A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project, and Harvard’s Berkman Center survey, recorded that 9 out of 10 teens use Facebook and other social media websites. So, it comes as no surprise really, that the teen of today is worried, to the point of psychosis, about her body image. And, if your teen spends most of her time in front of the mirror, or clicking selfies, you might want to sit her down and talk to her.
This worry about how my body looks is the leading cause of stress-related disorders among teens. And, if you feel that your teen’s unhealthy obsession could be ruining her life, read this post to learn all you can about it. Here, MomJunction has compiled some valuable information about teen body image issues.
What Is Teen Body Image?
As the name suggests, the term body image refers to the perception that you have about your body and how you think and feel about it. It is a condition when you think that your body looks a certain way, even if it may not be so in real life.
Body image in teens is of two types:
1. Positive Body Image:
When your daughter has a positive body image, she will feel happy about the way her body looks and will be satisfied with it. She will be comfortable in the way she is and will accept her looks and her figure the way it is.
2. Negative Body Image:
When your daughter has a negative body image, she will constantly worry about the way her body looks and will always find faults with it. She will not be comfortable in the way she looks and may believe that changing her body shape and size will make her look better and more acceptable.
The way your daughter handles her body image issues will change as she grows up, but it will be a critical part of growing up and self-acceptance, especially during her teenage years.
[ Read: Common Teenage Behavioral Problems ]
Body Image Issues In Teen Girls:
Many factors can affect the way your teen girl approaches her body image issues. Here are some common factors that are, typically, to blame:
- Trying to fit into the perfect image of skinny models that are commonly shared by the media
- Believing that beauty only means being thin or skinny and trying to achieve the look
- Following a particular friend or peer who has the so-called body type that your daughter feels is perfect
- Reacting to social reactions of being called ‘fat,’ ‘plump,’ ‘chubby,’ ‘healthy,’ ‘big’ and so on
What Are The Risk Factors Of Having A Negative Body Image?
While it is true that not all teenagers may go through a phase when they have negative body image issues, it is still a growing concern among teens and their parents. If you feel that your teen is particularly concerned about the way she looks and wants to change something or the other about her body, it could be a sign that she is suffering from negative body image issues. Here are some factors that could put your teen girl at a higher risk of having a negative body image:
- Your teen girl may have a different body shape and type from most of her peers.
- She may not be the ideal candidate for the type of body image that is generally considered to be the perfect figure by the media and society.
- If your daughter is a perfectionist, she may feel that unless and until she reaches the ‘ideal’ weight or body shape, she will not be perfect and will not be happy about it.
- Sometimes, your daughter may face or may have faced teasing by family members, friends, peers or siblings about her weight or body type. It could also be a big factor that could contribute towards having a negative body image issues in teenagers.
- If your daughter has a low self-esteem or suffers from signs of depression, she can be easily influenced by negative thoughts about her own body and how she looks.
- In case your daughter has any physical disability or is indeed a little overweight, she could have issues that deal with negative body image.
Signs That Your Teen Has An Unhealthy Body Image:
Watch out for the following signs in your teen girl to learn if she indeed suffers from negative body image issues:
- Your daughter may constantly try to criticize her own body and say negative things about it.
- She may not be happy about the way she looks. An easy observation that you can make here is that she could be extremely choosy about what she wears, as she will always worry about what will make her look good and what can potentially make her look bigger or bad.
- Your daughter may constantly compare her body to someone else’s.
- In severe instances, your daughter will refuse to leave the house and will not want to socialize with friends or family, as she will feel that she does not look good enough.
[ Read: Teenage Depression ]
- Your daughter could also suddenly show a lack of interest in doing things that she was earlier interested in, such as dancing, sports and so on, as she may feel too negative to go out and participate.
- In some cases, your daughter may also get into negative eating habits that could lead to a deficiency. She may refuse to eat food and feel guilty or ashamed if she eats. She could also develop unhealthy food-related habits such as anorexia or bulimia, to lose weight.
How Can You Help Your Teen Girl Build A Positive Body Image?
If you suspect that your teen girl is suffering from negative body image issues, here are a few steps you can take to help her turn the negative feelings into a more positive one:
1. Appreciate And Respect Your Body For What It Does For You:
- Show your daughter the many ways in which her body is important for her and teach her how and why she should appreciate and respect it.
