How to help your teen have a healthy body image
It is time to talk about body image and how to make sure your teen has a positive outlook. This is such a tricky but important topic to navigate. Especially when we as a generation have been so heavily impacted by negative messaging from the media and maybe even from our own parents.
Self-loathing of your body is a horrific state of mind, although I was lucky enough not to suffer from an eating disorder growing up. There were times in my teen life I was not happy with the way I looked. Now I look back at photos of my teen self and think wow I looked amazing, why did I waste so much energy when I could be just loving and embracing my body and enjoying life!
An unhealthy body image can be an indication of an underlying mental illness. One of these mental illnesses can be an eating disorder. This can stem from low self-esteem, striving for perfection, wanting to control something in your life, abuse or trauma, problems coping with stress or challenges with friends or family.
Another mental illness related to body image that you need to keep an eye out for is body dysmorphia (BDD), it is rare but it typically starts during puberty. Signs are spending a significant time looking in the mirror or avoiding the mirror altogether, altering their appearance, wearing excessive makeup and expressing a desire for cosmetic surgery. Other signs can be constantly comparing your appearance to others, brushing or styling hair excessively, trying to cover up perceived flaws or wearing baggy clothes to hide their body shape.
Building a positive body image is the first foundation step to ensure your daughter doesn't develop a disorder but also that they fully enjoy their teen years and create a healthy long-term relationship with their own bodies.
One of the reasons being a teen is so hard is that your body changes so much through puberty and not everyone responds the same to that change. Some teens love that they are growing up and becoming more manly/womanly, while others feel very self-conscious about these changes. Getting used to these changes and feeling different takes time to adjust to and as parents we need to support our teens through these changes.
First things first, you need to break the cycle and be a positive body role model for your teen. If you are negative about your own body then your teen learns that bodies are to be disliked. It all starts with you. You need to let go of your own body hang ups and not talk to your teen about how you look or your relationship with food, also be conscious of how you talk about other people’s bodies.
As parents we need to let go and stop controlling what our teens eat and wear. Allow them to try new looks and styles and learn to be comfortable in their own bodies, don’t criticize how they look. Build them up and be positive about their appearance. Take a holistic approach to their health, make sure they are eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and daily physical activity rather than nit picking everything they eat. Place the emphasis on the importance of being healthy and happy rather than slim or muscular.
Aim for body neutrality rather than positivity. When you feel negative about your body it can feel a stretch to start behaving positively about it. Body neutrality can be a safe space for those who struggle with self-love or don’t see their bodies in a positive way. Body neutrality is about working towards a place where you can respect your body without giving too much energy (positive or negative) to it.
Body neutrality is about focusing on what your body can do for you and its non-physical characteristics. You can start by reframing exercise with your teen eg; it is good for mental health, hanging out with friends - not for losing weight.
Talk to your teen about social media and the potential impact it can have on our own self-esteem. Now is a good time to talk about reality versus highly curated photos that have used filters, airbrushing and unnatural poses. Also encourage positive role models of all shapes and sizes - we need to show our teens that there is no singular ideal of what a body should look like and that there is no one “perfect” body.
So, what do you say when your teen makes negative comments about themselves? First of all, remember that teens are not that good at determining if their weight is healthy. They are often going off how they feel. Their perceptions are skewed by comparing themselves to friends and people in the media. You can talk to them about some of the topics raised in this blog:
- Distorted body images
- Placing an emphasis on health not weight
- The importance of a healthy inner dialogue with potentially a focus on body neutrality
Also ask your teen questions when they express, they are unhappy with their body. Many teens (and adults) think that their happiness and success is directly linked to their weight. Discuss if her expectations around weight and appearance are realistic, place an emphasis on inner beauty and how being kind and caring is more important than physical beauty.
If your daughter’s body image is interfering with her life you need to seek professional help. Talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional as she may be suffering from underlying mental health problems or she may be at risk of an eating disorder.
You’ve got this!
Founder - Evre.
If you feel like you still need more help, reach out to someone you trust. This could be a parent, friend, sibling - whoever is willing to listen. Or if that isn't comfortable for you, Youthline has an anonymous and non-judgmental helpline you can call or text. It’s like a free listening ear for you to vent and let out your frustrations. Free call the helpline on 0800 376 633.