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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 understand unrealistic beauty ideals, 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. Today's young people are bombarded by thousands of advertising messages a day. These come not only via television and magazines but also websites, blogs, social media, infuencer’s sponsored ads, music videos, and films. 

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. 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 self-esteem in over 80% of girls.

In a study published by  Girlguiding UK,, 61% of girls said that when women are portrayed through a sexual lens, it makes girls feel disempowered. And almost half of young women in the Pretty as a Picture (PDF) (1,991 KB) poll by UK think tank Credos agreed with the statement “seeing ads 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 photographs of women we see in the media are not only the result of clever makeup and lighting at photoshoots, but also digital distortion and social media filters that mimic unrealistic beauty ideals. The photos are so edited that even the women in the images don’t look like that in real life. Combined with headlines critical of “real” women who don’t match this unrealistic, enhanced image of beauty, and it’s easy to understand why girls aspire to achieve that ‘perfect’ 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 (PDF) (1,991 KB) research, Credos asked young women to compare four different images of the same model, digitally distorted to change her shape. The majority (76%) preferred either the natural or lightly-retouched images over the heavily airbrushed ones. The 2016 Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found that 7 in 10 (69%) 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 real, inclusive and diverse beauty, your child can start to think more critically about the media and protect their body confidence when viewing pictures of celebrities and models. Help them understand that they shouldn’t compare the way they look to the unrealistic, fake images they see in the media.

We’re on a mission to build confidence in young people. Use our action checklist to start a conversation about appearance today. 

  • 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 they shouldn’t compare  themselves to impossible ‘ideals’.

  • 2

    Use humour to take back control

    Look at their favorite TV shows and magazines together, and talk about images that seem particularly unrealistic or that give a narrow definition of beauty.

  • 3

    Remember: airbrushing is more than covering up blemishes

    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 recognize the model in real life.

  • 4

    Understand digital distortion

    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 makeup artists to photographers. Talk about social media filters and try to spot when they have been used to alter someone's appearance. Watch the Reverse Selfie film together and take the #NoDigitalDistortion pledge.

  • 6

    Use positive examples

    Find and share positive role models and body positive social media accounts 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 (PDF) (1,991 KB) (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?

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