Positive Body Image Development

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Positive Body Image

Positive body image, or more to the point, realistic body image is tough for all of us. The results of several social media and body image research indicate that young people are worried about their bodies. Be Real surveyed 11 – 16-year-olds in the UK and 79% said how they look is important to them, and over half (52%) often worry about how they look. They lack a positive body image. In another survey of young people aged 13–19 by Mental Health, 35% said their body image causes them to ‘often’ or ‘always’ worry. Even young children contend with body image. One review on body dissatisfaction and sociocultural messages related to the body among preschool children found studies identifying body dissatisfaction in children under six. The effect of Barbie Dolls and overly manufactured pop singers have been known for a long time.

From the above social media and body image statistics, it is clear that young people struggle with body dissatisfaction from childhood. As a result, precautions and countermeasures must begin early in childhood. Children form their ideal body image by the time they’re eight years old. At that age, children are so impressionable as they transition from the family unit to peer groups, resulting in a need for comparisons and validation. Their parents, peers, and the media can easily influence how they think and feel about their bodies. Positive body image needs to be established early and developed. If you are particularly concerned about the effect of social media this article gives more depth.

What Does Positive and Negative Body Image Look Like?

Knowing what positive and negative body image looks like can help parents understand their manifestations. Body image isn’t about how you look on the outside. Instead, it’s about how you feel about how you look on the outside. In the Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance, Samuel M. McClure, Associate Professor at Arizona State University, defines body image as the portrayal of the self in terms of body size, shape, and appearance—the degree to which one’s body is perceived to agree with an ideal.

There are four aspects of positive body image. They include affective, behavioral, cognitive, and perceptual body image. Affective has to do with how your child feels about their body, whether they’re satisfied or dissatisfied with different body parts. The behavioral aspect relates to the things they do because of their body image. The cognitive aspect relates to how your child thinks about their body, and the perceptual aspect has to do with how they see their body. All of these aspects combine to show whether your child’s body image is negative or positive. It is a positive body image when they:

  • Accept their body and feel comfortable in it, irrespective of other people’s body ideals.
  • Understand that nobody is perfect and is proud of how they look.
  • Choose to focus on the positives even when they don’t feel good about certain parts of their body.
  • Have inner positivity.
  • See and accept themself as they really are.
  • Have a broad sense of beauty.

They have negative body image or are dissatisfied with their body if:

  • They have excessive exercise patterns and get visibly distressed whenever they can’t or didn’t exercise.
  • They tie their appearance to their self-worth. They believe that they’re not worth anyone’s love or attention because of the way they look.
  • They persistently voice negative thoughts about themself and others with the same body they dislike.
  • They avoid social situations such as swimming because they fear exposing their body.
  • They excessively monitor their appearance.

Which Factors Influence Body Perception in Your Child?

Different factors can influence your child’s body perception in childhood and teenagehood. Find some of those factors below.

  • The Media and Social Media. Television, magazines, and TV shows are always awash with images of idealized bodies. Whenever your child sits in front of the television, they see certain body types celebrated, from tall, muscular men to curvy, light-skinned women. The same body types are there on the front page of fashion magazines. Recent research on the affect of ultrathin dolls shows that impressions are multifaceted. It’s the same when your child goes on social media. People fawn, exalt and hyperventilate at the sight of certain celebrity bodies. It’s only a matter of time before a child starts to worry about their own body. A study led by Antonios Dakanalis, a Professor of Clinical Psychopathology at the University of Milano-Bicocca, found a connection between exposure to media-idealized images and the negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors adolescents have regarding their own body. This was a predictor of disordered eating. If you think your child is being affected by cyberbullying we give some advice here.
  • Internalization of body ideals. Internalization of body ideals is one of the dominant factors influencing a child’s perception of their body. Because of technology, the world has become a global village, which acts as fodder for how social media affects body image in children and adolescents. People flood social media platforms with pictures that are filtered and edited. As a result, some body types get more recognition than others. As a result, a teenager might start to internalize those body types that get more credit as ideal bodies. Subsequently, they might begin to make comparisons. The amount of social media influence on body image is linked to the time teenagers spend online.
  • Friends and Peer Groups. When children reach out of their family circle, they look to their peers for ideal body types. So naturally, they make comparisons as their own bodies change. Most children want to know if their body fits the image of what an ideal body is in their minds. If it doesn’t, that’s when they develop a negative body image. It gets worse when they become the target of bullies because they don’t match certain body ideals. Or get ostracized or demoted from their social circle. We discuss here what to do if you feel you have to intervene in a destructive friendship.
  • Parents and Family Members. As a parent, you and other family members can influence your child’s perception of their body. This can happen in the way you and other family members talk about your child’s body. For example, constantly teasing or body-shaming your child tells them that there’s something wrong with the body they have. This promotes body dissatisfaction and results in your child trying to take measures to change their appearance. Also, the way you speak, act, and think about your body matters as a parent. Thus, you can influence your child indirectly.

