The Ideals of Perfection are Harming Boys & Girls

The pursuit of perfection is not just a ‘girl thing.’ 

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 states, “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.”

Caroline Knorr goes on to say, ‘ Read any fashion magazine or watch any music video, and you’ll know that the media isn’t kind to girls. The expectations for appearance are widely unrealistic, and many girls quickly decide that they’re not thin, pretty or sexy enough.’ The stereotypical image of girls as uniformly beautiful and obsessively thin in all forms of media and advertising only add to the narrow beauty standards girls try to live up to

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 effects of negative body image on young people can vary, but it is often a risk factor in the development of anxiety and depression. Other possible effects of negative body image include:

  • Eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, or binge-eating 
  • A tendency to exercise compulsively/excessively  
  • Low self-esteem
  • A predisposition to physical disability 
  • A tendency to self-sexualise or self-commodify 
  • Substance abuse

Common Sense Media researchers found that children have an innate tendency to be motivated by comparison with others. While previously they may have modelled themselves against other people within their peer groups, nowadays they are repeatedly exposed to heavily edited, filtered and perfected images of people through social media, and they are both internalising and aspiring to these false and idealised representations of beauty. 

As a result of this, 45 per cent of teenage girls and 24 per cent of teenage boys worry about other people posting ugly photos of them on social media.

The authors of ‘The Selfie Generation’ suggest “Parents should understand that social media is a very relevant social context for modern adolescents, and like anything else, it will have costs and benefits. One cost seems to be that posting a lot of pictures of yourself and using social media frequently is related to negative body image for some adolescents. Parents should have conversations with their teens about body image and the risks associated with certain types of social media use.”

Consider 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 answer these questions:
    • How does it happen?
    • Why does it happen?
    • What can be done about it?

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