Short. Tall. Scrawny. Buff. Pimply. Pretty. Unattractive.
Chances are that most people have felt this way about themselves at some point in their lives. As children grow into adolescents, these words take on new meaning. They become words that are thought when looking into the mirror and, in some cases, can become words that lead to the development of an eating disorder. In fact, body image issues in teens is a common symptom of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. So, what can parents do to better understand teen body image issues and support their children during these changes?
What Is Body Image?
Simply put, body image is how people think and feel about their body. Body image includes how people picture themselves in the mirror and in their minds. Body image can be positive, negative or distorted. If a person has a positive body image they accept and appreciate the way that they look. They typically have a clear and realistic perception of their own body and feel both comfortable and confident in the way they look.
If a person has a negative body image, they may feel ashamed or even anxious about the way that they look. They may criticize themselves regularly and usually have a distorted perception of how their body really looks. People with a negative body image feel conscious about their looks and uneasy with the way that they look to others and themselves.
Why is Teen Body Image Important?
The way that people view themselves begins to take shape during adolescence and the onset of puberty. This is when the body goes through the most changes within a short period. Boys and young girls must learn to navigate changes in height, weight, reproductive organs, skin, hair growth, and glands.
In addition to physical changes, teens are trying to form their own unique identities and find where they fit in with their peers and in society. A teens physical appearance, self-esteem and body image are all vital to the integration of their personal identity and self-worth. But teenage girl body image issues often last far beyond the adolescent years, making early intervention extremely important.
Why Does Negative Teen Body Image Affect So Many Young People?
There are certain environmental and individual factors that make body image issues in teens more prevalent than later in life. These include:
- Learning how to accept bodily changes. There are both societal view on body image that teens must navigate through and personal physical attributes that everyone wants to reach. Not “living up to” these images or ideas can leave teens feeling dissatisfied.
- There are many societal influences on teenage girl body image. Research shows that about two-thirds of teenage girls in 5th to 12th grade are influenced on what the ideal body should look like from magazine images. And half of those teenage girls said these images made them want to lose weight or try dieting. Negative teenage girl body image is such a big problem that 40-60 percent of girls aged 6-12 have expressed concerns over their weight.
Body Image and Eating Disorder Development
People with a negative body image are more likely to engage in disordered eating and purging behaviors than those with a positive body image. If parents or loved ones notice any body image issues in teens, it’s important to speak with them on the subject and seek professional medical advice as well.
Tips for Building a Positive Body Image
It’s common for people to have days when they feel uncomfortable or awkward in their own bodies. But if a repeated pattern of negative body image arises, it’s important to work towards changing those thoughts into a more positive way of looking at one’s own body. Some tips for combating a negative body image include:
- Being more mindful of how one’s relationship with their body
- Recognizing negative messages and working to change those thoughts
- Appreciating one’s body for what it can do and how it looks
- Prioritizing health over looks
- Placing value in other aspects of self
- Remembering that everyone feels the same sometimes
- Seeking out positive role models
Body image issues in teens can be difficult for parents to understand. But with a bit of mindfulness and a strong support system, enjoying a positive self-image is possible.