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 in 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 smartphones.
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 self-esteem in over 80% of girls.
In research published in Girlguiding UK’s 2016 Girls’ Attitudes Survey (PDF) (2,041 KB) , 61% of girls said that when women are portrayed as “sex objects” 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 photographic images of women we see in media are not only the result of clever makeup 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. Combined 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 (PDF) (1,991 KB) 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 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 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.