Magazines, social media, and clothing stores are ruining the body images of adolescents. With open, and at times intrusive, access to images of the “ideal” body, media pushes an unrealistic standard on youth especially, setting up for most people a future of dieting and consistent unhappiness with their bodies. This is seen everywhere: headlines like “How to Lose 10 Pounds Fast!” and “Get in Bathing Suit Shape Now!” are splattered across magazines to browse while checking out at the grocery store; promotions for clothes are made with the smallest or most muscular models; ads for dieting pills, weight loss programs, and detox teas seem to have taken over commercial breaks, even on channels targeting youth demographics. Social media may have had the worst impact for some- apps like Tik Tok and Instagram are full of people your age posting edited photos and videos and seeming to be so much more successful and better looking than you.
One may argue that these advertisements do not affect people, but the statistics are terrifying. According to one study, 40% of elementary school girls and 25% of elementary school boys want to be thinner. For girls, about half have developed serious self-esteem and body image issues by the end of their elementary schooling.
Eighty percent of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat. Almost one third of 10-14 year olds are on diets. Seventy-eight percent of 17 year old girls are unhappy with their appearance. The issue continues into adulthood- 70% of women with healthy weights want to be skinnier, and about half of all Americans do not like their appearance.
It may be difficult to fully grasp the intensity of this situation, so I encourage you to apply these stats to real life. Instead of playing with toys or games and enjoying the innocence of childhood, there are many little boys and girls who look at themselves in the mirror and think that they should be skinnier. Imagine a younger sibling or cousin, or your own child, thinking as early as age 10 that they ought to go on a diet. At Holy Family, there are probably a few hundred students that think there is something wrong with the way they look. How many of us look in the mirror in between classes and hate what they see? How many cannot fully enjoy lunch because of dieting or fear of judgement? Does this extend to our teachers? Parents? Siblings? The statistics seem to point to yes.
This is a huge problem in our society. It is one that cannot be fixed simply by reminding kids that they are beautiful. While encouraging positive self-talk is vital, negative influences are ubiquitous and impossible to ignore when almost every other person struggles with body image.
Commenting negatively on one another’s appearance must stop. Whether to the person or behind their back, it is insensitive to make assumptions based on looks and it can only bring about negativity. This issue of judgement is mirrored in some of society’s greatest problems.
Call to mind these statistics next time your instincts urge you to judge someone’s appearance- I know we are all guilty of it sometimes, but if these stats are to change at all for the better, it has to change now.
If you personally struggle with body image issues, I encourage you to reach out to those around you if you feel comfortable doing so. We are not called to constantly grasp at becoming the smallest or leanest or most ideal versions of ourselves possible. I know from experience how difficult it is to try to comprehend it, but life is so much more than a number on a scale, a size of clothing, a measurement, or another’s opinion. While it is important to stay healthy, both physically and mentally, there is a great difference between healthy and chasing a materialistic ideal that is damaging and impossible to achieve. I wanted to call attention to this issue because it should not be hidden away. Becoming aware of a problem is the first step in reversing decades of negative media influences.