February is Body Image Awareness month. For many of us, learning to love and appreciate our bodies is a daily struggle. Body image has always been something both men and women struggle with, but social media has shaped our society’s beauty standards and in some ways, amplified our insecurities. Since your child’s body image feeds into their self-esteem, they must work on instilling a healthy mindset from a young age.
Studies show that children begin developing body image issues as young as 3 years old. If this is the case, it can feel like their whole life is spent doing damage control, working to embrace their body and its abilities. Encouraging a strong sense of body confidence in your child will benefit them far into the future and hopefully, they will influence those around them to do the same.
Let’s start by talking about the overall effect social media can have on your child’s body image. In a study conducted by Florida House Experience, 87% of women and 65% of men compare their bodies to the content they see on social media. Your child may be comparing themselves to celebrities, influencers or people they know personally. Before social media, famous icons were setting societal beauty standards in magazines and on tv, but now we spend our entire day scrolling through photos and videos of these trendsetters, overthinking every aspect of our physical appearance. As much as we may wish, it isn’t easy to just turn off these insecurities and wake up one morning feeling 100% confident in the way we look. It requires work and a support system of people who want what is best for you.
Social media has become a place that promotes something known as diet culture. If you don't know what that means, diet culture is the belief that one’s weight, shape and physical size trumps their overall well-being. What can appear harmless to some can be very triggering for others. Every few months there is a new trend everyone is obsessed with, whether it is the keto diet, juice cleanses, detox teas or intermittent fasting, they all promote and guarantee drastic weight loss which equals happiness, right?! You don’t need to be a dietitian to know that everyone’s body is different and these types of diets will affect people differently. It brainwashes us into believing we need to be on these diets to meet societal beauty standards and feel accepted. In turn, people are forming unhealthy eating habits as they desperately try to change their physical appearance to fit this mold and lifestyle.
This has also created a pressure to always present ourselves without flaws, from the perfect angle, in the perfect outfit. People are spending hours making sure that their photos are analyzed and edited to perfection. Apps like Facetune and Photoshop have made it easy for the average person to edit their photos until they look exactly how they want. Whether they are smoothing out their skin, whitening their teeth or morphing their body, they are creating an unhealthy and toxic online environment for themselves and others. Not to mention, it is detrimental to their mental health and will have lasting effects on their self-esteem.
When your child has a negative body image, they feel shame, anxiety and self-consciousness about their physical appearance. They are constantly thinking of all the things they wish to change about themselves and it begins to weigh heavily on their self-esteem. In many instances, a negative body image leads to the development of eating disorders. Eating disorders are the second deadliest mental illness affecting at least 9% of the population. It is not uncommon for eating disorders to go undiagnosed and untreated. If you’ve ever struggled with eating disorders or know someone who has, you understand the long uphill battle that comes along with it.
Here are some general eating disorder warning signs you can look out for:
Social media has gotten to a place where so many users are feeling its negative effects on their body image that they have started a body positivity movement. There are now groups of influencers who actively post about body inclusivity and diversity. They want their followers to know that stomach rolls, stretch marks, acne, body hair and other “imperfections” are the things that make us all unique and beautiful. This movement has a long way to go, but it is reassuring to know that there are people out there working to create an accepting and confidence-boosting online environment.
The health and safety of your child will always be a priority and focusing on the love they have for their body is just a part of it. The way social media makes your child feel is a reflection of their self-esteem in the real world. Yes, social media can send them spiraling down, but if they have a strong foundation and feel comfortable in their own skin, they will be able to combat these negative effects. Encourage your child to have a body positive online community that teaches them to see the value and beauty in all types of bodies. Who knows, maybe they will become a positive influence for someone who is struggling with their own body image. Do some research and find accounts that you feel promote a healthy body image for you and your child to follow!
If you or someone you know needs confidential support, contact the National Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders (NCEED) by texting NEDA to 741741. NCEED is a center dedicated to identifying, treating and supporting the recovery of those with eating disorders.