Social media and body image have a complicated relationship. On one hand, #BodyPositivity is trending and its message is powerful. On the other hand, “you could stand to change a few things” is coming at our kids hard. For example, Insider.com created a TikTok account, set the age at 14, and waited to see how long it would take for a video featuring plastic surgery to appear on the account’s “For You” page.
Eight minutes. It took 480 seconds for the algorithm to decide a video of plastic surgery should be “relevant” to a 14-year-old. So while kids today are seeing much healthier body images than we did when we flipped through Teen Magazine or watched MTV, there are still 3 big ways our kids are receiving mixed messages.
1. That Darn Algorithm
Searching #BodyPositivity will bring up beautiful bodies of all types. You’ll see scars, cellulite, fat rolls, stretch marks, prosthetic limbs, and lots of smiles. If this movement had been around when I was 12, I think I would’ve felt so much more secure in my skin.
Where it gets complicated is that the algorithm on TikTok in particular will feed your kid images not only based on what she likes, but also on what the general population likes and that’s often a perfectly-styled influencer with an hourglass figure, shiny hair, and flawless skin.
2. The “Healthy Obsession” Oxymoron
I subscribe to a fitness streaming program and one of the workouts has the word “obsession” in the title. The public came down hard on the trainer for this, saying any body-related obsession is a bad one. That’s a nuanced conversation, for sure.
As a mom, it’s my responsibility to monitor my kids’ social media intake. Even the good stuff—the positive images and the self-love—can cause users to think about themselves to the point of obsession.
3. Body Positivity as a Goal
If I look in the mirror and think a negative thought, have I failed at body positivity? Do our kids believe that the only way to be “well” is to always be happy with what they see in the mirror? The reality is, some days we aren’t happy with the way our bodies look—but that doesn’t make us unwell. It makes us human.
A different approach would be body acceptance, which leaves space for negative thoughts, but challenges us to question why and from where those thoughts are coming. Body acceptance is like rehabbing a house by looking inside the walls while body positivity is more like putting on a fresh coat of paint. Both lead to something beautiful, but the exploratory work of body acceptance promotes healthier insides.
Body acceptance is like rehabbing a house by looking inside the walls while body positivity is more like putting on a fresh coat of paint.
So what do we do?
The relationship between social media and body image is a great topic to discuss with your kids. Find out who they follow and why. Ask if they see themselves represented in the photos. Ask them if they end up feeling better or worse after they’ve scrolled through their platform of choice. Discuss the difference between body positivity and body acceptance.
What’s your take on the body positivity movement?