A positive view of oneself is essential for mental well-being. Unfortunately, negative body image has become an issue for many adolescents today. Here are some of the factors that influence teen body image, as well as practical ways to model healthy attitudes.
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
Certain biological factors also play a role in self-esteem and body image. Puberty can be a trigger for 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.
Effects of Media on Body Image
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.
Peer Influence on Body Image
Teens often compare themselves to their peers. They may also discuss body dissatisfaction with friends, which reinforces negative attitudes. Even if the home environment promotes body positivity, parents should watch out for peer influence.
How Parents Influence a Teen’s Body Image
Children are impacted by the attitudes a mother or father displays towards 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. 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.
The Effects of 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
- Unhealthy eating or exercise habits
- Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
- Eating disorders
- Substance abuse
Teens who engage in unhealthy eating and exercise habits are at increased risk of nutritional deficiencies, injuries, and/or eating disorders. Eating disorders are especially dangerous since they are damaging to physical and mental health.
How to Promote Positive Body Image
If you know someone who 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
- 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
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. You can contact the Seeds of Hope admissions department with any questions or concerns you have about your child. Call us at 610-644-6464 or fill out a form on our website today.