Body Image And Its Effect On The Child’s Self Esteem And Confidence

Body image is the way that someone perceives their own bodies and how others perceive them. In simple words, it relates to one’s shape, size, and weight. Body image may vary from unhealthy to healthy or vice-versa at the different stages in one’s life. A healthy body image in early years lays the foundation for good physical and mental health.

Some facts pointed out by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA)

• Body size awareness tends to start around the age of 5 in children.
• 40-60% of elementary school girls and 25% of elementary school boys are
worried about weight gain.
• By preteens, 50% of girls are dissatisfied with weight, shape and start to
withdraw from activities because they feel bad about their appearance
• In middle school, girls start to actively manage their appearance (more than boys), and is particularly stressful for them because of the change in body shape, as a result of puberty.

Research data shows that body satisfaction may hit a low between the ages of 12-15, this means that obsession with “looks”, starts at a much earlier age. The need to look perfect is spreading across most age groups, ethnicity, strata and the influence seems to be strong and impossible to ignore.

Did you know that, 24-year-old double Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington, who was credited to inspire a generation of young swimmers, was reduced to tears, feeling insecure during a conversation about body image after her retirement from the sport, on BBC breakfast?

Family life and culture tend to have a strong influence on the teen’s views about their bodies. Different cultures and families have varied views about ideal body shapes and sizes – some being more encouraging and realistic than others. The family pressures to look perfect, coaches’ expectations of “making weight” for the sports team, body changes during puberty may impact the child’s perception of body image. Interestingly, media has been defining the “ideal” size by bombarding us with unrealistic, airbrushed pictures, creating a negative influence on our children’s concept of body image. Health professionals have pointed out if a teenager is constantly seeking assurance on their appearance, overly obsessed with looks, shows a drastic change in food habits, or a loss of considerable weight, might be struggling with body image issues.

Body image plays a major role in defining a teenager’s self-esteem. It’s hard to feel good about oneself if one is unhappy with their bodies and in turn their appearance. Self-esteem, in other words, is the “real” opinion one has of themselves. It’s something that can’t be touched or seen but seems to be always following us around like a shadow. Some children may try to compensate the way they feel by manipulating (excessive exercise routines, using fad diets, counting calories, etc.) their body images. Parents can play an important role in helping children form a positive body image.

Tips to Help Boost Your Child’s Positive Body Image

• Ensure use of positive statements around food, meal times, body sizes, and shapes.
• Promote and model healthy behaviors, to ensure “fit” bodies with higher levels of self-esteem and healthier body images.
• Avoid practicing fad diets and introduce “Self-Attuned eating”, a concept of learning to pay attention to and trust feelings of hunger and fullness – this will help promote a healthy, normalizing attitude toward eating
• As a parent, appreciate and celebrate your own body for what it can do, not just how it looks
• Teach by modeling to accept and value people for who they are irrespective of their looks and appearance.
• Compliment children on their qualities rather than their physical appearance
• Enhancing the children’s knowledge on the authenticity of the images on screens and magazines projected by media around us
• Educate children on changes in body type and sizes, during puberty

Parents are increasingly concerned at the rate of dissatisfaction among children with their appearances. On seeing signs, they wonder whether they should ignore or be concerned as it could be the start of bigger body issues. If you think your child is experiencing any challenges with body image, start by talking about your concerns with them. If things don’t change, consider talking to a health professional to get some support.

Written by:
Vinti Mittal

Director SACAC Counselling Pte Ltd
Clinical Member SAC
SAC Registered Counsellor
CMSAC, Reg, CLR, MSc (Counselling), Grad Cert. (Counselling)
SACAC Counselling

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