Why are Children Vulnerable to Outside Influences?

What makes children and teenagers particularly vulnerable to outside influences can be traced to their development. These things can have a massive effect on your child’s positive body image. The emotional part of their brain develops at a more rapid pace than the logical one. Typically, this coincides with when children start to make friends, are alive to the world around them, and are sensitive to their bodily changes. Below are a few reasons children are vulnerable.

  • They Want to be Accepted by their Peers. Naturally, children start to move away from their close-knit family circle towards a social group outside the family. They want to be validated and accepted by their peers. This need for validation and acceptance pushes them to start seeking approval from their friends and even total strangers on the internet. According to a Common Sense survey, 35% of girls are worried about people tagging them in unflattering photos. In addition, 22% feel bad about themselves if their photos are ignored. At the same time, 27% feel stressed about their looks in posted photos.
  • They are Hardwired to Imitate. Children and teenagers are hardwired to imitate the things they see. They have complex groups of mirror neurons that emulate what they see, hear and feel from their environment on an internal level. This is why they quickly internalize certain body ideals as portrayed in the media and social media.
  • Brain Mechanisms. When children and teenagers watch their images on social media, the brain’s reward center releases dopamine. Dopamine plays a significant role in how humans feel pleasure. It is a big part of how people think, plan and focus. Dopamine release is triggered by pleasurable activities, such as viewing their picture and garnering attention on social media. This can sometimes override the logical part of the brain, which makes it hard to make rational decisions.

Ways to Help Your Child Build a Positive Body Image

As a parent, you have a significant role in cultivating a healthy body image in your child. Below are ways to do it.

  • Compliment People of All Shapes. Children learn a lot by watching the way you navigate the world as their parent. Complimenting people of all shapes tell your child that size has nothing to do with beauty. This helps build their confidence in their own body. And confidence radiates a kind of beauty that’s hard to miss. In the long run, this gives your child some immunity against idealized images from the media. When watching shows such as Strictly Come Dancing think about who you praise on how they look. Are talking beyond dresses and why you might respect someone who is different or has non-standard beauty, for example, a larger body shape?
  • Fight the Comparisons. Most children forget that camera or filter enhances the pictures they see in shows and social media. Nobody looks like that. Not even the people in the shows. So it defies logic to obsess over a body that doesn’t exist. You need to begin to tell your child this from early childhood.
  • Focus on Health Instead of Weight. When it comes to nutrition, focus on health, not weight. Involve your child in making food choices and cooking. Teach them how to make smart nutritional choices. Never make it about their weight. They need to understand that even foods considered unhealthy have their place. Allow your child treats occasionally, and encourage an active lifestyle. Just letting them play outdoors with their peers can do the trick.
  • Encourage physical activities. Encouraging physical activities in children teaches them what their bodies can do. Knowing what their body can do reduces the tendency to focus on size and weight. Make physical exercises a family thing. Emphasize the fact that fitness, health, and enjoyment are the motivations behind these exercises. If your child is interested in a team sport, steer them away from any sport where there’s an emphasis on physical appearance. There is a sport for everyone, no matter who they are.

Final Thoughts on Positive Body Image

Helping your child cultivate a positive body image is an ongoing process. It’s something you may have to keep reinforcing well into adolescence. As they approach puberty, there may be times when they’ll tell you they don’t like certain parts of their bodies. Or that they’re fat. Listen to their concerns about their body and reassure them that physical changes are normal at this point. Let them know that everyone develops at their own time and pace. Avoid making comments about their shape or weight, even if the comments are positive.