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Media and Body Image

Perception vs. Reality: Dangerous Impact Upon Children and Teens

Body image is how you perceive your physical appearance – how you feel about how the way you look, and how you think others perceive you.

Those who have a poor body image perceive their body as being unattractive or even repulsive to others, while those with a good body image will see themselves as attractive to others, or will at least accept their body in its current form.

A major reason many people have a negative body image is because of the impact that media have had on our perception of body image.

Media and the “Perfect Body

Each day we are bombarded by the media each with all sorts of image-related messages about the “perfect body.

Ultra-thin models and actresses appear in ads on television and in movies. Even though media photos of many actresses and actors are airbrushed so they appear younger and thinner, many people see them as having achieved an ideal weight.

One study found that the average height and weight for a model is 5’10″ and 110 lbs., while the average height and weight for a woman is 5’4″ and 145 lbs. Considering that the average person sees approximately 3,000 ads and commercials daily, it’s no wonder that media have created a distorted ideal body image.

Impact of Media Upon Children and Teens

The rise of media consumption by children and teens has been dramatic given the growing availability of internet access through smart phones and laptops. On a typical day, 8 – 18 year old are engaged with some form of media about 7.5 hours.

Much of this media has messages emphasizing the importance of being attractive by being thin. This promotion of a “thin ideal” is at odds with the reality that we all come in all different shapes and sizes. and therefore unrealistic to represent only one body type as beautiful.

This collision of “perception and reality” exerts pressure and possibly contributes toward a growing level of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating amongst children and teens.

Important Role of Parents and Schools

Parents can help minimize the impact of media and have your children develop a healthy body image by:
  • Talking to them about the health risks of being thin.
  • Explaining how media images are altered and that the body image shown is not real.
  • Reading up on eating disorders and understanding the symptoms.
  • Limiting your children’s exposure to the body image portrayed by the media.
  • Discussing what a healthy, positive body image is.

Schools have a role in providing a supportive, safe and body image-friendly environment. Direct support for students about body image should be available, with a focus on building resilience towards negative body image messages, in a way that is appropriate for their age and sex.

Introducing an Important Educational and Prevention Resource for Teachers, Students and Parents

Walden Center’s School-Based Eating Disorders Prevention Program was designed to help students, parents and teachers better understand the issues related to poor body image, low self esteem, and disordered eating.

The program focuses on helping participants develop an understanding of what a healthy relationship with food and exercise looks like, while also strengthening behaviors and ideas that help build resiliency in the face of unrelenting social pressures (from both internal and external influences including media). Discussions, activities, small-group exercises and formal presentations are used to engage audiences.

A key component of the program is empowerment — helping kids and adults feel more confident and comfortable discussing and voicing their concerns about disordered eating behaviors (whether their own or someone else’s.

Our program can help your children and students better understand the impact of media on body image. It can also help them begin to develop a healthy relationship with food, exercise, self and peers.

If you are interested in scheduling a program at your school, please contact Kristin Brawn at KBrawn@WaldenBehavioralCare.com.