Body Image and Teens

Adolescence is, for many, an extremely difficult time. Your body is changing, your mind is changing, and you’re grappling with putting childhood behind you and becoming an adult. Self-esteem and self-confidence can be in very short supply during adolescence. Kids need any kind of boost they can get. Unfortunately, the bodies that served them so well during childhood can betray them now — many teens struggle with body image. Few things can hurt a teenager’s self-esteem like a negative body image, especially if others pick up on this and make fun of them for it.

What is body image?

Body image is literally how you picture your body. It’s how you view yourself and, to a certain extent, what you think of yourself. Your body image may be completely inaccurate, but it has a huge effect on your self-esteem. Fortunately, your body image will change throughout the course of your life, even if your basic body type stays the same.

A negative body image, whether it’s accurate or not, can have extremely adverse effects on your self-worth. It can be especially harmful to teens, and can lead to eating disorders, mood swings, and even depression.

Signs that your teen has a negative body image

Children are constantly exposed to media — much more than even 20 years ago. That means they are flooded with advertising all day, every day. Much of this advertising revolves around the “ideal” body. The idea is driven home day after day — “you should look like this.” Even young children pick up on this and grow increasingly critical of their own bodies. There are several signs that your teen is suffering from a negative body image.

What to look for:

  • A sudden change in eating habits
  • Talk about dieting
  • Obsessing over appearance
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Obsessive exercising
  • Tying guilt to food

The impacts of a negative body image on teens

A negative body image can have far-reaching effects on your adolescent child. What may begin as lowered self-esteem can turn into a very serious problem quickly, especially if this negative self-image is being reinforced by their peers. The negative effects include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of development of interpersonal skills
  • Eating disorders
  • Unhealthy exercise
  • Depression
  • Suicide

Is there anything you can do to help?

Teens are bombarded with the image of the ideal body in all types of media. You can, however, still get through all the noise and make a difference. Be sure to keep your comments positive. If your daughter is overweight, she already knows about it — she certainly doesn’t need a parent telling her about it. Your comments should reinforce positive feelings. Tell her she has a pretty smile or beautiful hair. You can also focus on other positive qualities, such as his great sense of humor or athletic abilities.

If you think the problem has gone beyond your scope of influence or your ability to improve, you can enlist the help of teachers, counselors, coaches, or therapists. A wilderness therapy program like Outback’s can turn a teen’s body image issues around by removing them from all the negative everyday influences that they encounter and focusing on their abilities. If your teen has developed a body image issue, it’s important to alleviate the problem as soon as possible to mitigate long-term effects.


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