Are you worried about your child having an unrealistic or unhealthy view of their bodies? In our special blog we look at what ‘body image’ means and look at some ways to deal with negative attitudes.
What do we mean when we use the term ‘body image’? ‘Body image’ is widely recognised as the way we think our body looks to others. This could be the size of our figure, our facial features, our hair, basically any part of our body.
Unrealistic images in the media
Whoever we are, whatever our ages or sex, the media presents us with a perfection that can be unrealistic and unachievable to most people. Have you ever heard the saying “the camera adds ten pounds”? That’s not so true today! Before they are published in magazines or on the Internet, clever computer programmes often tweak photos. The programmes can airbrush skin to look unblemished by spots or stretch marks or change someone’s figure to drop a few pounds.
The problem is that we often judge ourselves harshly against the unrealistic standards set by the media. But what impact is this having on our children? Not only do they have to go through the difficulties of puberty, growing up and school life, but they are also over exposed to these images of perfection. This may make them feel confused or inadequate when they compare themselves.
Negative Body Image
Negative feelings about the way that you think your body looks is what we might call ‘negative body image’. Suffering with negative body image has been linked to other unhealthy behaviours such as eating disorders, self harm, a lack of self esteem, social isolation and in some case the misuse of body altering drugs such as Steroids. If you’re concerned that someone might be suffering with an eating disorder check out our article Eating Disorders and How to Help on the FamilyPoint website.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Negative body image can also have an impact on mental health. It has been linked to conditions such as depression, anxiety and self-harm. There has been a lot of talk recently about Body Dysmorphia.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD is an anxiety condition that leads to a person having a distorted view of their appearance. It can have a massive impact on that individual’s life and can lead to obsessive/compulsive behaviours.
NHS direct (2017) predicts that 1 in 100 people in the UK suffer with BDD and that this figure could be more, as it is easy to hide. The NHS direct website has more information about the condition.
All the conditions listed above, including BDD, are serious mental health concerns. As a parent, if you are worried that your child could be suffering with any of these, you should talk to your GP. If you’re unsure whether to do this Young Minds can help. They have a free helpline for parents to talk about mental health issues on 08088025544
Tackling Negative Body Image
Talk about it
Talking is a good place to start. Schools are talking about body image more and more and a new education law will ensure that this subject is on the curriculum. But it is also important to talk about it at home. You can’t shield your children away from the airbrushed, unrealistic images in the media. Instead you should try and be open about it and discuss what they are seeing to make them more aware.
You should praise your children’s achievements and their good qualities. This will build their confidence and make them realise that it is what they do that matters, and not how they look. Make a point of introducing them to people in the media who are praised for their achievements and qualities rather than their looks. This will remove focus from the superficial.
Encourage a healthy lifestyle through sporting activities and other extra-curricular activities. This may be a good way to increase your child’s confidence and allow them to get to know their body in a positive way.
Set a good example
When we get together with a group of friends, we’re all guilty of talking about the latest fashion fails in the well-known gossip magazines. But think how this could encourage your child to think it’s ok to judge someone on their looks. You could try and set an example by encouraging them to see the positives a person has to offer, and not on the way they look. This might stop them from judging themselves in this way too.
Explain the reality of perfection
Explain to them what airbrushing is and why it’s used. It’s important that they’re aware that the original picture may differ from the published picture. It might be worth explaining that airbrushing is not just used to cover spots. It is also used to lengthen limbs, enlarge certain features etc. Have a look on YouTube for videos (like the one below) showing how a magazine picture is created; it may help to reinforce your message.
Resources to help
- Dove – There are lots of tips on the Dove website about how to reinforce a positive body image. They have set up the Self Esteem Project that aims to promote a healthy approach to the way we look at our bodies. The website provides free resources for parents, teachers and young people.
- Be Real Campaign – Another great resource is the Be Real Campaign that works with beauty companies and the government to promote body confidence. There are lots of good resources and activities, and it also has a page for parents.
- FamilyPoint.cymru Helpline – If you have any concerns about someone you care about and want some more information get in touch with the FamilyPoint helpline. Our advisors can talk to you and transfer you to services that can help. The helpline is open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday.