Body Image: Tips for Teens To Survive the Media Morass

January 21, 2010 Last night I talked about body image to our local high school PTSO with Susan E. James, an LMFT eating disorders specialist and RD/MPH Cindy Stack-Keer from Kaiser Permanente all about how body image links a child’s emotional and physical health.

The little Animoto video I created for the session gives you a snapshot of both the ‘problem and the solution’ (no, I don’t have ‘use rights’ for Taylor Lautner’s abs and such, but hey, all in the name of education and situational awareness, eh?). It’s meant to be a call to action for a nation in trouble if we don’t heavily counter-market some of these toxic cues to kids.

This week alone we have wacky “10 plastic surgeries in a day” addiction vs. obsession media debates of The Hills star 23-year old Heidi Montag, (Ladies of The View sound off here) then the so-called ‘curvier’ Golden Globe actresses (ahem, not!) and the latest covergirl kerfluffle involving the Butterfly Foundation’s support of  “look-at-the-real-me-Jennifer Hawkins” on Marie Claire…just to give a feel for decibel level of volume.

It’s hard to help kids achieve a healthier sense of self and ditch the skewed worldview with all this chatter…But we must. We abso-freakin’lutely MUST. The future of children’s mental and physical health is at stake. And no, that’s not an alarmist statement, it’s a quantifiable one.

There are staggering implications and long term medical and societal repercussions (including dollar driven health consequences from obesity, eating disorders and dysmorphia to stressors resulting in substance abuse and emotional upheaval/depression tanked self-worth, teen pregnancy, etc.)

This is not a stretch, people.

Especially in a culture where the three actresses above were referred to by The Times’ T mag blog as having more ’roundness’ (in a Marilyn Monroe vs. Twiggy sort of way) at the Golden Globes Sunday. Roundness, really? That prompted this retort, You Call THIS Curvy?)

Again, taking stock of the media intake of the week: Let’s see…global coverage of HAITI in crisis or arm circumference coverage of Hollywood celebs. Quite a dichotomy, eh?

So let’s cut to the chase…WHAT CAN WE DO?

As I mentioned last night, Shaping Youth uses hands-on counter-marketing tactics to literally flip the motivations and persuasive tools being used backwards (example here) and we arm kids with critical thinking skills in shield-n-saber style.

After all, we ARE at battle for the hearts and minds of youth against a beauty and grooming products industry spending billions to reach tweens/teens, not to mention diet-related products racking up $40 billion in U.S. sales each year to boot.

So before I land my links list on you for resources and counter-marketing tips out the wazoo, let’s recap about BOYS being the latest statistic in “equal opportunity toxicity” since young boys have increased body dysmorphia, emulating buffed boy, ripped six-pack icons of video games and ‘hunks’ modeled and merchandised ad nauseum.

A Nov. 2009 global analysis by Packaged Facts shows male-specific products (body wash, deodorant, hair gel, shaving cream, razors, moisturizer, etc.) constitute one of the markets that now outpace the overall beauty/grooming retail markets in many countries of the world, despite economic recession.

It goes on to say, “valued at $19.7 billion worldwide in 2009, male-specific grooming products will mushroom to $28.0 billion by…” (sorry, that’s all I get, I don’t have four grand to access the full study 😉 So you see what I’m saying here? It’s NOT your imagination…follow the money trail.

It’s easy to sniff out where it ‘pays’ to tank kids’ self-esteem and sell it back to them one product at a time, as the old saying goes. It’s all about the quest for the almighty ‘hotness’ (both genders there) with BOYS gaining on girls in eating disorders and adolescents ending up with The Adonis Complex and ‘roid rage’ or ‘bigorexia’ reverb.

How would I “counter-market” the buffed boy/steroid messaging? (+ the intake of unregulated supplements promising the lean, mean teen machine?)

I’d point to the 70+ side effects of anabolic steroid use and the science behind it, much like the health teachers mentioned last night, about deconstructing the human body, using NIDA tidbits that would no doubt kids’ attention in reverse enthusiasm, like:

Teens on steroids risk losing their hair, inappropriate breast development, shrinking of testicles, impotence and lowered sperm count. Yeah, I know, they don’t put that on the “enormous increases in brute strength” style packaging, eh?

Would I use those side-effects as counter-marketing fodder? You betcha. All’s fair. Gloves off.

Then I’d inoculate youth with media literacy by tapping more doctors like Alison Field, Harvard Medical School professor of pediatrics and lead researcher on the GUTS study to back up the data with their own case studies showing how the media/marketing blitz selling kids ways to last longer, get stronger, “be hot with a shot” that’s complicit in the escalation of body image problems wreaking havoc on this appearance-obsessed generation of kids.

Again, kids are smart…they’re just not being told, they’re being sold! When you lift the veil and reveal the agenda, they’ll ‘counter-market’ for themselves!

As I wrote prior, “Girls may receive more press about disordered eating and such, but ‘Bigorexia’ is on the rise.

See Cari Corbet-Owen’s primer called ‘Who Gets the Adonis Complex?” for a helpful snapshot of milestones in media moments for male context on teens wanting to bulk up and the reverb therein.

Then I’d follow up with our own Shaping Youth RD nutrition specialist Rebecca Scritchfield’s deconstruction of Media, Myths & Misinformation (you all recall the recent Time Magazine nutrition news cover yes? She has tons of great video shorts offering tips now too!) and of course, our own body image expert Dr. Robyn Silverman’s plethora of resources and usable data for healthy mind and body cyclebreaking…

I’d probably toss in some fun hands-on exercises as shown here on to really focus on functionality vs. appearance and again, deep dive into asset based thinking and appreciation of our true selves. I also loved this example by Shelby Knox, “Conversations with my 13-year old self” and maybe some deconstruction from aggregator hubs like  Media Literacy Clearinghouse.

I particularly like the ‘red flag’ faux site where the FTC uses bogus claims from diet ads and Test Your Supplement Savvy quizzes to make a strong watchdog point of how fast people can be sucked into finding this crud credible.

We all know females are continuously bombarded with buxom, thin-thonged bikini imagery, 24/7 online, offline, mobile/wireless/pda or ambient advertising, virtually everywhere, so I’d also add resources like:

The Strength to Resist: The Media’s Impact on Women & Girls and all of the Media Education Foundation films and accompanying study guides. Teens get into some heated discussions challenging media with documentaries like Slim Hopes, Killing Us Softly, Playing Unfair (sexualization of female athletes in endorsements) and NEDA has a great 3pp pdf of  video offerings ripe for media literacy deconstruction, from commercial picks to documentaries.

Finally, I’d like to send this personal note of thanks to the health education teacher, Mr. Larios and the AP Bio teacher calling for systemic reform and universal change relating to kids’ mental health and academic stresses…I LOVED your prevention points and body image/nutrition corollaries.

Along those lines, here’s the article I wrote about Curbing Student Anxiety using New Media Technology like HeartMath to reduce stress. And for  those who asked about Denise Clark Pope’s work with Stressed Out Students, it’s now called Challenging

I also DO echo your desire to bring back P.E. in a big way, and use “unschooling” tactics so that kids can approach learning creatively rather than achieving jump through the hoop GPA imbalances which can trigger ‘stress eating binges,’ time pinched starvation, or mindless eating once relaxation and an exhale kicks in…

So in sum, this TED talk is meant for you…It’s a fabulous, irreverent, and hilarious presentation by creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson about requiring radical rethinking of our schools and the need to cultivate multiple types of intelligences, as we’ve said so many times before. (h/t to Rosalind for that great vid btw!)

And with that, I’ll hush and give you this starter links list of body image tips-n-tactics to get kids thinking positively about themselves.

p.s. For the NEDA/Eating Disorders discussion, I’ll be interviewing Susan James with more about her work on symptoms, interventions, and the biology side of kids’ prevention of physical destruction (binge eating, bulimia and anorexia etc.) as well as some of the ‘disconnects’ and mixed messages being sent from the E.D. community. All in time for National Eating Disorders Awareness week Feb. 3-9, 2010: Facebook group

Meanwhile, here’s a quick video of Body Image Tips to Raise Confident Daughters from our own Shaping Youth body image expert, Dr. Robyn Silverman.

AND…the first person that says ‘whoa, she’s hot’ gets bonked with a copy of S.Y. advisors’ Packaging Girlhood hardback upside their head! 😉

Yes, that really DID happen…sigh.

From Shaping Youth Body Image Pro Dr. Robyn Silverman:

Steroids: Teens Juicing Up

Using Media to Inspire: Positive Body Image

Athletes at All Ages & Stages: Lia Neal to Dara Torres

Raising Strong, Healthy Girls Today: Childhood Matters

Empowering Girls Rather Than Consuming Them!

America the Beautiful- Documentary: See It. Support It.

ATB Review + “How Much Do You Pay For Beauty?

ATB Movie: Amy Jussel Interviews Director Darryl Roberts

ATB & the Oprah Factor: Yo-Yo Dieting Messages

Seven Sensational Blogs About Girls

Food for Thought: Media to Digest For Healthier Kids

Counter-Marketing Sessions/S.Y. Tactics

Teaching Kids Label Lingo & Nutrition Literacy

Show & Tell Tactics That Stick in Kids Brains

K-5 Get Kids To Eat Green Using Shrek Against His Drek

Selling Healthy Kids Cuisine Via Product Presentation

Snack Attack: Counter-Marketing Using S.Y.’s  “THREEP”

Counter-marketing Junk Food With Rats & Tacos

How to Counter-market Thinspiration

Eat Like An Ape: The Media Circus at Work

S.Y. Slams Pouch Drinks w/Counter-Marketing

More Body Image Favorites to Come, Including:

Jess Weiner

5 Resolutions

We Are the Real Deal Body Image Blog

The Illusionists

The Body

Real Beauty

Packaging Girlhood

Packaging Boyhood




  1. Excellent article, Amy. Extremely thorough.
    .-= Melanie M. Lazarus, MPH´s last blog ..Bust-a-Myth: The Five-Second Rule =-.

  2. heh, too thorough Melanie, I think I’m going to reorganize some of the links as I have a part two of orgs and blogs that are body image havens for rich content and healthy eating info! 🙂

  3. Thankyou for the kind link/mention & for not forgetting and even focusing on boys in this post. They are so often forgotten in this issue.

  4. mamaVISION says

    Great to find you! I’ve been blogging since 2006 about the impact of the media and fashion industry on body image, attempting to be a voice of reason for those with eating disorders. The more voices we have the better, since as you mentioned today’s youth are inundated with pure and complete lunacy.

    Last year I started a collective body image blog WeAreTheRealDeal to provide an open forum for women of all shapes and sizes, all perspectives, to share how they feel about their body image, their struggles, their growth, etc — the community is amazing.

    Thanks again for being a crusader for the cause!
    aka mamaV
    .-= mamaVISION´s last blog ..Will the real Demi Moore please step forward. =-.

  5. Chris Martin says

    So true. Yes most people in the U.S. need to lose weight and shape up but we look at “movie stares” and (I us that term loosely)use them as the standard. We need to look at our selves and love yourself enough that we want to shape up and lose weight for us so we can be healthier.
    Chris Martin
    .-= Chris Martin´s last blog ..A few tips to Lose weight, shed fat and maintain and healthy weight =-.

  6. Active shaving says

    Felt good to read this article. Thanks for this great post, I find it very interesting and very well thought out and put together. I look forward to reading your work in the future 🙂

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