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Negative Body Image: How It Effects Children and Teens

Updated on June 8, 2016
Pretty Woman, Makeup, Mirror, Glamour
Pretty Woman, Makeup, Mirror, Glamour | Source

Stop the Negativity: How Parents Can Change the Course

Love Your Body: Oh Come It’s Easy!

You should love your body. A not so simple task for someone like me. It has taken me 27 years seven months, and 163 days to realize that my negative self image is mine and mine only. What I see in the mirror is NOT what others may see. But why is this concept so hard for me to understand? Growing up I was not told I was beautiful. I remember being told I looked “nice”, never pretty, let alone beautiful. You had to really do something incredible in my home that warranted a compliment such as, “great job”, “awesome”, or “I’m so proud of you”. My sisters and I traveled through life not expecting a lot of praise, but when it did come, it fell short of what we expected. My parents tended to be critical of most of the things my sisters and I accomplished. If we were thin we we were considered normal. If we gained weight we were seen as lazy, fat, or unmotivated. Never did my parents compliment their girls positively on their body image. No, my parents honed in on the baby fat, jiggly tummies, and pudgy cheeks. It’s not hard to see that most of my negative body issues I hold stem from my childhood. As I grew older my negative body image intensified as the scale creeped further up. With each year that passed, mirrors were actively avoided, and outfit changes during the day intensified in frequency. I fixated on every blemish I had and every extra pound felt like a ten ton brick. But why do I suffer through life craving foods I know I should not have, eating them anyway, and then spending the next three days feeling guilty? Motivation to change is so much harder when you're stuck in the merry-go-round of emotions that always result in a McDonald’s run and a pint of ice cream. This way of life began somewhere, and all signs point to my childhood.

The Norm For Most Women: Childhood In A Nutshell

Negative body image can manifest in girls as young as five. Five years old to most would be considered too young to have the self awareness of body image, whether positive or negative. Yet in truth, children develop their body image alongside their growing bodies. Even infants in some facit have a sense of body self awareness (Slaughter & Bronwell, 2013). The media, as many studies have cited, plays a central role in how young girls perceive their body image, dictating how they will develop and enter puberty. The portrayal of women as being slender, fit, with perfect skin and breasts has children quickly believing these images are ideal and correct. If the average teenager is exposed to roughly 180 minutes of media daily, and only 10 minutes of parental interaction (Hobbs, 2006), it is not hard to see why girls in particular grow up with low self-esteem and eventual eating disorders. Is the media all to blame, or do parents, mothers in particular, play a crucial role in the self esteem and positive body image their children hold? If children grow up watching their mother have a negative body image of herself, this generally leads these children to identify themselves in negative connotations, thus developing a cyclical dynamic between mothers and daughters and the negative effects body image has on all females (Wallace, 2015).

A Mother’s Role In Her Daughter’s Negative Body Image

Many mothers unintentionally send their daughters messages that translate to lack of self worth or unattractiveness by voicing negativity about their own self image in front of their children. “I hate this dress on me” or “why can’t I just lose these last 10 pounds?”, are comments that tend to leave children feeling as though their own bodies are flawed and need to be changed. When a mother vocalizes these insecurities in front of her children, she is in a way, portraying that being overweight, or not looking as perfect as possible is a fault her children need to change about themselves. If mother’s became aware of their impact on their children, daughters in particular, their self-image may in turn lead to learning self love techniques for themselves that could allow them to overcome their own long lasting negative self image tendencies.

What Can Parents Start To Do?

So what can parents do to combat these negative feelings their children may have about their self image? Pay attention to the issues! This school of thought encourages parents to think about body image and health in different terms by teaching their children to reflect on body image positively. This can be achieved simple as parents saying phrases such as “when I eat fruits and veggies my body feels more energetic” vs. “when I eat pizza and fries my body feels bloated, fat, and tired”. Using this approach, parents can hone in on how they personally feel when they eat healthy rather than how they look, or how many pounds they’ve lost. This will ultimately help children think about how they view themselves, how they feel when they choose a healthy diet, and their control over this outcome. This will all lead to a more positive body image for yourself and child.

Can We Prevent These Perceptions From Forming?: No But This Will Help….

Although parents cannot stop their children from experiencing the negative influences of the media, they can have control the frequency of these messages. Setting time limits, and choosing the programs their children view will help to combat the amount of negative exposure the media plays on their children’s self image. Creating more family time will also battle against the negativity their children experience on a daily basis either at school, while watching television, or surfing the net. Family time can be established easily by requiring a family dinner night once a week where the family shares a meal free of any media distractions. Even if parents cannot be home at the same time each night to create family dinner time, they can strive to accomplish this at least one to two times per week. Checking in with their children at least once a day, either on the drive to school, or while their child gets ready for bed can be useful times for parents to reconnect with their children. Parents should ask questions about how their child is feeling each day, or have them provide one example of a positive thing that happened to them that day. School can contribute to an insurmountable amount of stress for a child or teen with the outcome of a tense home environment. Establishing family time either with dinner together once a week, or some form of family one on one time at least once a night, can help ease this school stress and allow children to heal from the turmoil the day may bring.



Cut the Cord: Devote More Time to Family



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