The Media and Your Teen's Body Image

A teenage girl writing beauty on a mirror in lipstick
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The media plays a big part in a teen's body image. Advertising in teen magazines and on teen television typically glamorizes thing models who do not resemble the average person. In fact, today's women models generally weigh 23% less than the average woman.

The average young person in the United States sees approximately 13,000 to 30,000 advertisements each year on television alone and possibly hundreds more a day via magazines, billboards, and the internet. With all that exposure, your teenager may be getting the wrong message about body image much too often.

Glamourizing the 'Thin Ideal'

Media targeting teenage girls tends to emphasize the ideal of thinness as beauty. When you stop and think about the fact that the average height and weight for a model are 5'10" and 110 pounds and the height and weight for the average woman are 5'4" and 145 pounds it's easy to see why this creates a tremendous health risk for young girls.

The problem of the media using girls who are very thin and not healthy has not gotten better over the years, even though the issues it causes for teen girls have become well known.

Television shows, movies, and other forms of popular culture often glamorize thinness as the beauty ideal. Popular culture often only depict thin individuals and offers little representation of other body types, shapes, and sizes. Such depictions can contribute to body issues and, potentially, eating disorders.

Body Image

The adolescent period is a time when exposure to these messages can be particularly damaging. The onset of puberty and the ensuing physical changes that this developmental stage brings can lead to feelings of insecurity and poor body image.

It is important to note that boys are not immune to this. Parents need to be aware that boys can develop body image issues as well, whether such concerns center on weight, musculature, or some other internalized beauty ideal.

It is also important to encourage your child to watch shows that depict characters who look like them. Shows where the kids look like your teen and their friends with regular body weights are the way to go. Show that depict normal as being the real normal.

How to Help Your Teen 

You can help your daughter minimize the media's impact on her body image by:

  • Help your teen seek out role models that are body positive.
  • Limit your teen daughter from this type of advertising. This doesn't mean that you need to take away all teen magazines, just be aware of which ones take this teen issue into consideration. Check them out at the store before purchasing a subscription.
  • Promote healthy habits. Help your child focus on healthy eating and exercise that promote well-being.
  • Set a good example through your own behavior, including maintaining a positive attitude about your own body image, is also important.
  • Start an advertising awareness program in her school.
  • Talk to her about how photos of models are altered and airbrushed.
  • Talk to her about the health risks of being so thin and use the media for teachable moments.
  • Talk about achievements instead of appearance.
  • Teach teens to accept their own bodies. Remind them that everyone is different.

A Word From Verywell

If your child is struggling with body image issues that are affecting self-esteem, mood, or even eating behavior, talk to your child's doctor. Your teen may benefit from talking to a mental health professional.

1 Source
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lapierre MA, Fleming-milici F, Rozendaal E, Mcalister A, Castonguay J. The Effect of Advertising on Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2017;140(Suppl 2):S152-S156. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1758V

By Denise Witmer
Denise Witmer is a freelance writer and mother of three children, who has authored several books and countless articles on parenting teens since 1997.