September 1, 2020 / By thadmin2
Body image is the way an individual thinks or feels about their body and it is often affected by how their body is perceived by their family, friends, social pressures and the media. Having a healthy body image is something that many of us struggle with. Research has found that 1 in 2 Singaporean teens believes he or she is “too fat”, 8 in 10 want to “change the way they look”, and 1 in 5 would “consider plastic surgery”. Male or female, young or old, we all feel moments of insecurity about our bodies.
Research has shown that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders. Eating disorders also pose the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. For women aged 15 to 24, the mortality rate of anorexia, a type of eating disorder, is 12 times higher than any other cause of death. Moreover, those who survive usually have to live with serious medical conditions, including kidney dysfunction, changes in brain structure, osteoporosis and extreme muscle weakness, including weakness of the heart muscle.
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders notes that 95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25 and only 10% seek professional help. This finding means that youths and adolescents undergoing puberty are most at-risk to develop an unhealthy body image. This unhealthy body image can significantly lower one’s confidence and lead to early sexual activity, increases substance use and even suicidal thoughts. An unhealthy body image is a huge risk factor for many mental health concerns so it is important to understand how it develops to prevent it from escalating.
What causes body image concerns?
Different experiences and different environments can affect our individual body image differently. However, there is strong research to suggest body image is affected by:
- Our relationships with our family and friends
- How our family and peers feel and speak about bodies and appearance
- Exposure to images of idealised or unrealistic bodies through media or social media
- Pressure to look a certain way or to match an ‘ideal’ body type
These causes can manifest in many different aspects of life. For instance, the media constantly exposures young children to unrealistic standards of beauty whether it is on television or in print media. Headlines in the media are constantly touting the newest weight loss trick or highlighting women and men for their looks and weight. One example of this is the highly successful Barbie toy introduced in 1959 of a girl with long, blond hair, a very thin waistline and long, slender arms and legs. And this is just one example of a toy that a whole generation of children grew up playing with.
What can YOU do?
To help your child develop a healthy body image, here are some recommendations:
- Lead By Example
As a parent, it is important to lead by example and teach your child body positivity through your own actions. Most times, parents are the most influential person in a child’s early developmental stages and if you have a healthy body image, it is likely they will learn that from you. Eating healthy meals, exercising regularly and avoiding dieting are some key behaviours that your child can model after you. It can also be beneficial to avoid labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ since assigning moral values to food can create an unhealthy relationship with food and increase feelings of guilt or shame associated with eating certain foods.
- Adopt Body Neutrality
Be aware of negative body image talk around your children about your own body or the body of other people. By modelling a healthy acceptance of all body types, it conveys the message to your child that they should accept and treasure their body no matter what it looks like. Although it is fair for all of us to feel some form of unhappiness with our bodies at some point, it is important to avoid sharing these thoughts with your children as it might affect how they think of their own bodies. This will instill in them that their value and worth is not rooted in their physical appearance. Instead, it will remind them that beauty is skin deep.
- View Social Media Through A Critical Lens
Oftentimes, messages in the media are misleading in depicting airbrushed or photoshopped images as real life conditions. Encourage your child to be media savvy and use discretion when watching television or using social media. The increased use of filters also further distort young children’s view of life. An influencer who seemingly leads a perfect life online also faces challenges and struggles offline like any other person. Social media should always be taken with a pinch of salt because it is a small section of one’s life that the user has chosen to make public. The media has a narrow ideal of beauty and attractiveness and it is important to remind children that there is more to life than what’s on the surface.
- Practice Health-Focused Self-Care
Self care involves activities one does to feel good about themselves. Wearing or buying clothes that make you feel good in your body is one example of self care. Refrain from buying or keeping clothes that do not fit you with the hope that one day you will fit into them again. Instead, celebrate the body you already have. Your self care can also be health-focused. This would mean showing respect for your body in various ways. This could come in the form of exercising to feel strong and energised instead of exercising to reach a certain goal weight reflected on a scale. These little tweaks to your mindset and behaviour could have an extensive, positive impact on your child.
If you find that your child is struggling with an unhealthy body image and is at high risk of developing an eating disorder or have other mental health concerns, do not hesitate to seek help. Here at Thrive Psychology clinic, we offer various services that can target common problems found in today’s children and youth. Our goal is to get an accurate read on your child’s experiences so that we can put together a comprehensive treatment plan that targets their unique needs. We are committed to helping children and adolescents thrive. If you would like to find out more about behavioural treatments or would like to arrange for a consultation, do contact us and we would be happy to assist you!
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10 Steps to Positive Body Image. (2018, February 22). Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/ten-steps
Body image report – Executive Summary. (2020, August 06). Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/body-image-report/exec-summary
Department of Health & Human Services. (2020, August 10). Body image – tips for parents. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/body-image-tips-for-parents
Voelker, D., Reel, J., & Greenleaf, C. (2015, August 25). Weight status and body image perceptions in adolescents: Current perspectives. Retrieved August 28, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4554432/
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