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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Talking to your child about fake images

Person using photoshop to edit image

Beautiful bodies, fabulous lives...for teenagers, other people’s social media feeds can give the impression that everyone is perfect except them.

The trouble is, many of the images young people see online aren’t real. They’ve been filtered or enhanced. The people posting them don’t really have teeth that white or legs that long or skin that smooth.

It’s easy for young people to overlook the many ways in which online images may be fake - so it’s important to talk to them about why people filter their lives in this way, and what effect it’s likely to have.

Explain why people edit images

When we look at advertisements in magazines or on posters, we know, deep down, that a lot of work has gone into them. Even though the models and celebs have been selected for their outstanding beauty, picture editors will still have whitened their teeth, or nipped in their waists, or airbrushed their skin blemishes. Literally hours will have been spent setting up lighting, using professional makeup artists and generally making sure that these pictures are as beautiful as they can be.

Social media has made potential models of us all. And when it’s someone who appears to be just like you who looks impossibly glamorous,  even someone in your class, that can leave you feeling really fed up.

Talk to teenagers about the fact that our ideas of beauty were always the result of a degree of fakery. Discuss why young people may feel the need to join a kind of arms race for a particular way of looking. Why do so many young people feel social pressure to enhance images of themselves? Is it that they feel their looks are letting them down - and does that really make sense? There’s lots of help in the Dove Self-Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me Parent Guide, especially Part Three, which focuses on the way that our ideas of beauty are distorted by all kinds of media.

Talk about how these images make them feel

There are so many more images of smooth skin, six-packs and glossy hair than there used to be. All these photos of other people’s filtered lives can leave us feeling we must look ugly and be having a boring time by comparison - and this is especially true for young people who are going through all the uncertainties of being teenagers. 

Talk to your child about whether their mood drops after looking at social media. Do they feel they can’t keep up with a public popularity contest based partly on whether they look a particular way? 

There’s lots of advice on how not to say the wrong thing or be misunderstood in Part Seven of the Uniquely Me parents’ guide from the Dove Self-Esteem Project, which you can download for free.

Help them avoid making unhealthy comparisons

Remind your child that comparing yourself to social media influencers doesn’t really make sense. Influencers’ photos may be staged to look like snapshots, but they’re often highly manipulated, and unachievable unless you have the resources of a business behind you. They may even be unhealthy. Talk about the way that social media places so much emphasis on comparing our looks, and what effect this has on the vast majority of us who don’t look like models. You could watch this video together about all the work that goes into an apparently off-the-cuff selfie: 

Point them towards helpful role models

There are lots of inspiring role models resisting the conventional view of what’s beautiful. The music presenter and The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil has campaigned to end airbrushing and image enhancing because of the negative impact it has on people’s self-esteem. Lupita Nyong’o, star of Us, Black Panther and 12 Years A Slave, argues that it’s wrong to tell children they must conform to Western ideals of beauty, and that they should be able to dress, look, and behave naturally.

(For teachers and professionals, the Dove Self-Esteem Project also offers a series of workshops and resources with practical activities to help boost children’s self-esteem. Download them for free here.)


Get more...

You can download the ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide for free. It’s packed with much more advice and some practical activities to help nurture body confidence and self-esteem. The guide 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 the free ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide

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