Why are youngsters so worried about their body image? What makes them want to be thin?
15-year old Anita is beautifully slim. Her friends envy her. "I used to be teased about being fat in school. It used to hurt me very much." Her secret? "My daughter gets very upset if her jeans don't fit her right. She begins to skip breakfast and nibbles on her lunch," says her mother. Sounds familiar?
Why are youngsters so obsessed with looks? A larger than life hoarding of a sari showroom with a stunning bride showing off her beautiful figure, tall slender women imploring you to use what is best for your skin, star search contests, the television primetime soaps, Bollywood and of course the advertisements. Leading characters are almost always thin tall women and 'well built' swanky men! Heavier characters are usually portrayed in a comic role, elderly or in a low occupation. All this tends to give the message to be desirable one must be tall and slim.
The pressure of looking good
This pressure begins at a very early age. "My toddler says he wants to eat spinach and become strong like Popeye so he can fight the bad men!" says a surprised Aarti, mother of a 3 year old. Children love the action on cartoons, teens get 'involved' in sitcoms, soaps or reality shows, young people have the entire gamut of programming targeted at them.
"My younger brother always asks me why I don't look like Kareena Kapoor or Aishwarya Rai," adds Anita. Movie stars are often seen as the epitome of perfection. Which girl does not want to look like them? Images on TV link the tall and thin look with happiness, love, prestige and independence. It is often seen that though very few advertisements make a direct statement about beauty, many implicitly emphasize the importance of beauty - particularly those that target women and girls.
The impact on boys
Advertising images have been accused of setting unrealistic ideals for males too. Men and boys are beginning to risk their health to achieve the well-built media standard. Exposure to images of well-built and muscular popular sportspersons, film stars and models put young boys under constant pressure to appear muscular and many are becoming insecure about their physical appearance. We can see an alarming increase in obsessive weight training and the use of anabolic steroids and dietary supplements that promise bigger muscles or more stamina.
Teenagers often wish is to be thinner. The fear of getting fat has led them to diet leading to many eating disorders. Most girls are affected and experts believe the number of boys affected is increasing. Since most males are reluctant to acknowledge any illness that is primarily associated with females, they go partly unnoticed. Preethi (name has been changed), a high school teacher says, "I often see young boys imitate a Emran Hashmi or a John Abraham. My advice to them and their parents is that they should look at themselves as a whole person and not focus on body parts. They deserve to do things that they enjoy no matter what shape or size they are!"
Here are a few ways you can prevent your child from falling a victim to this fallacy:
- Create awareness among young children about media images. They are often made for a commercial purpose and are not reflections of reality.
- Share knowledge with family and community. It helps clear misconceptions.
- Encourage them to think outside the traditional stereotypes. Instead of telling your daughter 'You look pretty today', try saying 'You did a great job'.
- Allow children to make mistakes.