Bad Body Images: Cultural Ideas

cultural norms

Because most of us have access to media at our fingertips, it’s no wonder why young people feel the need to compete with people who embody our society’s definition of beauty. Cultural norms and traditions can weigh heavily on a child’s body image, and if you want to help your children feel confident in their own skin, it’s important to understand how culture affects body image.

Harming and Helping

Looking at the development of body image through the lens of culture is complicated due to the diversity of cultural norms. Some cultures have a strong focus on health and self-care, while others encourage people to constantly strive for superficial perfection. Cultural influence can be both helpful and harmful when it comes to the development of one’s body image.

Culture and Body Image

In western societies, children and teenagers are often shown a specific set of parameters that a supposedly attractive person fits: even skin, flawless makeup, a specific clothing size, and even accentuated facial features. 

When children are constantly exposed to these supposed marks of perfection, they often feel insecure about their own appearance. As such, they strive to achieve a standard that’s not reasonable for most of society.

Media and Body Image

Our media is one of the harshest reminders of a young person’s assumed inadequacies. Children look up to their favorite celebrities and in wanting to look more like people they admire, they open themselves to significant risks to both their mental and physical wellbeing.

Media, especially highly edited media, plays a significant role in the development of mental health issues, poor body image, and eating disorders in the pursuit of unattainable perfection.

Encouraging Positive Self-Esteem

It can be exceptionally difficult to encourage positive self-esteem in young people when they’re constantly comparing themselves to celebrities and individuals they deem “better” than them. To help your child develop more realistic expectations of themselves, it’s important to mention the truth of these matters.

Remind your child that: 

  • celebrities have entire teams dedicated to helping them look their best
  • majority of media publications of celebrities are highly edited 
  • makeup and the right lighting can mask plenty of supposed flaws 

While there’s nothing wrong with trying to look and feel one’s best, it’s important to act in a way that’s based in reality. Trying to look and feel attractive is one thing, but reaching for a standard that doesn’t truly exist will only ever lead to disappointment.


Encourage young people you care for to find validation within themselves and attempt meaningful improvements that are not only realistic, but healthy.

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