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Negative body image issues in children

Body image encompasses what a child believes about their outward appearance, how they feel about their body and how they sense and control their movements.

When should I start looking for negative body image issues in my child?

Body image issues are cropping up earlier and earlier with both genders subjected to unrealistic body images from a young age. As social media becomes increasingly influential in the lives of children, they often become consumed in the “cycle of selfies”. That is, editing, sharing and comparing highly-filtered photoshopped photos online. This creates a culture of comparing themselves to unrealistic photos of their peers. Measuring their appearance and self-worth on the amount of “likes” and comments they get is extremely unrealistic and can be detrimental to a child’s mental health.

Children with a negative body image have increased chances of developing eating disorders and more commonly suffer from feelings of depression, isolation and low self-esteem. These developments are not as far down the road for my children as I original assumed. It’s no longer just a teenager thing. Pre teen girls discuss sex in the playground, my daughter asked me why I don’t have a 6 pack and it took a long time to convince her that breasts were for feeding babies. Perhaps it’s just pure curiosity and nothing self conscious or negative but I do wonder where these questions are originating from.

Recent research shows children in England are particularly dissatisfied with their appearance, with girls most unhappy with how they looked.  With the exception of South Korea, English girls ranked bottom in terms of happiness with their bodies and appearance compared with girls in every other country surveyed. Girls were more than twice as likely as boys in England to say they were unhappy with their bodies. This wide gender difference was not found in many other countries.

Is your child perceiving their body as something other than it is? Are they convinced that their size or shape is a personal failure or their fault? Do they feel ashamed, anxious or awkward about their appearance? If you do start to worry that the questions are turning negative then now is the best time to deal with it.

To assist parents in identifying a variety of symptoms Rawdon Messenger, TeenSafe CEO, has some helpful advice

“By monitoring their social media and online activity, parents can detect problems early and start a conversation with their child about self-worth.”

If your child is searching for ANY of the following hastags then take action immediately!

Eating Disorders

  • Anorexia: #ana, #proana, #proanamia, #proed, #eatingdisorder, #thinspo, #thinspiration, #skinny, #anorexia, #fat, #diet, #thynspooo, #hipbones, #sue, #secretsociety123
  • Binge Eating:  #bingeeating, #bingefood, #overeating, #starving
  • Bulimia:  #bulimia, #bulimic, #lax, #purge



  • Cutting: #blades, #bloody, #cutting, #knife, #razor, #selfharm, #selfhate, #suicide



  • #sad, #ugly, #depression, #depressed, #mentalhealth, #anxiety, #pain, #mood, #imnotokay, #fakesmile, #worthless, #helpme, #paranoia, #useless, #tears, #broken, #killme


Yes, I know. I never would’ve picked up on #thynspooo or #ana!! I guess it’s all about secrecy.


How can parents help their children cope with these pressures?

  • Communication: talk to them about what they see online and reassure them of their self-worth and importance
  • Monitor: their smartphone and social media activity to watch for red flags
  • Lead by example: do active things together and encourage healthy habits and lifestyle
  • Limit smartphone use: screen-time balanced with offline life

Reassure your son or daughter of their worth and teach them ways of improving their self-esteem. As always, be a smart Dad!

For more resources and parenting tips, go to

Published inMental HealthParenting Hacks

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