What Photoshopped Pictures Can Do to Your Diet

Body image stress can derail your ability to reach and maintain a healthy weight

woman with photo
Photoshopped images are everywhere. Dimitri Otis/ Stone/Getty Images

Do you feel pressure to be thin? Do you obsess about different ways to achieve a thigh gap, a flat stomach or skinnier calves?  If so, you’re not alone. Countless teens and adults suffer from body image stress and that stress can interfere with your ability to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Does Anyone Feel Good About Their Body?

If you have any doubt that adults, teens and even children feel pressure to look better in their bodies, consider the following statistics:

  • 83% of women said they were more likely to lie about their pants size than about their age, according to a Wakefield Research Study conducted for Slimfast.
  • 53% of 13-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies. The number grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen according to the National Institute on Media and the Family.
  • One in five teen boys admits to being unhappy with his body, according to a recent JAMA study.
  • 40% of 9 and  10-year-old girls have tried to lose weight, according to a study funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Photoshopped Models: A Source of Body Image Stress?

So where does all the body image stress come from? If you ask some legislators and health advocates, photoshopped images may be a big part of the problem. Photoshopped pictures are images that have been changed so that the model appears thinner or more attractive than they are in real life.

  Many experts say that these edited photos set up unrealistic expectations about the way our bodies are supposed to look.

Washington has evaluated legislation aimed at these ads.  The Truth in Advertising Act of 2014  pointed out that “an increasing amount of academic evidence links exposure to such altered images with emotional, mental, and physical health issues.”  The bill goes on to say that “such altered images can create distorted and unrealistic expectations and understandings of appropriate and healthy weight and body image.” 

Stress Interferes with Healthy Weight Loss

Some experts feel that exposure to unrealistic body images may encourage some teens and adults to lose weight when they don't need to. But the images can also interfere with a healthy weight loss process when an overweight teen or adult chooses to slim down. 

One of the most important steps in the weight loss process is goal setting. Dieters should set goals that are challenging but also healthy, realistic and attainable. These SMART goals provide a framework for the entire diet and exercise journey. But if the goals are based on unrealistic expectations, then the weight loss process is doomed to fail.

And the damage doesn't end there. When dieters fail at repeated attempts to lose weight, they lose faith in their ability to ever achieve a healthy weight.  When dieters lose their sense of self-efficacy they are more likely to give up on the healthy habits that will help them reach their goal weight. 

Learn how to spot photoshop fakes...

Overcome Body Stress to Reach a Healthy Weight

If you suffer from body image stress, it's not likely that you can ignore photoshopped images entirely. And if you are the parent of a teen who is affected, it's unrealistic to think you can control what they are exposed to during the day. So your best course of action is to combat the impact of these images with healthy alternatives. 

  • Focus on physical activity rather than physical beauty.  Instead of thinking about the way you want your body to look, try to think about what you want your body to do.  For example, instead of setting a goal to fit into a smaller size of jeans, set a goal to run a 5K.  Rather than trying to reach a number on the scale, set a goal to walk everyday or meet with friends several times each week to bike or swim.
  • Learn to spot photoshop fakes. According to Serban Enache, CEO of stock photo agency Dreamstime, you can identify photoshopped images if you find a few clues. He says to look for pictures where the skin texture is too even, every gap is in the right place or the soft facial hair is missing. He also says if the skin looks like "super fine polished stone" you're probably looking at a fake. Perspective distortion (when an object in the background should be larger or smaller) or different focus plans (some elements are blurred while others are clear) can be indicators of a photoshopped image as well.
  • Surround your teen with positive messages.  If your teen or young adolescent suffers from body image stress, find games and activities that build confidence. Pixelberry Studios has launched a new version of their game High School Story that addresses the issue of body image stress. The storyline follows a character, Mia, as she deals with insensitive comments about her physique. Players learn about common causes and unfortunate consequences of body image stress and eating disorders based on real life situations researched by Pixelberry and the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Additionally, players learn how to maintain a healthy body image and can reach out to the NEDA for advice and support directly through the game.

    Trying to fight the pressure to be thin can seem like an uphill battle.  But remember to focus on your health, rather than simply your weight, to find and keep a healthy weight.

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