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Dubai: The pressure to look perfect in an era of airbrushed beauty and celebrity endorsements is a deep-rooted global problem and the UAE is not immune from it, according to experts.

While body ideals have always existed in society, they were more realistic during the early 20th century, say experts. With the explosion of information available to every individual thanks to technology, the pressure on young girls to achieve perfection, as they interpret the messages and images of impossibly airbrushed models, celebrities and pop icons, can be a destabilising force.

“Poor body image is affecting people’s ability to contribute to society, the workforce and therefore the overall economy. This is regardless of weight — it’s about how a person thinks they look not how they actually look — and it has a vast impact across society,” Aisling Prendergast, counselling psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia told Gulf News.

Four factors

The influence society places on body expectations including family’s and friend’s expectations of their own bodies.

“ ... the celebrity and media culture, influence of social media, and young people’s relationship with themselves, their body image and their self-worth (as a result of the two),” explained Prendergast.

She pointed out that evidence also suggests that ‘body ideals’ became thinner from the 1970s. “Although there has been some awareness raised regarding the ‘thin ideal’, young men are still faced with ‘perfect six packs’ and young women faced with perfectly proportioned bodies,” said Prendergast.

Instant validation

Thanks to the power of technology, “teenagers are under pressure to be online at all times, while their brains have become hard-wired for instant gratification,” said Prendergast.

Young people’s brains are also hypersensitive to external validation, especially from peers.

Prendergast explained the addictive pleasure that instant gratification brings not only encourages the young person to seek more time online but also reduces their own ability to self-validate.

“Anticipating an unpleasant or worrying message can be a potential cause of anxiety and frequent checking reduces that anxiety in the short-term.

“This need for external validation can become a measure of self-worth which can lead to low self-confidence, resulting in a negative perception of oneself, poor body image and eventually it takes over other important aspects of a young person’s life,” she said.