Warning: This photo contains unrealistic body images

modelEverywhere they look, young people are bombarded with images generated by the media of what they “should” like look like. Almost always, these images have been manipulated and touched up. Today’s youth see these pictures everywhere, from the covers of their favorite magazines to ads on TV, and it’s clear that these images can cause children to have low self-esteem and, in some cases, eating disorders and other serious health problems.

Underscoring the fact that this is a world-wide problem, members of the French Parliament have proposed a new law stating that published images must have a bold print notice stating they have been digitally enhanced.

Thrive talked to Children’s Hospital Boston’s Alison Field, ScD, who specializes in eating disorders about France’s proposed new law, how the media directly affects children’s perceptions of themselves and what we can do:

It’s rare to see images in the media that aren’t touched up. Interestingly, boys are equally as touched up as girls. Many young people hold up these images as ideals. But professional models don’t look as good as they seem, and if the professionals don’t look “perfect” enough, how can anyone else be expected to?

While the proposed French law is a good idea, just having a little line stating that a photo is digitally enhanced will not likely solve the problem. But it will spur some thought.

There are a lot of people who resort to really unhealthful ways to control weight and I think that we need to do everything we can to try to prevent boys and girls from trying to pursue unrealistic body ideals. We need programs to make our children more media-savvy. We need to show our youth how pictures are altered. We need help making kids understand that advertisers want them to buy something by setting unrealistic expectations. There is a whole industry out there that wants you to not feel great about ourselves so we’ll buy what they are selling.

We need parents to be activists for their children and we need schools to teach media literacy. This is a great opportunity for parents to talk to kids about why they want to look like the people in these pictures, and to give them the opportunity to form more realistic expectations. Help your children find a more realistic role model and other ways that make them happy and healthy without putting too much focus on how they look or how much they weigh.

Do you agree with the French Parliament’s decision to label pictures that have been altered? Do you think this is a real problem in our society, or are kids media-savvy enough to know when they’re seeing something that doesn’t reflect reality?

Here’s another article that speaks to the point that more media literacy is necessary.

Children’s Center for Young Women’s Health youth advisor Emily, blogged about why she thinks digital enhancement in pictures only makes it harder for girls to tell what’s real and what’s not.