The War Over Self Image: Media vs. Reality

Posted on October 14th, 2015


The Prevalence Of Media

In today’s culture, young people are exposed to high volumes of social media and television. In addition, our increasing reliance on the Internet and cell phones has amplified teenagers’ interactions with digital media to even higher levels. With this in mind, it’s not surprising to learn that young people view 3,000 advertisements on average per day. Moreover, teens spend approximately 30 to 40 hours a week in front of some sort of screen, including watching television, using the computer, or engaging on their cell phone. This high accessibility to youths and teens has given industries that influence the media, such as Hollywood and the fashion industry, ample opportunity to shape and mold the minds of young people by setting the tone and trends for the culture of today.

The transition of emerging adolescence is a pivotal and sensitive period, during which many young people grapple with the need to feel accepted. As they look to celebrities, commercials, and magazine advertisements for societal guidance on what is considered normal or popular, unrealistic ideals are formed. Teens consider celebrities and models to be the pinnacle in their pursuit for perfection and begin to establish extremely high standards of beauty or masculinity.

Research has found that 80% of females feel more insecure about their own appearance after being exposed to images of famous female models and celebrities. However, only about 5% of people are naturally born with an “ideal” body type, meaning the standards surrounding us are practically unachievable. Furthermore, many of the images propagated by the media are not reality at all, but are in fact highly airbrushed and altered through Photoshop.

In the attempt to personally achieve the false reality that Hollywood portrays, young people are training their minds to compare, desire, and set unhealthy expectations to look like the fully matured celebrities or the highly edited models they see on television, magazines, and all forms of media. When this occurs, self-image and self-worth are the first areas to be affected, which can impact many areas of a teen’s life.

Is The Media Affecting Your Teen?

“I have absolutely nothing to wear! How am I supposed to fit in at school if all of my clothes make me look ugly or like a little kid?” At one point or another, most parents have probably heard statements like these, or other negative remarks spoken by their teen concerning appearance. Becoming aware of the language young people use to speak about themselves can provide a window into what is dwelling within, and a clue to possible struggles with body image.

Specialists have found that a shocking 69% of youth seek to attain the body figures of celebrities and models. In an effort to look like their idols, teen girls look to websites for guidelines on how to dress, what to eat, or even “How to lose those last 20 pounds in two weeks.” For teen boys, body dissatisfaction may present itself through the desire to “bulk up,” or become more muscular. Steroids and excessive working out become paths to achieve the muscular bodies that belong to many male celebrities.

When unhealthy habits are adopted, self-confidence often declines, depression and anxiety rise, and many areas of a teen’s life become affected by the aftermath of negative self-talk and low self-esteem.

Help Your Teen Embrace The Reality Of Uniqueness

Despite what your teen may tell you, your thoughts and opinions matter. How you address, affirm, and motivate your teen can shape his or her self image. Interactions with parents can encourage teens to accept who they are as individuals, and can ultimately inspire deeper confidence and feelings of self-worth.

In a culture where the media has pervasive access to young people, teens can become overwhelmed with all that they are being told. They will process what they are hearing in different ways. It’s important to pay attention to both the verbal and nonverbal cues from teens. Verbal cues, like negative statements regarding their appearance, and nonverbal cues, like body language or acting out, can signal to what extent they are buying into the need to fit the media’s “idealistic image.”

  • Become aware of exercise and eating patterns, and even behavior patterns. Look for sudden or drastic changes.
  • If you recognize a pattern of depression, low self-esteem, or an obsessive dissatisfaction with outward appearance, you can help derail this thinking by encouraging your teen.
  • Highlight achievements, accomplishments, or character. This type of encouragement shifts the focus from outward appearances to areas of their lives they can control and that represent who they are on the inside.
  • Promote trying new activities and hobbies that inspire interaction with peers and positive environments. Remind your teen that the goal is not attaining perfection, but becoming the best possible version of who they are as an individual.

As you highlight and encourage your teen to be himself or herself, you are helping to eradicate the false reality that the media has set for young people, while encouraging your teen to embrace the reality of his or her uniqueness.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.