Children, body image and the media

Many children are worried about body image. It isn’t just about how we look. It is also related to body confidence, self-worth, and well-being issues. 

Social media networks such as TikTok and Instagram promote the idea that there are popular and unpopular ways to look. Every day, young people are exposed to damaging posts on their feeds.

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Negativity with body images

boy looking in bathroom mirror

What is negative body image?

Body image is about how you see yourself and how you think others perceive you. A negative body image is when you struggle with how you look, perhaps because of the media or people you hang out with.

As children grow up, they learn who they are and what they want to be. Having a negative body image can lead to low confidence and self-esteem, which can be extremely damaging in the long run.

These feelings limit a child’s aspirations in school, lead to eating disorders and self-harm. The NHS has reported a rise in the number of teenage girls being admitted to hospital for eating disorders. In just six years, admissions for anorexia in young people has nearly doubled in the UK.

Where does the media come in?

Whether it’s a slim, toned body for girls or tall and muscly for boys, the media are guilty of creating a ‘norm’ for what attractiveness is. Many young people judge themselves – and others – against these fictional standards, building pressure to be perfect.

A report showed nearly half of girls agreed that seeing thin models in adverts made them want to diet or lose weight. Over a third said that seeing airbrushed models in adverts made them want to look like those models.

What can we do to end body image negativity?

The controversial ‘beach-body ready’ campaign directly targets individuals to ‘make them feel physically inferior to the unrealistic body image of the bronzed model, in order to sell their product’.

It was also reported that adverts for cosmetic surgery aired during ITV’s most-watched programme ever, Love Island, contributed to a rising mental health crisis in young people.

I wish I was that skinny and that tall

What can be done about negative body image and the media?

Unlike previous generations, children today have to also deal with the pressures of social media. There is no hiding from it. Young people must actively challenge what they see.

We all have a part to play in educating young people about unrealistic body images. We can point out airbrushed images and make sure young people know that adverts are often false portrayals of everyday life.

Young people can also be encouraged to draw their self-worth from places beyond their looks. With more positive role models, hobbies, and guidance, the media will have less power to shape how children value themselves.