- Tell her that because she has a strong and healthy body, she can take care of herself each day. As a result, she can do all those things in life that are important to her, such as study and work towards her dreams and her future, go dancing, have fun with friends, enjoy life, travel, see new things, meet new people and do so much more in general.
2. Write Down One Positive Thing About Yourself A Day:
- Ask your teen to write down one thing each day that she likes about her body or herself. Make sure that none of these things are related to her weight or her body type.
- For instance, she should not write something like ‘I am happy that I lost so and so amount of weight.’ Instead, encourage her to write things like ‘I love the way I can smile openly’ or ‘I love the way I can care for others and understand their needs.’
- As your teen will write more she will keep finding more and more positive things about herself that she likes. Encourage her to read the points each day and make her realize what a wonderful person she is, and how her body and her weight are just a part of her and not what defines her.
3. Love Yourself For Who You Are And Not For How You Look:
- Teach your daughter to love herself for the kind of person she is and not for the way she looks. Tell her that beauty can only last so long if it is only on the outside.
- But if she is a kind and compassionate person and is good to herself and those around her, she will remain beautiful forever.
- Ask your daughter to stand in front of the mirror and take a good look at her image. Now tell her to take a look at herself as a whole person, and not just focus on some body parts that she does not particularly like.
- Encourage your teen to love herself for the whole person that she is and not pull herself down for a few parts of her body. Tell her that when she learns to love herself, she will become confident and that confidence will make her even more beautiful.
[ Read: Fashion Tips For Teens ]
4. Surround Yourself With Positive People To Feel Positive:
- To be a positive person and look at life and herself in a positive way, your daughter has to surround herself with positive people first.
- Ask your daughter about friends or other members who she thinks have a negative attitude towards life. She will easily be able to identify such people as those who value others for the way they look and dress and not respect people for who they are.
- Negative people are those who will try and put others down and always create a negative impression about things, and not be able to appreciate the goodness.
- Encourage your daughter to let go of such people from her circle and instead, be close to those who have a positive attitude towards life. Once she mixes with positive people, her attitude towards herself will also automatically start turning positive.
5. Fight The Negative Thoughts With Positive Thoughts:
- Tell your daughter that each time she has a negative thought about her body, she should try and fight it out by thinking a positive thought.
- For instance, if she feels her face is a little plump, she can look at some positive aspect in her face and drown out the negative feeling. Instead of concentrating on the plumpness of her face, she can look at how beautiful and expressive her eyes are.
- Each time your daughter thinks a negative thought about her own body, ask her to say one positive thing out loud.
- Encourage her to do so even if someone else says or implies something negative about her body.
6. Choose Clothes To Feel Comfortable, Not To Look Slim:
- During the teen years, your daughter will put a lot of emphasis on the type of clothes she wears and will become increasingly fashion conscious.
- Help your daughter move towards the right type of fashion by asking her to choose clothes that make her feel comfortable, instead of those that are supposed to be in fashion.
- Of course, your daughter should choose clothes that look good on her, but not at the cost of feeling uncomfortable.
- For instance, your daughter may want to wear a particular type of dress that is the latest style, but which may not be particularly flattering to her body type. Help her understand that there are different types of body types and not all bodies are of the same shape. What may suit someone may not look as good on someone who has a different type of body.
- Instead of trying to fit in that dress and wear it even though it may not be the best choice, help her choose another dress that will flatter her body shape and type.
- Once she feels comfortable in the dress she is wearing, she will feel that confidence from within that will make her feel good about herself.
[ Read: Fashion Clothing Tips For Teens ]
The Role Of Media In Shaping Teenage Body Image Issues:
On an average, a teen girl will get about 180 minutes of exposure to the media on a daily basis, as compared to only ten minutes of positive interaction with a parent (1).
As your teen gets exposed to the many stereotypes of beauty and the perfect female form that the media creates, she will form an image in her mind too. To attain that perfect female image and tone her body, in the same way, your teen may often end up taking drastic measures that could cause severe damage to her overall health and personality. In addition to other health issues, your daughter could also get afflicted with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
Of course, you cannot remove all traces of media exposure from your teen’s life, but you can certainly be a more involved parent. Instead of shutting off the television and avoiding your daughter seeing such images, you can point out how these portrayals are unrealistic and unhealthy. Tell your daughter how images are airbrushed before they are published, especially the images of celebrities, to make them look perfect. You can also show her some before and after images, as well as some real images of celebrities where they are pictured without makeup and in regular everyday clothes. Once your daughter realizes that celebrities who look glamorous can also look very ordinary, she will have a better sense of how unreal most media portrayals of the body image can be.
