Friday, May 28, 2010

Part 1: Media, models and self-esteem: the impossible dream

Take just a moment to watch this video, it will surprise you. Then read on:

This video, courtesy of Dove, provides a stark glimpse into the unseen world of media advertising and the way the newest technologies can edit and tweak these images in a scarily distored way. In turn, this will distort and create unrealistic expectations of what we "should" look like, and this can have a dramatic impact on the development of self-esteem. Children,and many adults, believe that these models look this way naturally, and feel quite inferior that they do not measure up to this ideal.

A child's self-esteem is made up of their system of beliefs and feelings about themselves. It includes their overall evaluation or appraisal of their own worth. These patterns begin very early in life, based on successes, failures and messages from those closest to the child. Parents, siblings, teachers and, yes, television and the media. As children grow, and experience the succeses and failure of life, their self-esteem can fluctuate and change. This is a very normal part of development. Children with healthy self esteem enjoy social interaction, work through challenging situations, and have an optimistic outlook. When children are constantly negative, saying "I'm dumb", "I'm ugly", "I'm fat", or, most heartbreakingly, "I can't", this can signal a larger problem.

Low self-esteem can lead to greater difficutlies: social problems, lack of achievement, distorted body image, anxiety and depression.

A recent study estimates that an average child will spend 900 hours per year in school. That same child will average 1500 hours in that same year watching television. Is it any surprise that our children are developing their image of what they "should" look like from the media? This same study estimates that parents will spend just 3.5 minutes per week engaged in meaningful conversation with their children. These statistic are shocking. And also give clues to the origin of the low self-esteem epidemic.

Based on the video above, do you think that your child is gaining a realistic expectation of what a woman should look like? I think not.

Here are some signs that your child may have low-self esteem:

1. She/he may not want to try new things, and may give up easily when frustrated. "I can't do this!" might be something you hear. They may be overly critical and pessimistic.

2. She/he may put him/herself down, and speak negatively, sayting things like "I'm stupid" or "I am a failure".

3. He/she may avoid social situations or new settings, where he/she feels that others might judge her.

4. She/he may catastrophize small setbacks, saying "I will NEVER be able to do this!" or "Nobody likes me!"

Mark Tyrell outlines signs of low self-esteem in his "Top Ten Facts about Low Self Esteem" (

These include:
"Social withdrawal
Anxiety and emotional turmoil
Lack of social skills and self confidence.
Depression and/or bouts of sadness
Less social conformity
Eating disorders
Inability to accept compliments
An Inability to see yourself 'squarely' - to be fair to yourself
Accentuating the negative
Exaggerated concern over what they imagine other people think
Self neglect
Treating yourself badly but NOT other people
Worrying whether you have treated others badly
Reluctance to take on challenges
Reluctance to trust your own opinion
Expect little out of life for yourself "

What can you do to help your child develop healthy self-esteem? Here are some helpful tips:
1. Watch what you say to your child.
2. Set a positive role model.
3. Set realistic expectation and provide realistic feedback.
4. Praise your child's successes and encourage them when they struggle.
5. Encourage your child to get involved.
6. Balance television and media exposure with conversation and quality time.
7. Expose children to realistic role models and avoid over-exposure to models and extremely thin role models.

Part 2 of this series will focus on self-esteem and it's relationship to body image. It will also discuss dieting, disordered eating and how parents can encourage healthy nutrition and exercise and help their children accept themselves as they are.


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