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How does the media effect body image in teens?

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Question: How does the media effect body image in teens?
Answer: The media plays a big part in a teen's body image. Advertising in teen magazines and on teen television typically glamorizes skinny models who do not resemble the average woman. In fact, today's models generally weight 23% less then the average woman. Considering the average person in the United States sees approximately 3,000 ads in magazines, billboards, and television every day, your teenager is getting the wrong message about body image much too often.

Media targeting teenage girls are emphasizing the ideal of thinness as beauty.(See How do I teach my teen media literacy? When you stop and think about the fact that the average height and weight for a model is 5'10" and 110 lbs, and the height and weight for the average woman is 5'4" and 145 lbs, it's easy to see why this creates a tremendous health risk for young girls.

The problem of the media using girls who are way too thin and not healthy has not gotten better over the years, even though the issues it causes for teen girls has become well known. Recently I watched a show called America's Top Model and was horrified at the bodies of those young women. You could literally see the bones jutting out all over. This show glamorizes women, that really isn't the problem, but the fact that it only uses women who are poster children for pro-ana is a big problem. The media needs to be accountable for its impact on our youth, as it is already aware of the body issues it produces.

The media is targeting boys more these days as well. Skinny jeans and skinny boy ads are popping up all over teen magazines and big posters at stores at the malls. Parents, please be aware that your teen son is not immune from body image issues.

I also want to bring in one more point before I list how you can minimize your teen's body image issues and that is to say that when your teen's favorite show has one girl who is overweight and the characters in the show are constantly pointing out that overweight people can be beautiful too, that isn't going to help your teen's body image issues. Shows where the kids look like your teen's and their friends with regular body weights are the way to go. Show that depict normal as being the real normal.

You can help your daughter minimize the media's impact on her body image by:

  • Limit your teen daughter from this type of advertising. This doesn't mean that you need to take away all teen magazines, just be aware of which ones take this teen issue into consideration. Check them out at the store before purchasing a subscription.
  • Start an advertising awareness program in her school.
  • Talk to her about the health risks of being so thin and use the medai for teachable moments.
  • Talk to her about how photos of models are altered and airbrushed.

More Resources on Body Image and Teens

Parenting Poll: Do you think today's media is affecting your teen's body image in a negative way?

See the poll results.

Parenting Quizzes for Parents of Teens

Sources: Soy Unica; CDC, CDHS
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