Advertising is a danger to kids’ self-esteem and body image. And since advertising is everywhere, this impact is deep-reaching and serious. When we were kids advertisements were on TV, billboards, magazines, and buses. But today we also get served advertisements on social media. And since teens spend an average of eight hours and 39 minutes per week, that’s serious.
Self-objectification and advertising
Self-objectification is the practice of comparing yourself to other people and, importantly, media and advertising images of people. Self-objectifying behavior looks like comparing your own body to those of your friends, strangers, family members, and, of course, models, actors, and social media influencers. It’s basing how you feel about yourself on whether someone else is better or worse than you due to their physical appearance.
We can’t protect our children from these images and messages. But we can speak up and let them know how dangerous these images and concepts are. Objectifying images are dangerous to everyone. Unrealistic advertising hurts our kids, and it hurts us. It is not benign.
Nobody admits they are impacted by advertising. But in fact, we are all susceptible to its subconscious power to influence what we think is “normal” and beautiful. This leads to unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our children.
Self-objectification and eating disorders
Almost all eating disorders are based on the desire to be thinner. Thus, most people who have eating disorders are engaging in self-objectification. Self-objectification is defined as looking at yourself as an object as if you are a third-party observer. When self-objectifying, most people are judging themselves as worthy or unworthy based on their physical appearance. This is particularly pervasive in girls and women due to the sexual objectification perpetuated in the media and advertising.
Fredrickson and Roberts identified self-objectification as “the first psychological consequence to emerge among girls and women as a result of living in a sexually objectifying cultural milieu.” Rather than valuing themselves based on how they feel or what they can do, someone who self-objectifies judges themselves based on how they appear to themselves as a third-party observer.
“An objectified body is a malleable, measureable, and controllable body. By viewing and treating themselves as sexual objects, it is argued that girls and women act as their own first surveyors in anticipation of being evaluated by others. Thus, the body becomes the site of reparative action and vigilant monitoring to manage the sexual objectification. When girls and women view themselves through this self-objectified lens, they take a peculiar stance on their own bodies that is fundamentally disruptive to the self–body relationship.”Encyclopedia of Body Image and Human Appearance, Volume 2
Eating disorders are usually an attempt to control the body and make it appear more socially acceptable. When kids get stuck in eating disorder thoughts, we must consider how advertising has impacted them and whether self-objectification is a contributor to their eating disorder.
Talk about advertising
No matter how smart you are, and no matter how smart you think your children are, don’t be silent when it comes to advertising images and messages. Make sure you speak up every single time you see something that suggests impossible beauty standards or Photoshops away individual character.
Talk to your kids about how Photoshop has completely overtaken media, and that nobody can possibly look as good as the models do. Even “real people” on social media use apps to adjust themselves. They whiten their skin, remove “extra fat,” and slenderize themselves beyond recognition.
Our children deserve to feel good about themselves regardless of the size of their waist or color of their skin. They deserve to be more than a Photoshopped rendition of themselves.
Here’s a great TED Talk by Jean Kilbourne about the dangers of advertising and how it impacts us as a society.
How to respond to the danger of advertising on kids’ self-esteem
Parents must respond to the danger of advertising on kids’ self-esteem often. It’s not enough to have this conversation once or even twice. Given the huge quantity of media they are consuming on their phones, our kids need a lot of guidance on this topic. Here are seven things parents need to talk about to counteract the danger of advertising on kids’ self-esteem:
- Establish a firm household policy of body respect
- Don’t allow body bashing
- Don’t allow dieting or intentional weight-loss efforts
- Point out that most media images are “fake news.” Those people don’t really look like that – they are using filters, poses, lighting, makeup, and other techniques to look like that
- Talk about sexual objectification and how bodies are used to sell products and make money for corporations
- Discuss the extreme measures actors and models go to in order to look like that, including starving, steroids, and over-exercise
- Educate about the power of images and the impact of images on our brains. We must actively counteract the powerful media images in order to have a healthy body image
Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.
She’s the founder of More-Love.org and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.