In order to maintain our mental wellbeing, we must cultivate a positive view of ourselves. Unfortunately, many teens today struggle with a negative body image.
There are many factors that influence a teen’s body image, but there are just as many practical ways to model healthy attitudes and mindsets.
A nurturing, non-judgmental environment can promote body acceptance and positivity. The opposite is also true. Negative environmental influences may distort a teen’s perception of their body. Risk factors can include:
- A cultural background or family environment that emphasizes appearance;
- Criticism of appearance or weight;
- Exposure to negative attitudes about food and weight;
- Trauma, abuse and other experiences that impact self-esteem.
A prime example of an environment potentially detrimental to your teen’s body image is competitive sports. Many sports like running and ballet place a great deal of emphasis on the athlete’s body and physical appearance, which can lead to teens being hard on themselves for the way they look. Negative environmental factors may also lead to disordered eating habits or the development of an eating disorder.
Certain biological factors also play a role in self-esteem and body image. Puberty can be a trigger for a negative body image, since it brings about many physical and hormonal changes. Adolescents going through puberty may experience weight gain and changes in physical appearance, as well as hormonal fluctuations that impact mood.
Additionally, certain genetic traits like perfectionism can lead to body dissatisfaction, especially when combined with a negative environment or media exposure.
Cultural factors and the effects of the media
Unrealistic portrayals in the media can distort a teen’s view of a healthy body. They may compare themselves to incredibly thin or muscular celebrities and models and become dissatisfied with their own bodies. Most of these images have been digitally altered to produce a look that is not natural or attainable. This puts teens at risk as they may try to achieve these impossible appearances.
If your teen obsessively consumes media and compares themselves to “perfect” celebrities, help them find healthier media channels that promote body positivity, relatability and authenticity rather than perfection or unattainability.
Social factors and peer influence
Teens often compare themselves to their peers. They may also discuss body dissatisfaction with friends, which reinforces negative attitudes. Even if your home environment promotes body positivity, your teenager may be feeling negative peer influences at school or extracurricular activities. If you are noticing a pattern in your child’s group of friends, consider talking to other parents about how you can help reinforce body positivity at this stage in your teens’ lives.
Children are impacted by the attitudes their parental figures display towards their weight, food and appearance. Parents can influence a teen’s body image by their words and actions, and should take care to use sensitive language whenever they discuss these topics.
Even comments that are not directed at a teen can have an impact. For example, frequently criticizing others for being “overweight” reinforces the idea that there is an “ideal” weight everyone should try to achieve, or that being overweight is necessarily a bad thing.
Parents who frequently diet or restrict their own food choices send a damaging message to their teens. According to the Office on Women’s Health, children are at increased risk of negative body image if their mother is concerned with her own weight or her children’s weight.
Parents, by being critical of their own bodies, can indirectly influence their child’s body image. If a parent exercises excessively, frequently discusses their weight or engages in disordered eating habits, their teenager may internalize that behavior and begin to exhibit it themselves.
The effects of a negative body image
Poor body image has a variety of psychological effects. Teens with a negative view of their bodies often experience:
- Low self-esteem;
- Low self-confidence;
- Preoccupation with appearance and weight;
- Negative thought patterns;
- Unhealthy eating or exercise habits;
- Depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders;
- Eating disorders or disordered eating habits;
- Substance abuse.
Teens who engage in unhealthy eating and exercise habits are at increased risk of health issues like nutritional deficiencies, injuries and eating disorders. Eating disorders are especially dangerous since they are damaging to both physical and mental health.
How to promote a positive body image
If your teenager is struggling with body dissatisfaction, here are some ways to promote a positive body image:
- Let them know you accept them the way they are now;
- Point out positive qualities that don’t have to do with appearance, like kindness and generosity;
- Model healthy attitudes towards food and exercise in your own life–lead by example;
- Avoid comments about weight and appearance, whether directed at yourself or others;
- Avoid labeling certain foods as “good” or “bad;”
- Appreciate diversity in body types and shapes;
- Consume media that promotes a healthy body image;
- Teach them about nutrition and invite them to cook well-rounded meals with you.
It’s important to reach out to anyone who is experiencing negative body image and offer support. Parents should especially keep an eye on their children and intervene whenever body image issues arise.
Overcoming body image issues in teens
Teens experiencing body image issues may benefit from professional help. A therapist can help identify the root cause of the problem and build a healthier self-image. Family and friends can also offer support, however professional help may be necessary to completely overcome the problem.
If your teen has a negative attitude towards their appearance, or shows signs of an eating disorder, talk to a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. Your teen will be able to thrive with the right support. Contact the Seeds of Hope admissions department with any questions or concerns you have about your child and their body image. Give us a call at 610-644-6464 or fill out a form on our website today.