It Is Just As Hard To Be Ken As It Is To Be Barbie

The pursuit of perfection is not just a girl thing.

Yes, a 2018 Girl Guides study conducted in the UK, found that more than a third of 7-10-year-old girls said they felt they were made to feel that their looks were the most important thing about them — above all else.

But, according to an Australian Psychological Society study, male teen body image dissatisfaction has tripled in the past 25 years from 15% in 1991 to 45% in 2016. Common Sense Media even says, “boys are falling prey to the images of ideal bodies splashed across magazine covers, in video games, in movies, in music videos, and now on social media. Unlike their female counterparts, however, most boys aren’t out to get skinny. They want to bulk up.”

Why do young boys and girls feel this way, to begin with?

Caroline Knorr’s post on Common Sense Media states the following: ‘Read any fashion magazine or watch any music video, and you’ll know that the media isn’t kind…the expectations for appearance are widely unrealistic…”.

And while many of us now know photoshopped physique and blemish correction are tricks of the magazine and social media trade, our younger generations are still navigating this heavy exposure to highly edited, filtered and perfected images of people. A study even found that because children are motivated by comparison to others, 45% of teenage girls and 24% of teenage boys say they worry about other people posting ‘ugly’ photos of them online.

What role does social media play?

Nearly 80% of teens by the age of 13 have at least one social media account and these are the platforms where people like to curate themselves to their followers. But what has negative impacts on self-esteem is the ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘comment’ culture surrounding these platforms; because it amplifies body appearance awareness. In other words, fewer likes, shares or comments tends to lead to increased low self-esteem levels.

The conversation surrounding social media and self-esteem focuses a lot on the implications for young females, but social media can also have negative effects on young males.

Often, these effects don’t seem to be as common for males in comparison to females — which could be due to the fact that they use social media differently — but the issue is still greatly present. And the effects of social media on young male self-esteem is still serious and warrants consideration, especially in the context of body image.

According to a 2015 study into the social media presentation of teens’ (male and female) teenagers pick profile pictures based mainly on looks. The type of looks differ between gender, but the ‘goodness’ of the look still remains the same.

Advice For Concerned Parents

While for some children avid selfie-taking can be damaging to body positivity, it is not the case for all. In fact, authors of The Selfie Generation suggest “parents should have conversations with their teens about body image and the risks associated with certain types of social media use.”

You may even think about using these family discussion questions from The Parents’ Survival Guide to Children, Technology and the Internet:

  • How does receiving ‘likes’ on your posts and pictures make you feel? Are there ways to get more?

  • How do you decide which photos of yourself to share?

  • Do parents need to know what you do online? How can they know you are safe and having positive experiences?

  • Are there any problems with using social media? What are they?
    Think of one and answers these questions:

    • How does it happen?

    • Why does it happen?

    • What can be done about it?

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