Many people who have eating disorders have a distorted view of themselves, along with a negative body image. There is a condition called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which is common among those suffering from eating disorders. According to the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, the most common age at which BDD begins is 13, and it occurs in both boys and girls.
BDD is not a simple response to the media, however, the media may be a good way to begin conversations with your teenagers about how they perceive their bodies and other people’s bodies. Talking about this is not a cure or a substitute for professional treatment, but it may help parents open some doors into their teenagers’ minds.
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We created this video to share some ideas about how you might start this conversation.
Every day, our kids walk around seeing images of perfect people. Of course, those people aren’t really perfect – they have been digitally enhanced to appear like they are. But even though we know all about Photoshop, our brains still retain the perfect version. And so our teenagers walk around with Photoshopped images of perfection in their heads.
The weird thing, though, is that when they look at themselves in the mirror, they do the opposite of Photoshop to themselves. Suddenly girls look fatter and shorter, more pimply and too hairy. Their hair is too thick or too thin, too blonde or too brown. Nothing is right. Boys see themselves as too skinny, too short, not muscular enough, too pimply … and on and on.
When parents hear their kids say mean things about themselves, they want to make their child feel better, so they say things like “you’re beautiful!” and “you don’t know what you’re talking about.
The problem with these well-intentioned comments is that teenagers have a seriously strong bullshit-meter, and they think you are very, very stupid, for thinking they are beautiful when they can see very clearly that their image does not reflect what they believe is beautiful.
Before you can change their beliefs about themselves, you need to talk to your teenagers about the use of Photoshop everywhere. But … for goodness sake … Don’t lecture! The bullshit meter hates lectures! Like a wild animal, you need to be careful when entering the teenage habitat.
You can use media that she already knows and trust – like YouTube – to connect with her on this topic. You need to let your teen take the lead here – so if you say anything, say something positive. Let your child do the talking – let her say what she thinks about the manipulation of normal people into flawless perfection.
Encourage her to educate you. Let her inform you about how fake those perfect images are. When you let your child take control, and allow her to be the expert, she will begin to change her own mind. And that’s the key to teenagers … allow them to find their own way. Nobody wants to be manipulated, least of all, your teenager. Let her discover and get angry for herself, and she will learn much faster.
Escaping a negative or grossly inaccurate body image is a struggle for people of all ages today. But by helping your child develop her own opinions about what it means to be beautiful, and by exploring the world through her eyes, you can help her avoid the very worst of the problem.
And maybe, one day, your sweet baby will look in the mirror and see herself exactly as she is on the outside. And maybe, one day, she will even love what she sees.
Ginny Jones is on a mission to change the conversation about eating disorders and empower people to recover. She’s the founder of More-Love.org, an online resource supporting parents who have kids with eating disorders, and a Parent Coach who helps parents supercharge their kid’s eating disorder recovery.
Ginny has been researching and writing about eating disorders since 2016. She incorporates the principles of neurobiology and attachment parenting with a non-diet, Health At Every Size® approach to health and recovery.
Ginny’s most recent project is Recovery, a newsletter for deeply feeling people in recovery from diet culture, negative body image, and eating disorders.