It’s alarming to see how body-checking activities have been on the rise, especially among the youth, due to the influence of social media. As a parent, it’s crucial to understand what your child might be exposed to and take necessary precautions. Here’s what parents must know about body checking.
Most individuals are aware of the term “body checking.” Examining specific parts of one’s looks on a regular basis is not a novel practice. It has existed for a very long time. In recent years, however, body-checking activities have increased due to the development of social media. Very prevalent on TikTok are videos of people indulging in body-checking activities. Also, there are dozens of hashtag trends.
Not only is this concerning for parents but also for adolescents, tweens, and teens, who are susceptible to developing body dysmorphia, body image disorders, and disordered eating. According to the Mental Health Foundation 2019 survey, nearly one-third of adolescents felt shame about and/or toward their bodies, and four out of ten reported that social media photos made them anxious about their looks. What does this imply for parents of adolescents, preteens, and teenagers? What actions should you take if your child engages in body checking?
We went out to two eating disorder and body image specialists to assist us in comprehending body checking in preteens and adolescents and navigating these obstacles as parents.
What Is Body Checking?
Rebecca Jaspan MPH, RD, CDN, CDCES, specializing in eating disorders, “Body checking is staring in the mirror or using other methods to acquire information about your body’s weight, shape, and size.” Body checking can take on various forms. “It may appear as though you are pinching your hips or tummy, fitting your fingers around your wrist, or trying on clothing to ensure a proper fit,” Jaspan explains. This can occur at specified times, i.e., it can become ritualized, but it can also occur throughout the day.
What is the Relationship Between Social Media and Body Checking?
Jaspen feels there is a connection between social media and body checking, despite the fact that no formal research has been conducted on the subject. “Social media frequently portrays bodies in an unrealistic manner,” she says. Jaspen adds that filters and various cropping and angling techniques can make people appear leaner or more muscular than they actually are. And when we are constantly exposed to these images, it may result in increased body-checking activity. The two are connected, at least in some capacity.
Obviously, this is not unexpected. Several researchers have investigated the effects of social media on body image. A 2018 study indicated that female college students who posted selfies on social media felt greater concern about their appearance, had lower self-worth, and perceived themselves as less beautiful than their counterparts who did not post selfies. A 2019 study had similar but distinct findings: adolescents who utilized social media were more likely to acquire eating disorders. Also, adolescents are more prone to develop unhealthy behaviors and/or interactions with food the more time they spend on social media.
What are the Symptoms of Body Checking in Teens?
According to Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C, clinical psychotherapist, eating disorder specialist, and founder of The Eating Disorder Center, body checking often consists of three components: weight, body size, and body form checks. “Common actions include lifting your shirt to view your tummy, wrapping your hands around your wrists, and feeling for bones,” she explains.
Body checking activities of preteens and adolescents resemble those of adults. “Signs of body checking among adolescents and preteens may include excessive time spent in front of the mirror, daily or multiple daily weigh-ins, and pinching the skin,” explains Jaspan. She says that these obsessions typically become so intense that they impair the mood of your tween or adolescent. Changes in mood may result in increased emotions of worry and depression. In addition, agitation and withdrawal are typical.
What Effect Can Body Checking to Have On Mental Health?
We typically consider how body checking can affect a person’s self-image and self-esteem, but body checking can have tremendous implications on mental health in and of itself. “Many people use body checking to decrease worry, but it can become compulsive, leading to increased anxiety and a bad body image,” explains Rollin. There are ties between body checking and depression as well. In many situations, body checking is linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. Body checking might impair your thinking capacity, worsening your disposition.
Body Checking and Eating Disorders
Body checking is frequently associated with eating disorders, according to Jaspan, because it might heighten the perception that the body is imperfect. “After assessing one’s body, a person may engage in practices to improve it,” she explains. This may involve food monitoring, restriction, or abstinence. Some resort to exercise to improve their appearance, while others actively purge or eliminate calories from the body. “Since body checking makes people feel in charge, many of them start doing other things, like limiting their food intake or working out too much,” Jaspan explains.
Rollin agrees. “Some persons with eating disorders engage in compulsive, almost instinctive body checking,” she explains. Rollin explains that this conduct subsequently feeds the “eating disorder voice” combined with constant worries about weight and shape.
Eating problems among adolescents have increased over the past few years. After the epidemic, the prevalence of eating disorders among adolescents has increased, perhaps as a result of feelings of isolation, fear about the pandemic, and severed social ties. According to experts, spending more time on social media during the pandemic did not improve the situation.
Indicators of Eating Disorders
- Compulsive body image-related habits, such as body checking.
- Not wishing to consume in public.
- Inconspicuous eating.
- Exercising in excess.
- Constant calorie counting
- Substantial weight loss or increase.
- Hair loss, dry skin, and a chilly feeling.
- Changes in the menstrual cycle or the absence of menstruation.
- Isolation from friends.
- Rituals associated with eating.
Contact your pediatrician, a certified dietitian, or a child therapist if you suspect that your adolescent may have acquired an eating disorder.
How to Prevent Body Checking
It is evident that body checking is not a healthy activity and can have bad effects on a person’s self-esteem and mental health, but what can be done to stop it?
According to Rollin, the first stage is to become more aware of your actions. “Decreasing body checking behaviors begins with cultivating a thoughtful awareness of the frequency of body checking, then gradually forcing yourself to cease the behavior when you become aware of it,” she explains. Rollin proposes using a positive coping statement, such as “this just feeds my negative body image,” to cease the habit.
Once you are conscious of the tendency, you will need to devise other activities to replace body checking. The author suggests walking, reading, or listening to music or a podcast. “Learn to exist in your body without attempting to alter it,” she continues. Nonetheless, it should be noted that changing these tendencies will take time. You should not be required to overcome body checking or body image concerns on your own. If you or your child continue to struggle, consider connecting with a therapist specializing in these areas.