Body Image in Children and Adolescents
What is body image? A two-dimensional model of body image incorporates both perceptual and emotional components. It focuses on both how we feel about the size and shape of our bodies and how accurately we perceive our body size as well. A more recent cognitive approach suggests that body image is a complex set of cognitive schema. A schema is a grouped body of knowledge. Groups of schema are readily available for important tasks such as guiding behavior, circumstantial scripts (or dialogue), and evoking the appropriate emotional, somatic, visual, and auditory responses in certain situations. The cognitive schema for body image is an organized domain of knowledge about oneself and others. Different situations evoke different schema. For example, watching a runway show or looking at a women’s magazine filled with page after page of waifs may evoke the "I’m fat" schema, while being complimented for how good your body looks in a certain dress may evoke the "I’m sexy" schema. We begin constructing schema from a young age; thus, by the time we are adults we have been through many experiences and established very elaborate schema. Such elaborate constructs are resistant to change. These schema influence our perception of the world and ourselves, our feelings, and our behaviors.
Every culture around the globe stresses specific ideals for body image. In the United States and many other countries, the media plays a big role in how we view ourselves- it shows us what is "good" and what is "bad." In many ways our society infiltrates our concept of ideal body image by setting unrealistic expectations for both genders. At an early age we are instructed to pay special attention to our appearance. At an early age body image schema develop through the training given to us by our families, peers, and the mass media. Unfortunately, studies show that many young children have already internalized negative body images of themselves. Body image is studied widely in the fields of psychology and psychiatry because of the correlation between body image distortions and eating disorders or self-esteem issues.
My literature review paper includes several very recent studies that address the cognitive and behavioral components of body image and dieting in young children and adolescents. I discuss what is known and what is still not understood about body image in children around the world today. I give examples of holistic programs developed for school and community involvement in body image awareness. I attempt to show the complexities of the issues about body image and conclude with (what I feel might be) the most effective method (to date) for incorporating healthy body image awareness into the community and instilling realistic goals within each individual child.
Research with preadolescent children reports mixed findings about at what age body image becomes a real issue for them. Body-image...