Study finds that less than half of Czech children are satisfied with their looks

A new study by researchers from the University of Olomouc on how social media affects children’s self-perception and mental health has found some alarming results. A third of Czech children have been the target of online body shaming, with some being driven to self-harm.

Kamil Kopecký | Photo:  ČT24

Nearly 10,000 Czech children and adolescents aged between 10 and 17 participated in the study by researchers at the Pedagogical Faculty at the University of Olomouc in cooperation with O2 Czech Republic, titled Children and the Cult of Beauty in the Online World. The study looked at a range of topics related to children’s use of social media and how the online world impacts their self-image. Kamil Kopecký is one of the authors.

“For example, we were interested in what kinds of photos and videos children share online and whether they edit them in any way before sharing them. If you look at the results, 10 per cent of children use a filter to get rid of blemishes on their faces. Other children, for example, use makeup filters, and a smaller group of children even enhance their bodies in photos.”

Illustrative photo:  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

But the study wasn’t only interested in the content that children share. It also looked at how children feel about their appearance, finding that 50 per cent are satisfied with the appearance of their face, and less than that – 46 per cent – with their bodies. Just over a third wish they were thinner, while another 30 per cent would like to gain muscle mass.

How children feel about their appearance can be influenced not only by unrealistic images and videos from social media, but also by the phenomenon of body shaming – offensive comments or remarks about someone’s appearance, whether in the online or offline world. The study found that one in three children in the Czech Republic have been the target of offensive comments about their appearance on the Internet, and somewhat surprisingly, this happens even more often in the real world – half of teenagers reported being ridiculed about their looks offline. This can have a very negative effect on their psyche, says Kopecký.

“During adolescence, children unfortunately encounter a great deal of aggression which can also affect their own behavior in the future.”

Illustrative photo: Alexander Montuschi,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-NC

This can manifest itself in using alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, which more than 6 per cent of the respondents admitted to, or in self-harm, such as cutting or burning, which was at 4.25%. Jana Kvintová, another of the study’s authors, elaborates further.

“Five per cent of children reduced their food consumption to a minimum. Very alarmingly, we found that 10 per cent of children admitted to self-harming tendencies. 7.5 per cent of children wish they didn’t exist at all.”

Kamil Kopecký says that body shaming should be distinguished from cyberbullying, which is repeated, targeted, and more long-term. However, the fact that children are at their most sensitive when they are going through puberty means that even a nasty comment here and there can be enough to stick with the child and have serious effects. More than 21 per cent of children reported experiencing feelings of depression and over 10 percent reported feelings of anxiety.

Illustrative photo: Daniel Reche,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

But Kopecký says that the situation is not hopeless, and there are things that can be done.

“One of the ways to improve the situation in schools, where body shaming very often occurs, is to improve the school climate, to build good relationships between students and teachers, and to set boundaries between criticism and actual insults.”

Although it seems body shaming is fairly commonplace, Kopecký says it is never normal.

“I would separate the phrases normal and common. Hurting someone is not normal and it doesn’t matter whether it’s in the online or offline world.”