Contributor: Staff at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center
Negative body image or poor body confidence can put adolescent girls at risk for numerous negative outcomes, including the development of eating disorders, depression, and other mental or behavioral health concerns.
According to a 2018 study in the Journal of Eating Disorders, body dissatisfaction is “one of the most robust predictors of eating pathology” among adolescent girls. The authors of this study also noted that previous research focused on female teenagers had found “a strong and consistent relationship between [body dissatisfaction] and unhealthy weight control behaviors over a five-year period.”
The prevalence of body dissatisfaction among adolescent girls is by no means a new problem.
According to a 1988 study in the American Journal of Diseases of Children, 67% of adolescent girls and young women said that they were dissatisfied with their weight, and 54% expressed dissatisfaction with the shape of their body. The author of the 1988 study noted that 36% of adolescent girls who were not satisfied with their weight “desired an inappropriate weight loss.”
An Avalanche of Unrealistic Images
Media images and social pressure have long been identified as potential causes of body dissatisfaction. For decades, adolescent and teen girls have been exposed to unrealistic body images through magazines, films, and television shows.
In recent years, social media and other forms of online communication have made it even more difficult for young people to avoid unhealthy representations of unachievable body shapes and sizes. For example, a 2015 study in the Journal Body Image found a correlation between more frequent use of Facebook and increased concerns about body image among young women.
In our modern, hyperconnected society, it is virtually impossible to avoid or ignore images of unhealthy, unrealistic, and unachievable body types. This means that we must pay even greater attention to educating adolescents and teens about the risks of attempting to emulate these images.
Most importantly, we need to help all young people develop greater body confidence.
Increasing Awareness of Body Confidence
As is often the case when confronted with a challenge, education and communication are excellent tools to promote healthy body confidence among adolescent girls.
It’s important for adolescent girls to understand that gaining weight and experiencing other body changes is normal and healthy, especially during this time in their life. While unhealthy weight maintenance efforts can always cause problems, their ability to interrupt a young girl’s healthy development may make them especially dangerous during adolescence.
An article on the Mayo Clinic website encourages parents to talk to their daughters about topics such as the effects of puberty, the potential negative impact of media messages, and the power of maintaining a positive self-image. When your daughter is prepared ahead of time, and when she can differentiate between facts and falsehoods, she will have a better chance of responding in a healthy and productive manner.
An Ongoing Effort
Having open and honest discussions about media messages and other societal pressures can help parents reinforce positive concepts about self-image while also providing valuable insights into what their daughters are thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
Here are some additional tips and other important points to keep in mind:
- Don’t criticize yourself or others on the basis of appearance, body size, or body shape.
- When speaking positively of others, focus on their efforts and accomplishments, not on their weight or appearance.
- Be aware of your own media consumption habits as well as those of your daughter. Make time to reflect on and discuss what you and she have been watching and reading.
- Keep an eye on your daughter’s online habits and social media interactions. The manner and degree of your involvement will vary depending on her age and how responsible she is, but you should always be aware of how she’s conducting herself on the internet and what type of feedback she is receiving.
- Talk to your daughter’s teachers, coaches, and other adults she interacts with. These individuals can help you understand what your daughter is experiencing when you’re not around, which can help you develop a more informed perspective on any problems she’s having or challenges she’s facing.
- Encourage healthy eating and exercise habits not for purposes of weight control, but as a means of promoting health, enjoyment, and confidence.
- Don’t push your daughter to participate in a sport she doesn’t enjoy or an exercise regimen she finds onerous. Let her find the types of activities she feels comfortable with and receives satisfaction from.
Perhaps most important of all, keep the lines of communication open with your daughter. Promoting healthy body confidence can’t be accomplished during one conversation or within a short period of time.
Body confidence is related to overall self-confidence, which can fluctuate depending on the myriad personal and societal influences. Be prepared to be a source of continued love and support at all times.
Getting Help with Body Confidence
Unfortunately, even the best efforts by parents and their daughters can’t prevent every case of unhealthy weight control or the development of eating disorders.
If you are concerned that your daughter may be in danger, don’t hesitate to get professional advice or seek treatment. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure. Instead, it is clear evidence of your commitment to your daughter’s continued well-being.
1. Fardouly, J. and Vartanian, L. R. Negative comparisons about one’s appearance mediate the relationship between Facebook usage and body image concerns. Body Image. 2015;12:82-88. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2014.10.004
2. Mayo Clinic staff. Healthy body image: Tips for guiding girls. Posted Sept. 15, 2018. Mayo Clinic website. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/tween-and-teen-health/in-depth/healthy-body-image/art-20044668.
3. More, Dan C., MC. Body Image and Eating Behavior in Adolescent Girls. American Journal of Diseases of Children. 1988;142(10):1114–1118. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1988.02150100108038.
4. Rosewall, J. K.; Gleaves, D. H.; and Latner, J. D. An examination of risk factors that moderate the body dissatisfaction-eating pathology relationship among New Zealand adolescent girls. J Eat Disord 6, 38 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-018-0225-z.
About Our Sponsor:
At Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center outside of Chicago, Illinois, we provide specialized care for women and adolescent girls who are living with eating disorders, substance use disorders, and various mental health concerns. Our residential treatment and partial hospitalization programming (PHP) help our residents achieve lifelong recovery by combining clinically excellent treatment with spiritual and emotional growth. We provide care that is holistic, personalized, and nurturing, empowering women to be active participants in their wellness journeys.
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 September 4, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on September 4, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC