Body Image and the Media: Understanding the Link

A teenage girl looks at her tablet and is unhappy with her body image

If your teen is like most, their days are filled with media and they are bombarded by images of beautiful women and men. They are subconsciously told what society thinks is attractive. For years, the media has set the standards on how men, and especially women, should look.

While there is no single cause of an eating disorder, the media contributes to an increased body dissatisfaction among teens and young adults. Body image is an important part of self-identity and self-esteem. Outside influences on body image will affect a person’s self-esteem. This could promote an eating disorder because a teenager may try to control their body in order to feel acceptable.

The Media’s Negative Contributions to Body Image

In our media-saturated world, parents are not able to control the message their child sees. In fact, 8- to 18-year-olds are engaged with some type of media for 7.5 hours a day. The media is contributing to teens’ body image ideals through several ways:

– It’s constant use of women wearing little or very tight clothing.
– Showing men who are extremely muscular.
– Using models who are encouraged to stay at an unhealthy weight.
– Airbrushed images of women that are actually unattainable.

Social Media and Negative Body Image

Social media is another way teens and adolescents are forced to see how society views attractiveness.

  • Comments on a social media post might talk about how beautiful a thin and pretty woman looks.
  • Celebrities or other people are often ridiculed publicly for gaining weight.

Distract from the Media Noise

Even though you cannot control what the media is showing, there are ways to counteract it’s influence over your child.

  1. Emphasize things that are good for your family such as healthy food, fitness equipment and workout memberships.
  2. Give compliments to your teens often and stop any negative talk.
  3. Surround your child with people who have healthy relationships with their bodies.
  4. Have him/her stay off the scale and don’t focus on numbers.
  5. Encourage physical activity and put an emphasis on being strong, not thin.

What to Watch For

While it’s not the main cause, media images can contribute to an eating disorder. It can be more serious for children because adults can see these images as unrealistic. Warning signs of an eating disorder include:

– Changes in eating patterns
– Going to the bathroom after meals
– Consuming large amounts of food
– Excessive exercise

If your teen is showing any of these symptoms don’t hesitate to get help right away. An individualized treatment program in an eating disorder treatment facility can be a safe place for your child to recover away from outside influences. Contact us today to learn more about our eating disorder treatment programs in California, and how to get your child the help he or she needs.