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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. Every day, young people are exposed to damaging posts on their social media feeds. Some ignore them, some fight back, some become consumed with this idea that there are popular and unpopular ways to look.


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 stereotypes in 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. In recent years, the number of young people needing mental health support his risen. And the NHS has reported a rise in the number of teenage girls being admitted to hospital for eating disorders.

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.

Our well-being work with children frequently shows that 'being good-looking' is the most important thing for both girls and boys. Shows like Love Island have been blamed for promoting these ideas of the perfect man or woman. In fact, in recent years, young boys have become more concerned with how they look. Could toxic masculinity be to blame?


The light in your eyes

What can we do to end body image negativity?

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 I wish I was that skinny and that tall

two girls blowing chewing gum bubbles outside in sun

The state of children's well-being

As well as battling expectations about body image, young people are also contenting with pressures at school, unhealthy friendships and uncertainty about the future. Our Good Childhood Report shines a light on young people's well-being.

Airbrushed realities

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.