Body Image

When we talk about body image and teens in the media, there is no denying that the media can influence youth behavior. But how does the media affect youth and to what degree?

When we talk about the media…

  • The average American citizen is exposed to 32,000 advertisements a year. That includes youth.
  • Youth spend more time with media than they do in school or with their parents. The average adolescent spends the equivalent of a part-time job — or 6 to 7 hours a day — hooked up to or plugged in to some kind of media.

How does this affect teens?

A 1995 study by Harvard’s Dr. Anne Becker, studied Western television programs such as ER, Melrose Place and Xena: Warrior Princess in Fiji.

  • -5% Initially only 3% of girls had eating disorders.
  • -28% Three years later, eating disorders rose to 15%.

A surprising follow-up study reported 74% of Fijian girls felt “too fat or big” and 62% had dieted in the last month — surprising in a culture that typically upholds curvaceous women as beautiful.

  • -140% Of girls felt “too fat or big”
  • -117% Of girls had dieted in the last month

So what caused this change?

Media starts early…

Television and toys targeted to children under the age of 10 have taken serious hits from our culture of “perfect bodies”:

  • The body image of Merida, Disney’s heroine from its 2012 hit Brave was originally depicted as a strong, frizzy-haired 16-year-old with a passion for archery. However, prior to her official introduction to the Disney Princess Collection, pictures were unveiled depicting a much older looking and more sexualized character.
  • Originally release in 1964, G.I. Joe has gained a larger, more muscular frame in recent history.
  • The original Rainbow Brite, created in 1983, depicted a round-faced little girl between the ages of 6 and 10 in a rainbow-colored dress. The 2014 reboot of Rainbow Brite kept a similar outfit, but slenderized the character, making the character look more like a tween.

The modification of children’s toys and cartoons is only the beginning. In addition, with the rampant Photoshopping that occurs in magazines and on television, young people can have a difficult time conceptualizing what a “normal” body looks like.

Tips for Improving Body Image

To help instill a healthy, positive body image, the National Eating Disorders Organization created these tips:

  • Appreciate all that your body can do. Every day your body carries you closer to your dreams. Celebrate all of the amazing things your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, dreaming, etc.
  • Keep a top-10 list of things you like about yourself—things that aren’t related to how much you weigh or what you look like. Read your list often. Add to it as you become aware of more things to like about yourself.
  • Remind yourself that “true beauty” is not simply skin deep. When you feel good about yourself and who you are, you carry yourself with a sense of confidence.
  • Look at yourself as a whole person. When you see yourself in a mirror or in your mind, choose not to focus on specific body parts. See yourself as you want others to see you–as a whole person.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. It is easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you are around others who are supportive and who recognize the importance of liking yourself just as you naturally are.
  • Shut down those voices in your head that tell you your body is not “right” or that you are a “bad” person. You can overpower those negative thoughts with positive ones. The next time you start to tear yourself down, build yourself back up with a few quick affirmations that work for you.
  • Wear clothes that are comfortable and that make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.
  • Become a critical viewer of social and media messages. Pay attention to images, slogans, or attitudes that make you feel bad about yourself or your body. Protest these messages: write a letter to the advertiser or talk back to the image or message.
  • Do something nice for yourself–something that lets your body know you appreciate it.
  • Use the time and energy that you might have spent worrying about food, calories, and your weight to do something to help others. Sometimes reaching out to other people can help you feel better about yourself and can make a positive change in our world.

So what can we do?

  • Be conscious of the media’s influence. Just because celebrities have “perfect” bodies, does that mean you have to do the same?
  • Understand that everyone’s body is different and that health, not “perfection,” is what’s important.
  • We all have imperfections; they’re what make us unique!
  • If you are feeling stressed about your body, talk to an adult you trust. You are not alone in your thoughts and feelings about your body!
  • Keep it positive. The more positive you are about your body, the better you will feel!