Ah, remember the good old middle school days when yearbook day was the absolute highlight of the school year? It was that magical time when you could flip through the pages and actually hold tangible pictures of your friends and, of course, that special crush of yours. There was something so thrilling about stumbling upon candid shots of classmates at lunch, making those epic basketball game moments, and eagerly lining up for club photos. Yep, those yearbooks were like the original social media, capturing all those precious memories.

Nowadays, things have taken a digital turn for the younger generation. Kids today can effortlessly access photos and snapshots of their classmates online practically every day, almost in real-time. With this constant exposure, the connection between body image and social media has become tighter than ever. Growing up has its challenges, and it can sometimes feel like there’s a perpetual spotlight on you. Well, for today’s kids, that spotlight is pretty much real — and it’s making a significant impact on them.

The Influence of Filters: How Kids Showcase Themselves in a Whole New Light

The world of photo filters has really changed how kids express themselves nowadays. Just search “photo editor” in the App Store, and you’ll be flooded with options. There are countless apps out there promising to jazz up selfies with cool filters and enhancements. Some claim to give you flawless skin, reshape your face, or even magically open your eyes if they’re closed in a photo. And guess what? Many of these apps won’t cost you a dime, making it super easy for kids to grab them.

Now, it’s not like kids are born with a desire for filtered faces. They kind of ease into it, starting with those fun, kid-friendly filters that add cute puppy ears or angelic haloes. As they grow up, they come across filters offering more grown-up adjustments, like enhanced cheekbones, bigger eyes, and plumper lips.

But here’s the thing – these filters aren’t confined to just fun apps; they’re everywhere. Even platforms like Zoom, which became a lifeline for many kids during distance learning, have a feature called “Touch up my appearance.” It’s becoming increasingly common for kids to tweak their photos before sharing them, and it’s causing concerns about body image issues, which are sadly on the rise, affecting even the little ones as young as four.

The Struggle with Unrealistic Expectations: Navigating the Impact of Polished Social Media

Let’s talk about Kim Kardashian, who boasts a whopping 283 million followers on Instagram. The pictures she shares are flawless, carefully crafted, and, let’s be honest, put together with the expertise of a whole team of media and PR professionals. This trend of meticulously curated feeds isn’t just limited to celebrities; it’s everywhere on social media, especially when it comes to body image. When you’re surrounded by people altering their appearance, it’s easy to feel the pressure to do the same. Before you know it, nobody’s presenting their real selves anymore. The quest for perfection just keeps reaching new heights.

The Impact of Media on Body Image: Unraveling the Struggles Faced by Kids

Imagine being a kid bombarded with images of the supposed “ideal” beauty standards at every turn. The pressure to conform and measure up can be overwhelming, sparking anxiety and depression as children grapple with how they present themselves to the world.

Constant concerns about whether they’re pretty enough, thin enough, tall enough, or muscular enough become a heavy burden, especially during the tumultuous period of puberty when bodies are undergoing significant changes. In some instances, the pursuit of an ideal appearance can escalate to disordered eating, profoundly affecting a child’s health and overall well-being. It’s crucial to note that these pressures aren’t exclusive to girls; boys, too, contend with these challenges.

Embracing Change — Body Positivity Takes Center Stage

The body positivity movement is all about celebrating every body, affirming that each one is worth acknowledgment in ads, movies, TV, and beyond. Bringing diverse body types, sizes, and definitions into the spotlight is crucial for fostering awareness and acceptance, especially among kids.

Taking it a step further, the body neutrality movement encourages a shift in focus. Instead of obsessing over how your body looks (or declaring its beauty), the emphasis is on tuning into how your body feels.

Thankfully, companies are catching on to this shift, incorporating models of different sizes into their advertising campaigns. A standout example is Dove, championing this movement and even launching the Dove Self-Esteem Project to promote body positivity among young people. Notable artists like Lizzo and Billie Eilish contribute to this change by rejecting conventional beauty standards, achieving remarkable success while staying true to themselves.

The Top Platforms Where Body Image Issues Are Happening

According to Pinardin’s 2023 annual report on children and technology, 7.66% of teens engaged with or encountered content about disordered eating last year. Alerts for disordered eating range from mentions of dieting practices all the way to discussions of anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphia. The top platforms for body image alerts were:

  1. Discord
  2. Instagram
  3. Snapchat
  4. WhatsApp
  5. TikTok

What can we learn from this ranking? First, that Discord leads the pack, with dedicated servers for discussing everything from #thinspo (“inspiration” to help someone get dangerously thin) to actual ways to practice disordered eating. Next, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok are all visually focused apps where image is very important. It’s no surprise that body image issues are discussed frequently on them. Finally, WhatsApp is a messaging app similar to iMessage or GroupMe, and it’s where kids can message privately or in groups.

How to Talk With Your Kid About Body Image and Social Media

Starting a conversation about body image can be a little scary, but it’s important to talk with your kid about how they feel and the things they see online. We’ve got some ideas to help you break the ice. Keep in mind these may work best with older kids. They have more experience with social media so they have some context.

  • Why do you think so many people use filters when they post selfies?
  • Does body size have anything to do with a person’s personality?
  • Has another person’s post on Instagram/Snapchat/TikTok ever made you feel bad about your body?
  • Do you ever feel pressured to post certain types of photos on social media?

It can also help to make sure you’re not using body shaming (or food shaming) language at home. An offhand comment may seem harmless to you. But saying something like “I can’t believe you ate that many chips” — can contribute to your child having an unhealthy relationship with their body.