What is body image?

Our body image is how we think and feel about our bodies when we look in the mirror or when we picture ourselves in our mind.

Why is a healthy body image important for our children?

In the UK, 16-25 year old’s identified body image concerns as the third biggest challenge currently causing harm to young people. Did you know that 52% of 11-16 year olds worry about how they look. 36% said they would do whatever it takes to look good. Surprisingly, even children under the age of 6 can experience body dissatisfaction

These body image concerns are impacting our children’s physical health with 36% of girls and 24% of boys avoiding taking part in physical activities due to worries about their appearance.

What influences our children’s body image?

  • Media/Social Media including editing and photoshop to create idealised/unrealistic bodies.
  • Comments from friends and family about their bodies or your body.
  • Cultural differences
  • Gender and sexuality
  • Long-term health conditions
  • Clothes limited to fit a certain body type (average womens clothes size is a 16 in the UK)
  • Adverts, health campaigns or lessons at school on what is a ‘healthy body’.

How can Body Image affect our children’s mental health?

When children and young people struggle with their body image, everyday tasks like eating, getting dressed or going out with friends can become difficult for them.

It’s common for thoughts about their bodies to arise during puberty.

Hormonal changes can make them more aware of their own appearance as well as others’. While these changes are natural, sometimes our children may feel anxious, overly self-conscious, and out of control with these thoughts.

Negative body image can lead to feelings of:

–  Low self-esteem
–  Depression
–  Anxiety
–  Isolation and loneliness
–  Eating problems
–  Obsessing over how you look.

Research shows that dissatisfaction with body image can result in a lower quality of life and an increased risk of eating disorders.

Advice to offer children and young people when they may be struggling with their body image

1. Be kind to yourself
Practice self-compassion. Try not to compare yourself to images online, they are often digitally changed and do not reflect real life bodies.

2. Focus on the good things about yourself
It is very easy to forget our positive qualities and to brush aside compliments we are given. Take some time each week to reflect on your positive qualities. Try writing a list of 3 non-appearance related things you like about yourself and 3 appearance related things each week.

3. Notice how social media may be affecting the way you feel about your body
Unfollow accounts that make you feel bad about yourself and try following accounts that make you feel confident.

4. Connect
Set time aside to spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself.

5. What would you say to a friend?
Think about what advice you would offer a friend if they were struggling with their body image and remember that advice if you start having negative thoughts.

Body Positivity
It’s not all bad news! Body positivity is a movement that encourages accepting all bodies, regardless of type, shape, or size. It emphasizes that nobody should be treated differently based on their body.

The body positivity movement promotes the visibility of diverse and realistic bodies, aiming to help our children accept themselves and their unique appearances.

Remember, it’s important to step away from the notion that there is only one size and type of body that is considered healthy.

Changing the way children and young people think about their bodies and how they look can take time. It may feel difficult on some days more than others. That’s okay. Acceptance is a process.

Useful websites:

TalkED – National, peer-led charity
Beat – The UK’s Eating Disorder Charity
BeReal Campaign – Body Confidence for Everyone

For information on how we can help your child, see our Children and Young Person’s Wellbeing Service page.