Body image in the selfie age

From Instagram models to picture-perfect Snaps, images of perfection are all around us. It’s always been difficult for teens to maintain a healthy body image, but how can they overcome the challenges in today’s selfie world?

Let’s face it: being a teen is hard, no matter what decade you hit your teenage years. We all face uncertainties during adolescence as we grow into the adult versions of ourselves. For most of us, it takes years to develop confidence in who we are and how we look.

Now, add selfies, photoshopping and social media to the equation and the teen years become even more challenging.

How to help your child develop a healthy body image

Today’s world presents our kids with all sorts of images that aren’t realistic. That’s why it’s especially important for parents today to help promote a healthy body image in their kids. John Heise, MD, Adolescent Medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, has a few suggestions on how parents can help.

  1. Start building a healthy body image early. Creating a healthy body image for your child begins when he or she is little, and parents can help support their kids at every stage of childhood and adolescence. Teach your kids about their bodies as well as how to take care of them, encourage physical activity and proper diet, and be active with your kids. Make sure you show your kids that you’re proud of who they are and that your love is not based on their appearance.
  2. Be a role model. Do you find yourself looking in the mirror and disparaging what you look like? Or voicing your frustration over not fitting into last year’s jeans? Your child is probably listening. One of the best ways to promote a healthy body image in your child is to have and project a healthy body image yourself. Learn to truly love the skin you’re in and accept yourself for who you are and how you look – “imperfections” and all.
  3. Talk about society’s view of perfection. This is an important one. Talk with your kids about the images of “perfection” promoted in television, advertisements, social media and other forms of media. Seek out sources that show the reality behind some of those popular Instagram or magazine images . They’re often filtered and even photoshopped. Emphasize that what is shown online most often isn’t real life, and no one should judge themselves based on what they see in those images.
  4. Talk about selfies and social media in general. Did you know that studies have found that selfies themselves can have a negative effect on body image? Spending time on social media and posting photos of ourselves can give us a heightened awareness of our appearance, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. This sensation often is connected with negative feelings about  physical appearance, particularly for teens. We aren’t suggesting that you rule out social media for your teen (or yourself), but it’s important to talk openly about the pros and the cons and have regular conversations about body image.
  5. Watch your words. The number of overweight and obese children and teens in the United States has been on the rise for years, so it’s well known that we could all stand to exercise more and watch what we eat. But it’s also important that parents watch how they talk with their kids about such issues . Stop using negative weight-based words both in reference to yourself and others. Instead of talking about weight loss, which is tied directly with body image, reframe your conversation to focus on healthy living. As a family, practice the basics of healthy living, including being active and eating a balanced diet.

When to talk with a doctor about body image

It seems all tweens and teens have some qualms about their bodies at one point or another. In most cases, that angst is normal. But when a negative body image or preoccupation with body image begins to impact daily life, it’s important to seek advice from your child’s doctor.

If your teen begins to withdraw from friends or normal activities, or if he or she experiences a dip in self-esteem and confidence, it’s a good idea to talk with the doctor. They can offer insight into steps you can take to help your child overcome the challenges and develop a healthier body image.

Dr. Heise specializes in adolescent medicine at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger. Think your teen could benefit from the expertise of an adolescent medicine specialist? Call (423) 778-6107.