image and self-esteem from TeensHealth
A guy's guide to body image from TeensHealth
CMCH is supported in part by the American Legion Child Welfare Foundation, Comcast, Google, The Stuart Family Foundation, Harvard Pilgrimh Health Care, The Norlien Foundation, Cisco, and other generous donors.