Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

Eating Disorder Service

Information for family and friends

Body image

It’s really common for young women to be unhappy about the way they look. This can affect young men too, but is more common in girls and women. Exposure to underweight models and images can make people less happy with their own appearance, and so can negative talk about bodies and weight, and being picked on or bullied about weight.
Feeling unhappy about the way your body looks puts you at risk for eating disorders, obesity and low mood.

If you’re concerned that your child has a negative view of their body, or you want to try to help them stay positive about the way they look, you could:

  • talk to them about the way the media manipulates images – no one really looks like the women in magazines, not even the models themselves (this is true of Facebook and Instagram too – most young people modify photos of themselves before they post them online)
  • avoid focussing on your own, your child’s, or others’ appearance. Show them that you don’t believe that appearance and weight are their (or your) most valuable characteristics
  • help your child to eat a healthy balanced diet, where possible as a family, and to take exercise in a safe and healthy way – being overweight can put your child at risk of weight-related bullying and can make them more unhappy with how they look. Not all eating disorders involve weight loss: binge eating, vomiting and excessive concern about shape and weight are symptoms of eating disorders too
  • avoid buying fashion and gossip magazines – exposure to underweight images leads to women seeing themselves as larger and feeling less happy with their bodies. If they spend time on Instagram or Tumblr, talk to them about the kinds of people they follow and the effects on their self-esteem of the images they see there.

Last updated: 2 April, 2019