This article was contributed by Dove Self-Esteem Project

The Dove Self-Esteem Project provides teachers, family workers and parents with free school resources to help raise young people's body confidence and self-esteem. Teachers and professionals can download free resources to deliver self-esteem workshops to young people. These articles contain advice suitable for secondary school-age children. 

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Reality TV - not real and quite depressing

Boy sitting in front of a TV
Reality TV is fuelling young people’s anxieties about their bodies, according to the Mental Health Foundation. A YouGov survey for the Foundation found that almost one in four 18-24-year-olds say reality television shows make them ashamed of their own appearance. In more than a third of viewers, this led to feelings of anxiety and depression.
Reality TV programmes which only cast people with ‘ideal’ faces and bodies can leave viewers feeling helpless: if this is reality, where do I fit in? 
The Dove Self-Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me parent guide, downloadable for free, has lots of information about how beauty is defined by the media, and the effect this has — including, for example, the fact that 66% of girls think media portrayals of women is the main reason why girls go on diets. It also has lots of ideas on how to respond.

Mental health

Following several recent high-profile cases involving former reality contestants, there’s much more concern for the mental health of participants. But there’s still not much focus on the effect the shows can have on viewers. The producers of one programme, taken to task for their lack of body diversity, responded by saying that they cast ‘a diversity of personalities’, rather massively missing the point.
Of course, not all reality TV depends on so-called beautiful people (see the Bake Off) — and even those shows that do may have lots to say about relationships and human behaviour. Plus they’re often fun and funny.
So how do you help your child enjoy reality television programmes without getting sucked into the idea that there’s only one (completely unrealistic) way to look? The Dove Self-Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me parent guide has lots of suggestions, especially in chapter 3, The Distortion of Beauty.
Here are some initial ideas:
  • Discuss with your child why the producers cast the shows in the way that they do. 

  • Talk to them about how contrived reality TV is. Was this particular show scripted? Have the producers confected relationships or forced some people into being frenemies? Even if the show’s not scripted, is it heavily edited? (The cameras often roll all day for an hour’s footage.)

  • Open a conversation about whether people who are obsessed with themselves, and particularly with their looks, are actually attractive.

  • Talk to your child about the ideas of beauty that are promoted by reality TV. Get them to talk about people they admire who don’t fit the stereotypes.

  • Encourage them to talk about what they like about themselves. What are their strengths? What makes them feel good when they achieve it?

  • Avoid the trap of praising one type of beauty - thinness, a certain type of hair. Point out that nine in ten adults would like to see a broader range of body types in the media. Why do they think that is?

  • Teach your child to talk positively about their body. Make it clear you think body-bashing is boring.


Get more...

‘Uniquely me’ is packed with advice and practical activities for parents to help nurture their children's body confidence and self-esteem. It contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action.

Download your free ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide

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