What Are The Causes Of Body Image Concerns In Your Teen?
There can be many reasons that could cause negative body image issues in your teen girl. Here are some of the most common reasons that could lead to a negative body image that your teen may have:
- As your daughter hits her teens, her body will go through many hormonal changes and puberty issues. It is natural that she may end up gaining some extra weight.
- If your daughter notices an increase in her weight and if it is especially obvious to the eye, it could make your teen think of her body in a very negative way.
- If most of her friends are of a thinner body type, your daughter may often have trouble accepting her body shape as normal or nice.
- In some cases, you, as a mother, may also be concerned about your weight and worry a lot about how you look or be unhappy about your body. It is possible that your daughter has picked up the habit from you and now has a negative image of her body.
- Your daughter can get easily influenced by the many images she sees in the media that show up skinny and thin female bodies as being the epitome of beauty.
[ Read: Media Influence On Teens ]
How To Help Your Teen Cope With Body Image Issues?
Once you are sure that your teen girl is suffering from negative body image issues, do not panic or get stressed. Instead, understand that it is a natural part of growing up for your teen and know that you can help her out. Here are a few ways in which you can help your teen come out of the whole negative body image issue thing:
1. Show Her That You Understand:
Instead of dismissing your daughter’s concerns about the way her body looks, sit down with her and listen to her. It is perfectly natural for your daughter to feel the way she does and be confused or unhappy about the way she looks. Encourage her to share these emotions with you and show her that you understand what she is going through. Tell her that you too have been through this phase and have felt negative towards your body at some time or the other. Emphasize on the fact that while it did cause you a lot of stress and confusion at one point, you are still a happy and healthy person. Once you do so, your daughter will realize that what she is feeling is not something unnatural and that there is a way to come out of it. She will also see you for the beautiful person that you are and learn that there is more to life than just body weight or type.
2. Be Comfortable In Your Body Before Teaching Your Daughter:
Just like all the other things that your daughter will pick up on you, she will also learn the first steps of body-loving or body-shaming from you. If you as a parent are constantly worried about the way your body looks, your teen too will start being negative towards her body. Try to be positive towards your body and feel happy and confident in your skin. Truly appreciate your body for what it is and show your daughter how you love to be the person you are, no matter what your body type or size. Your daughter will soon pick up the positive vibes from you and move towards a more positive attitude towards her body.
3. Encourage Other Family Members To Appreciate Your Daughter:
In addition to telling your daughter what a beautiful and kind person she is, try and make other family members tell her about her positive qualities too. Your daughter will feel a very positive vibe once she realizes that others do not only see her for how thin or heavy she is but for all the types of qualities that she possesses. You can ask your partner to tell your daughter things that make him proud of her. Also, you should also encourage your partner to compliment you in front of your daughter in such a way where she can see that the best way to love someone is to love them for who they are not how they look or what they wear.
4. Learn To Deal With It And Work Towards It:
Teach your daughter that life is not always a fairy tale and that there will be instances that may be unpleasant. The only way to deal with such situations is to accept them with full positivity and work towards making things work and making things better. Ask your daughter why she is unhappy with the way she looks. If she mentions that she thinks she is fat, tell her that she can always take up a healthy and practical alternative to work on that by starting some exercise routine. Instead of wasting time in counting calories, teach her to plan her meals in a healthy way. Let her use her energy in a positive and functional way instead of just getting negative about herself.
Teenage girl body image issues are a real concern that can affect them to a great extent. However, remember that it is a very natural part of growing up, one that you may have faced yourself and may be facing still. Accept your daughter for what she is and make sure you always show her how much you love her. Help her face her worries and work towards eliminating them in a positive way, even though it may take some time.
Moms, have your daughters reached that stage yet where they are worried about their appearance? How do you help your daughter accept herself and love herself? Do share your special tips here with other moms so that they can help their girls too.
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