The summer is supposed to be a ‘carefree’ time of year, but the truth is, for many kids, it is a time of anxiety and self-consciousness. No longer can they ‘hide’ behind the bulky clothes of winter…summer wardrobes are much more merciless. We don’t like to believe that our children are spending their youth worrying about how they look in shorts, but the reality is that this sort of body image anxiety is becoming more and more prevalent, and at younger and younger ages (I talked to a number of parents who told me that their daughters spoke about being ‘fat’ from as early as 5 years old).
Truthfully, this has always been an issue to a certain extent (I remember comparing myself to pictures of Farrah Fawcett in teen magazines and coming up woefully short), but exposure to such images was limited, compared to today. These days, kids of all ages are bombarded with images of “perfection” everywhere they turn, via magazines, TV, video games, YouTube and social media. Unfortunately, they are simply not equipped to see it for the marketing ploy that it is and to realize that such perfection is not realistic or, in many cases, healthy.
It used to be that concerns about body image were considered to be a “girl issue”, but this is certainly not the case anymore. Exposure to an endless stream of images where men have perfect “six-pack abs” (including video game characters and comic book superheroes), has led boys down the same road of body image angst.
This dissatisfaction with their own bodies, can sometimes lead children to experiment with unhealthy, and even dangerous, conduct. Unproven diets, bulimia, plastic surgery, over-exercising and steroids are only some of the risky behaviors that are tested, in an effort to attain “the perfect body”.
I came across some videos by Common Sense Media, that do a great job of outlining the main body image issues for each gender, and providing some tips to help parents talk to their children about what it means to have an healthy body image. Click the links below to view these videos in YouTube.
Children’s bodies go through a lot of changes in their journey to adulthood, and sometimes the path can be a little rocky, but if we can convince them to be patient and to focus less on external beauty and more on what other things make them unique and special, there is a good chance that they will make it to adulthood with their self-esteem intact.