How to Discourage your Child from Linking Physical Attractiveness to Feelings of Personal Worth


Our culture is obsessed with physical appearance. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements, television programs, and films that create a link in our minds between beauty and success, between slimness and attractive­ness, between sports prowess and fame, between youth and intelligence. The media’s nonstop message is that physical appearance is everything, and that personality characteristics, intelligence, and wisdom are inconsequential.

Maybe this obsession is an inevitable side of commercial­ism, but it has the undeniable effect of making impressionable young viewers think that they have to be young, beautiful, successful, attractive, and good in sports—plus have a perfect body—before they can feel good about themselves. Of course, the other message being delivered is that if you have a large body type (or wear glasses, or are confined to a wheelchair, or vary in any way from an unreachable physical ideal), you are unacceptable.

This sort of media pressure can make children think there is something wrong with them, when there isn’t. Unfortunately this kind of thought pattern may contribute to the ever-increas­ing occurrence of anorexia and bulimia among young women. It may also contribute to overeating and obesity among both sexes. (“I will never be perfect, so why not eat this tub of ice cream or bag of candy?”) Use of steroids is ever-increasing among young men, who hope to get the desirable “muscular” superhero, athletic body. This type of thinking has dire effects on the future physical development of our children.

This point was brought forcefully home by the results of a wide-ranging survey that explored the views that nine-to-four­teen-year-old girls hold about their ideal body image. Boys were not included in the study, unfortunately. The results are worrying:

  • Girls as young as nine diet because they are unhappy with the shape of their body, even when they are not overweight.
  • Children who diet usually think that dieting is the only way to have a slimmer body, and that people who don’t diet will have an unattractive body shape.
  • Although some of the girls who admitted they were dieting really were overweight, at least half of them had normal body weight.
  • While the younger girls were too young to be concerned about the size of their chest, they expressed concern about the size of their hips, the width of their legs, arms, thighs, and shoulders, and the shape of their noses.
  • Many of those who dieted had mothers who also dieted, and had probably learned the strategy from them.
  • In a few instances, dieting was so extreme that it impaired growth, may have led to anorexia, and delayed puberty.

Other studies have shown that boys, too, are vulnerable to this sort of pressure, though for males, the emphasis tends to be on physical skills and strength rather than good looks. Boys’ role models are usually muscle-bound sportsmen, or macho, super-strong adventure heroes. Any body shape remotely approaching fatness is definitely out.

If you want to discourage your child from linking physical attractiveness to feelings of personal worth, then do the following:

  • Encourage your child to consider a wide range of personal fea­tures, not just good looks, when judging whether someone is nice. Tell your child to think about the person’s kindness, thoughtfulness, friendliness, knowledge, and so on.
  • Encourage your child to be physically active. If your child can have fun with sports, and have an active body, he will feel good about his body.
  • Try to select children’s stories that don’t emphasize a relation­ship between beauty and success, or between ugliness and fail­ure. Read your child stories about ordinary children who have interesting adventures.
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Filed Under: Family & Relationships

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About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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