Body Image: Introduction

It takes me an hour or more, and finally I'm ready. Makeup, hair, outfit — and I have to get good lighting, the right angle, the right pose…

Now the real work begins: choosing the right picture. I took multiple shots, hoping one would be good enough to post. I begin to scroll through my camera roll, saying, "Nah, nope, no way, oh god" to almost every single one…

I over analyze the one I chose. It's not perfect but it will work. I literally start from the top and work to the bottom, whitening anything that's white, like my eyes and my teeth.

Next it's my blemishes, pimples and scars. I simply erase them with the touch of a finger like they've never been there.

Then my body.

Madison O’Dell, a Grade Twelve student at Holy Trinity High School[1]

A photograph of actor Henry Cavill posted to social media.

Body image concerns have been documented in children as young as three,[2] but it’s adolescents who appear to be most at risk for developing unhealthy attitudes towards their bodies based on this perception. At a time where young people are focused on developing their individual identities,[3] they’re also highly susceptible to both social pressure and media images,[4] which can have a profound effect on how they see their bodies[5]. As young as 12, three-quarters of children “dislike their bodies and are embarrassed by the way they look.”[6]

While there is increasing evidence that a larger body by itself doesn’t necessarily lead to worse overall health,[7] having poor body image can have numerous negative effects: one recent meta-analysis found that one in five children and teens show signs of disordered eating.[8] Positive body image, on the other hand – which one study defined as "accepting, holding favorable opinions toward, and respecting the body, while also rejecting media-promoted appearance ideals as the only form of human beauty" – is linked to being more satisfied with one’s life.[9]

Attitudes towards body image are also connected to bullying, as children are more likely to bully those they see as being above average weight.[10] Youth who have poor body image are also more likely to be perpetrators or targets of bullying behaviour.[11] (See our resources on gender stereotyping and cyberbullying for more on how to deal with this issue.)

An Instagram post promoting a weight loss tea. A very thin model with an extremely narrow waist holds a packet labeled "weight loss" and a water bottle labeled "skinny."

In a world where pervasive media images fuel unrealistic expectations about how we should look – and dissatisfaction if we fail to make the grade – it is vitally important that both girls and boys be taught the media literacy skills they need to critically engage with media representations of male and female bodies. The following sections explore the role various media play in influencing our perceptions about how we look and the role that media education can play in changing these representations and perceptions.


If you or someone you know needs support in dealing with an eating disorder, visit the National Eating Disorder Information Centre

[1] O’Dell, Madison. (2021) “How I used to edit my selfies to look pretty – and why I don’t anymore.” CBC News.

[2] Harriger, J.A., R.M. Calogero, D.C. Witherington et al. 2010. Body size stereotyping and the internalization of the thin ideal in preschool girls. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 63: 1-5

[3] Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2002). A test of objectification theory in adolescent girls. Sex Roles, 46(9/10), 343 – 349

[4] Tiggeman, M., & Pickering, A. S. (1996). Role of television in adolescent women’s body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 20(2), 199 – 203

[5] Clark, L., & Tiggemann, M. (2007). Sociocultural influences and body image in 9 to 12 year-old girls: The role of appearance schemas. Journal of Clinic Child and Adolescent Psychology, 36(1), 76-86.

[6] Hill, A. (2023) “Social media triggers children to dislike their own bodies says study.” The Guardian.

[7] Visaria, A., & Setoguchi, S. (2023). Body mass index and all-cause mortality in a 21st century US population: A National Health Interview Survey analysis. Plos one, 18(7), e0287218.

[8] Kite, J., Huang, B. H., Laird, Y., Grunseit, A., McGill, B., Williams, K., ... & Thomas, M. (2022). Influence and effects of weight stigmatisation in media: A systematic review. EClinicalMedicine, 48.

[9] Swami, V., Tran, U. S., Stieger, S., Aavik, T., Ranjbar, H. A., Adebayo, S. O., ... & Lukács, A. (2023). Body appreciation around the world: Measurement invariance of the Body Appreciation Scale-2 (BAS-2) across 65 nations, 40 languages, gender identities, and age. Body image, 46, 449-466.

[10] Thompson, I., Hong, J. S., Lee, J. M., Prys, N. A., Morgan, J. T., & Udo-Inyang, I. (2020). A review of the empirical research on weight-based bullying and peer victimisation published between 2006 and 2016. Educational Review, 72(1), 88-110.

[11] Shelton, Sarah and Laura Liljequist. Characteristics and behaviors associated with body image in male domestic violence offenders. Eating Behaviors Volume 3, Issue 3, Autumn 2002, Pages 217-227.