Over the last few decades, an unhealthy and excessive preoccupation with body image among teens has become serious issue. 10 year olds refusing food because they want to diet, viewing their peers only in terms of physical appearance, frequently commenting on other people’s weight, falling into depression because they don’t look the way they want to – these are all behavior examples that today’s children are suffering from negative body image more than ever before.
Why children develop negative body image?
Children learn by mimicking the world around them – their parents, friends, teachers, etc. Teenagers are especially vulnerable of developing a negative body image, since their bodies are changing and it’s usually a very confusing time for them both physically and psychologically. They search for their own identity by identifying with others.
In our era of media and advertisement, it’s estimated a child watches an average of 40,000 advertisements a year. It’s no wonder teenagers have lower body confidence than ever before. According to National Eating Disorder Association – 40 to 60 percent of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight and looking fat. Although girls are traditionally more concerned about their appearance, boys also worry about their looks. Boys are now more interested in their looks than boys from previous generations – they want to be tall, develop muscles, and don’t want to be overweight.
Teasing, bullying, peer pressure, and a lack of self confidence are typical factors strengthening a teenager’s desire to look certain way.
Is negative body image dangerous?
While an adolescent’s body changes, it’s easy to be dissatisfied with it when bombarded by the media of images of perfect models, if their parents are not building a healthy body image, and if their peers judge them for their looks. To certain extent this is quite normal, but the problems begin when children are stuck on the negatives. If they aren’t encouraged and assisted to overcome it, the consequences can be serious.
Children who are chronically unsatisfied with how they look are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, or low self esteem later in life. More importantly, kids who suffer from negative body image can develop anorexia and bulimia – severe eating disorders. These disorders are hard to treat and can be fatal. The best way to fight them is with prevention.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental disorder that often starts with negative body image. It’s a preoccupation with an imagined physical defect or the exaggeration of a minimal defect. It can severely decrease one’s quality of life and co-occur with depression, social phobia, alcoholism, drugs, and suicidal ideations. This disorder can affect children, but can also develop later in people who grew up feeling negative about how they look. People suffering from BDD are known to use various cosmetic and surgical procedures before they finally seek psychological help.
Prevention of negative body image
Setting a good example is a key step for building a healthy body image from early age. If parents are preoccupied with dieting and weight loss, kids are more likely to also pick up the habit. Encouraging a healthy diet, exercise and physical activity, as well as helping children understand that an ideal body shape doesn’t exist while helping them appreciate personalities over physical appearance are great ways to add to the physical and psychological well-being of your family.