Body Image Concerns in Children: Does Photoshop Play a Role?

Mother and daughter hugging and working on Eating Disorders in Mothers and Daughters and pursuing treatment for anorexia

Contributor: By Rachael Clauson, MAAT, Eating Disorder Specialist, Timberline Knolls

Altering photographs is nothing new. Since the creation of film, professional photographers have employed a variety of methods to get the “look” they desire: lighting, backdrops, filters, staging.  Now, fast forward many decades to a world where almost all photos in magazines and advertisements are shamelessly doctored.  We are well-aware of the negative impact that advertising has on adolescents. But what about children, those who are say under ten?  We might want to think that photoshopped images would not have negative consequences, due to the fact that they are young, years away from puberty, and less self-focused than teens.

And we would be wrong.

Body Image and The Power of Social Media

Altered photos impact young people as much as adolescents, even adults. They view photos of their peers, then look at themselves. Certainly, this is far more likely to happen with girls than boys. They are more prone to pick up a mother or sister’s magazine, where kids are showcased in myriad ads, particularly fashion. Even at the age of ten, a girl notices that her hair is not as shiny, teeth are not as white, and body is not as slim. Because she has the naiveté of youth, she believes that pictures are always true and real. This starts her down the path of lifelong model and celebrity comparison, a game she will never, ever win.

Even worse than the media at large is social media. Today, selfies are as ubiquitous as ants at a picnic. Within seconds of any moment in time, pictures are posted on Facebook or flashed on to instagram and snap chat.

As far as children are concerned, Facebook users are probably the worst offenders. The Facebook generation has now grown up with children of their own. However, they remain committed to only posting photos that show how positive and wonderful their lives are. Sadly, this extends to their offspring. If a mother must tweak her daughter’s photo in order that she appears particularly adorable, she will do exactly that.

Those parents who embrace instgram or snap chat are certainly not immune. In fact, perhaps the most desirable aspect of these medium as that they offer built-in filters. With little to no effort, blemishes are gone, eyes are bluer, a child is more attractive.

The Underlying Message

family together with childrenSo what is the message being conveyed when a parent alters a child’s photo? That’s easy: you aren’t good enough the way you are; you need improvement.

Just as one child will forever compare themselves to the unrealistic images in magazines, another will constantly strive to achieve the “look” that the parent evidently prefers. Each is, by definition, unobtainable.

There is so much in a child’s life that a parent cannot control. This is not one of those areas. Let your child be a child as long as possible. Value what makes them special and unique such as a funny sense of humor, coloring ability or creative imagination. If your child falls out of a tree and chips a tooth, don’t fix it in your next Facebook post.

Parents who objectify their children, who view their kids as one more notch in their success belt, are not just misdirected, they are missing out. Life, and time spent with children, was never intended to be one prolonged photo op.

Community Discussion – Share Your Thoughts Here!

What are your thoughts on how social media filters and platforms impact children?

Rachel Clauson Image - 2-17-16About the Author: Rachael Clauson, MAAT, is and Eating Disorder Specialist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center. Her primary responsibilities consist of facilitating group therapy, creating individualized support plans, and providing support and awareness for resident’s continued success in recovery. She received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Drawing and Painting from Northern Michigan University. She also received her Master of Arts in Art Therapy from The School of The Art Institute of Chicago.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on September 28, 2016
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