When our kids look into the mirror, what do you think they see?
Many kids have physically healthy bodies; many kids have healthy body images.
Unfortunately, there might be a growing number of young people who have only one or the other—or neither. Some kids are taking drastic measures to fix their perceived faults, while others have taken to the Internet to prove that a healthy body and a healthy body image are not connected by default.
Here’s the debate: How do we teach our kids to balance the need to have a healthy body with the need to feel comfortable in their own skin?
Like a Surgeon
The aspects of an unhealthy body image can include more than being overweight.
According to research published in 2004, “Adolescent patients are seeking plastic surgery to correct deformities or perceived deformities in increasing numbers.” These are problems that include breast augmentations, rhinoplasty, and other non-life-threatening perceived deformities.
The study by the Department of Surgery at the University of California at San Francisco goes on to say that these elective surgeries “can have a positive influence on a mature, well-motivated teenager, while surgery on a psychologically unstable adolescent can be damaging to the patient.”
The website plasticsurgery.org cites some statistics from the Society of Plastic Surgeons:
- “According to ASPS statistics, 35,000 rhinoplasty procedures were performed on patients age 13-19 in 2010.”
- “More than 8,500 breast augmentations were performed on 18-19 year olds in 2010.”
- “Surgical correction of protruding ears… made up 11 percent of all cosmetic surgical procedures performed on this age group in 2010, with more than 8,700 procedures.”
For a young person with a body image disorder to feel so trapped in their body that they take this permanent route to alter their looks says a lot about the culture we provide for them. Since the early 90s, we have grappled with the impact advertising and media outlets have on our kids. From billboards in New York’s Times Square to modeling competitions on cable TV that award tall, lithe, blemish-free women with lucrative contracts, young boys and girls are both learning that it’s normal to be perfect.
So how do we fight back against such a ubiquitous barrage of perfect body imagery?
Weight Just a Minute
But weight—generally seen as the main cause of a poor body image—is perhaps more problematic than premature rhinoplasty procedures. Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders are common in the age group that includes teens and adolescents. These eating disorders are the result of poor body image, regardless of actual body health.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 17% of children and adolescents are physically obese. That’s a huge number.
With the combination of a sedentary lifestyle and the absence of healthy nutritional choices, children and adults alike become more prone to life threatening medical maladies like heart disease and diabetes.
It’s important for children to stay healthy enough to ward off these serious diseases, while at the same time understanding that a perfect body is a vacant pursuit.
Here’s how to measure a child’s body mass index (BMI). This calculator is helpful in determining if your child has a healthy weight for his or her height (obviously, this isn’t an objective tool. Other factors are at play here that can’t be accounted for, such as the ratio of muscle to fat).
It’s an easy way to find out if your child has a completely normal body type. Once you’ve established that, you can determine how their self-image correlates.
Still, how do we fight back against powerful images of perfect bodies and help our kids feel comfortable in their own skin?
A Body Image is Worth a Thousand Words
If your kid is struggling with body image problems, regardless of whether he or she has a healthy body or not, the best thing you can do is talk with them. Help them understand that the media’s portrayal of the “perfect body” only accounts for about 5 percent of the population, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
This article on womenshealth.gov gives fantastic pointers about how to help promote healthy body images within our kids, including this key piece of advice: “Parents are role models and should try to follow the healthy eating and physical activity patterns that you would like your children to follow—for your health and theirs.”
You are the best example there is for your kids. How you promote a healthy body image and a healthy body for yourself is paramount to your children doing the same in their own lives.
What if the image your child sees when he or she looks in the mirror is yours?