In an interview with the Mirror in April 2014, a British teen with body dysmorphic disorder described spending up to 10 hours a day taking hundreds of photos of himself at a time in pursuit of the perfect selfie.
He admitted that he eventually attempted suicide in response to his dissatisfaction with his appearance in selfies. Although taking selfies did not cause this young man’s body dysmorphic disorder, one way in which his disorder manifested itself was his preoccupation with taking an “ideal” selfie.
This case is an extreme example of selfies affecting an adolescent who is struggling with body image concerns; however, it does illustrate the degree to which many teens become focused on taking a selfie that meets some standard of physical attractiveness.
How Body Image Is Tied to Self-Esteem
Body image is a component of self-esteem and consists of a person’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions about their physical appearance.
Although a person’s mental representation of their body image is internal, it can be influenced by many external factors, including media and cultural standards of attractiveness, as well as appearance-related feedback from others.
For individuals with disordered body image, their mental representation of themselves can be significantly different from the way others actually perceive their appearance. Research on gender differences with regard to body image indicates that although women report more frequent experiences of body dissatisfaction, men place more importance on their physical appearance, particularly during adolescence.
This suggests that awareness of body image concerns and efforts to promote healthy body image should be aimed at children and teens in general, regardless of gender.
When teenagers are experiencing body image dissatisfaction, turning to social media for feedback about their appearance is a common response. Teens may post selfies with the intention of receiving direct feedback from peers (more on this in a post later this week), but they may also scan friends’ selfies in order to appraise their own appearance in comparison to others’.
The act of reviewing friends’ pictures and posts for comparison can be risky, though. It is easy for teens to forget that things their friends may post online is often just the positive image they want to portray to the world and may not entirely reflect how wonderful their life really is.
There are a number of ways parents can help raise their child’s self-esteem . Here are three tips from Celia Heppner, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in the Fogelson Plastic and Craniofacial Surgery Center at Children’s Medical Center Dallas and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center.
- Parents can help provide some context for their children with regard to the photos they see of friends online by reminding their children that what others are posting online is what they want to portray, with negative attributes or experiences filtered out.
- Modeling healthy body image is another important way for parents to promote healthy body image. Be mindful about the messages that you send your kids about your ideas about your own appearance, as this will shape how they think about their appearance to a large degree.
- Parents can also promote healthy body image by encouraging children and teens to participate in an activity that will provide them with a sense of accomplishment that is not appearance-based. Playing a sport, creating art and playing a musical instrument are all activities that can help kids focus more on behaviors than physical appearance as a source of self-worth.
Return to our blog tomorrow to learn about selfies and narcissism.
Do your kids take selfies? Do you take them? Leave us a comment to let us know what you think about the selfie generation.