Adolescence is an exciting but difficult time for most people, including those who are responsible for raising teens. The teenage years are some of the most important years for physical, social, and psychological growth. Negative body image can impact each of these areas.
Body image is someone’s perception, thoughts, or attitude about the way their body looks. For some people, negative body image can become so severe that it is harmful to their mental health.
Negative body image is connected to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders in teens . This is why it is extremely important to find ways to support teens in creating a healthy relationship with their bodies. Research from Paxton et al. shows that peers, media, and preexisting mental health conditions can impact a teen’s body image .
While friends or other peers can have a big influence, parents can as well.
Here are three things you can do to help raise a body-positive teen:
Talk with Your Teen about the Media
As mentioned earlier, media has the power to influence your teen’s behavior and beliefs about their body. Talking to your child about what they are looking at can help you support your child to think critically about the messages that are sold to them about what their body should look like.
This does not have to be a big, formal discussion. You can do this in a way that feels natural. For example, if you’re watching TV together and you notice there is a comment about an actor’s body shape or size, this can be an opportunity to discuss this issue.
You could say something like, “It’s interesting they’re complimenting her body so much. I was more impressed by the work she was doing” or “I wonder why they are so caught up about his muscles. I’m not sure he would be a good partner, he was really mean to her in the last episode.”
Comments like these can spark curiosity in your child to begin thinking differently about the messages they are given by popular culture. This also models to your child that the most important thing about a person is their character or personality traits, rather than their appearance.
Get Your Teen Involved in Yoga
Dianne Neumark-Sztainer is a researcher who has studied eating behaviors and weight-related health in adolescents and young adults. Neumark-Sztainer et al. recently studied the impact of yoga on body satisfaction . The study reveals that teens who do yoga show improved perceptions of their bodies.
Yoga provides teens with an opportunity to approach movement with self-compassion while paying close attention to what their body needs. This is different from the way exercise is often approached in Western culture. Western culture tends to talk about exercise as a way to change your body to conform to beauty ideals.
Yoga also prioritizes someone’s internal experience over their external appearance. This means that yoga encourages individuals to pay attention to their emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations versus valuing their appearance as the most important aspect of their identity.
Become Aware of Your Own Body Image and Beauty Standards
Eating disorder professionals often talk about weight stigma. Weight stigma is the negative stereotyping of people with bigger bodies. This stigma often goes hand-in-hand with the thin ideal—the idea that thin is best.
These ideas are very present in Western media and send the message that having a bigger body is bad. But it isn’t just teens who are exposed to this. Everyone who reads magazines, watches TV, or spends a decent amount of time on the internet absorbs this message.
If you agree with the media’s messages about the ideal body shape, it is going to be harder for you to promote a body-positive culture within your home. Learn about the body-positive movement so you can model and provide these concepts to your child.
Tackling negative body image can be difficult. However, there is hope. Increasing your and your teen’s awareness of cultural messages about beauty standards and getting them involved in mindfulness-based approaches to exercise can help your teen establish a healthy body image.
References Neumark-Sztainer D, MacLehose RF, Watts AW, Pacanowski CR, Eisenberg ME. Yoga and body image: Findings from a large population-based study of young adults. Body Image. 2018;24:69-75. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.12.003  Paxton, S. J., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2006). Prospective predictors of body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls and boys: A five-year longitudinal study. Developmental Psychology, 42(5), 888–899. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-16188.8.131.528  Susan J. Paxton , Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Peter J. Hannan & Marla E. Eisenberg (2006) Body Dissatisfaction Prospectively Predicts Depressive Mood and Low Self- Esteem in Adolescent Girls and Boys, Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 35:4, 539-549, DOI: 10.1207/s15374424jccp3504_5
About the Author:
Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.
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 June 30, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on June 30, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC