Body Image & Eating Disorders in Teens

Asian American Woman or Girl Reading a Book

Adolescence is a turbulent season of life, and the physical transitions teens experience during this time can result in challenging emotional, social, body image, and psychological turmoil. Amidst all of this change, adolescence plays a key role in body image development.

There are many vulnerabilities and factors that contribute to the way teens conceptualize their own body image and how it relates to their identity and self-worth.

Media & Teens

It is no secret that the media preys upon societal expectations of beauty to steel producers. However, what is less understood is that media specifically targets teens as potential customers.

Diet culture and the beauty industry perpetuate societal body and appearance expectations that are unrealistic and dangerous. Developmentally, teens have not yet learned media literacy or the ability to critically evaluate media.

The result is media preying upon this vulnerability to sell products, and the consequence is concerning damage to the body image and self-worth of teens. One study found saddening evidence that “the greatest decline in body satisfaction occurred in girls under the age of 19 following exposure to overtly thin media images [1].”

Social media worsens these expectations, with research finding that “among 13–15-year old girls, body image concerns increased with time spent on the Internet and Facebook usage [1].”

Family Ideals & Body Image

Teen girl struggling with body imageCultural beliefs regarding body and appearance are not the only beliefs that affect teens and their body image, as what their family says impacts them as well. Studies indicate that “weight-based teasing from parents and siblings is associated with body dissatisfaction among girls [1].”

Not only that, “negative weight talk and dieting among family members, especially from mothers who serve as role models for body image, has been shown to be related to body image concerns and disordered eating behaviors in adolescent girls [1].”

How families and caregivers discuss body weight, size, appearance, and shape and the relationship this has with self-worth can make a key difference in that child’s body image.

Puberty & Body Image

Puberty involves the “most rapid and diverse” changes in human development and can be a very confusing time for adolescents as far as their relationship to their body. In girls, research indicates that puberty can be conflicting, as they view their bodies as straying away from society’s thin ideal.

As such, young girls are “especially vulnerable to developing a negative body image when they perceive their changing bodies to be misaligned with cultural ideals [1].”

The risks are also high for males, as those who experience physical changes later than their peers or “who have not achieved socially constructed body ideals for men, report greater body dissatisfaction than their early maturing counterparts [1].”

It is not difficult to see how these factors can make teens vulnerable to eating disorder behaviors. Any individuals who encounter or work with teens should consider the many challenges they encounter and work to compassionately lead them to empowering body image and self-value.


Resources:

[1] Voelker, D. K., Reel, J. J., Greenleaf, C. (2015). Weight status and body image perceptions in adolescents: current perspectives. Adolescent Health, Medicine, and Therapeutics, 6.


About the Author:

Image of Margot Rittenhouse.Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published January 25, 2021, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on January 25, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.