Is your child's perception of beauty distorted by media influence?

Is your child's perception of beauty distorted by media influence?

Images of people in the media are manipulated so dramatically these days, that it can feel like 'beauty' is less and less attainable. Help your child resist media influence and see the real picture.

Media influence on teenagers

Are you worried that your child's expectations for their appearance are unrealistic? It's hardly surprising. Research published by Psychology Today, Ads Everywhere: The Race to Grab Your Brain, estimates that today's young people are bombarded by 5,000 advertising messages a day. These come not only via television and magazines but also websites, blogs, social media, music videos, films, and even mobile phones. 

The way that people are portrayed in this advertising – both the words and the pictures – has a big impact on the way our children view themselves and who they aspire to be.

The connection between images of women in the media and low self-esteem in girls

Constant reinforcement of the 'perfect' woman in the media directly impacts girls' body confidence. Body Image research found that looking at magazines for just 60 minutes lowers the self-esteem of more than 80% of girls.

In research published in the Girlguiding, 2016 Girls' Attitudes Survey, 61% of girls said when women are portrayed as ‘sex objects’ it makes girls feel disempowered. And almost half of young women in the Pretty as a Picture poll by UK think tank Credos, agreed with the statement 'seeing adverts using thin models makes me feel more conscious of the way I look and makes me want to diet/lose weight'.

How image manipulation shifts our perception of beauty

The majority of photographic images of women we see in media are not only the result of clever make-up and lighting at photoshoots, but also computer manipulation, known as 'airbrushing,' before being published. The photos are so processed, that even the women in the images don't look like that in real life. Couple this with headlines critical of 'real' women who don’t match this unrealistic, enhanced image, and it's easy to understand why girls aspire to achieve the fantasy airbrushed look.

Claire, mom of 14-year-old Aoife, says, "My daughter is constantly reading teen mags and the girls they use always look so flawless. How am I supposed to reassure her about her own looks when she has that to compare herself to?"

Body image and the media – we want to look like ourselves

In its Pretty as a Picture research, Credos asked young women to compare four different images of the same model, digitally modified to change her shape. The majority (76%) preferred either the natural or lightly retouched images over the heavily airbrushed ones.  The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report 2016 found that 7 in 10 (69%) of women and 6 in 10 (65%) girls believe the media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty that most women can’t ever achieve.

By realizing that media images are frequently manipulated, and rarely representative of reality, your child can start to 'see through' the media, and protect their body confidence when viewing pictures of celebrities and models. Help them understand that it’s not worth comparing the way they look to the unrealistic, fake images they see in the media.

Use our action checklist and fun activities to start a conversation about your child’s perception of their own appearance.

To protect privacy we’ve changed the names of people whose stories we tell on these pages, but their stories are genuine.

  • 1

    Look at media with a critical eye

    Help your child scratch beneath the surface of the media they consume. Model the critical eye you want your child to have, and together, come up with reasons why it isn’t worth comparing themselves with impossible 'ideals'

  • 2

    Use humour to take back control

    Look at their favourite TV programs and magazines together and talk about images that seem particularly unrealistic or that give a narrow definition of beauty. Have a laugh about the ones that look really fake or give messages that are overly critical of the way someone looks

     

  • 3

    Remember airbrushing isn’t just about covering spots

    It’s good to remind yourself, as well as them, that it isn’t just blemishes that are airbrushed. Legs are lengthened, breasts are inflated, bodies are swapped and cheekbones enhanced – often so much is changed that you wouldn’t recognise the model in real life

  • 4

    Understand image manipulation

    Find out how much your child knows about image manipulation by asking them who else might have been involved in creating these ‘looks’, from stylists and make-up artists to photographers. Have they seen the Evolution video?

  • 6

    Use positive examples

    Find positive media sources to share with your child that focus on the strength and abilities of women, not just their appearance

  • 7

    Try the Credos body image experiment

    Show them the four images of the same model from the Credos Pretty as a Picture report (scroll to page 12 and 13) and ask them what they like and dislike about each. What words would she use to describe each image?

next steps

  • Keep talking to your child about perceptions of beauty. You can’t stop them enjoying TV, magazines and blogs, but you can revisit this topic from time to time
  • Encourage your child to raise the topic with their friends or in a school project
  • Suggest that they write to the editor of their favourite magazine or website to ask how they manipulate images of women in their pages