Thoughts of negative body image among teenagers, especially girls, are more common than we think. An anonymous poll conducted by Psychotherapist Aparna Samuel Balasundaram, at the end of a life skills session, which included over 150 teenage girls, revealed what young women feel about their bodies. More than 50% of the participants shared that they wished they looked different! Whether it’s their height, shape, size, colour or texture of the hair… they ardently wished it was different. The poll result points to the fact that many teens feel awkward and uncomfortable about their bodies, but may not be willing to talk about it openly. Here are some pointers that will help you deal with body image issues in your teen.
So, what is negative body image and why do many teenagers suffer from it?
As children step into teenage, they become more conscious of their appearance. How they look is one of their most important concerns during this phase. To find where they stand, they tend to compare themselves with others, usually to ‘airbrushed’ images of models, who are considered to have the ideal look. But, as teenage is a phase of developing bodies caused by hormonal changes, teenagers go through the ‘ugly duckling stage’. It is also known as the ‘gawky stage’, when body parts just do not seem to fit seamlessly into one another. This makes many teens feel that they no longer look like that ‘cute kid’ they once were and wish they looked different. Because of such thoughts, they start suffering from negative body image issues.
How can I help my child cope with negative body image issues?
Although many teens suffer from negative thoughts about their bodies, most never discuss their problems. Critical comments about their body shape or peer pressure to fit into a certain concept of beauty during this phase of constant change also has a great effect. It can lead to depression, low self-esteem, mood swings, withdrawal, and so on.
As a parent, you need to step in during this stage and talk to your child to help her sail smoothly through this phase of her life. Remember, what your teen is going through is a normal experience for many teenagers and your influence can help her form a positive image of herself.
How can I guide my child towards forming a positive body image?
With time, the nature of parent–child relationships have changed. Nowadays, parents and children discuss various topics of interest among themselves. You can take the lead andinitiatea frank discussion with your teen to know what she thinks and feels about her body and how she wants to look like. Make your teen accept and acknowledge that every teenager’s body goes through changes during puberty, and it is a normal process. Talk to her about how the concept of beauty and the ideal body size keeps changing – how it was first buxom women and now size zero. Another factor that heavily influences the way teenage girls think about their bodies are fashion magazines. These magazines carry photographs of models with body types that are created with the help of image manipulation software. Explain to your teen the concept of airbrushing and bust the myth of celebrities having such perfect bodies. Make her understand that she shouldn’t worry about resizing her body to fit the ‘so-called’ ideal body size, but instead pay importance to personal hygiene. With pubertal changes, body odour, dandruff or unclean skin could cause problems. You can also help mould your teen’s personality by giving her tips on how to dress to suit her body shape, choose colours to suit her skin tone/colour, and, above all, how to carry herself with confidence. Once your teen learns and develops her own sense of fashion and style, she will be able to carry herself with confidence. It will also encourage her to think positively about herself and how she looks.
Last but most important, remember that parents should act as role models for their children. If your daughter sees you [her mom] fussing about maintaining the figure or dieting, or hears you pass comments about someone else’s body image, she will take home the message that outward appearance is of prime importance. So, be careful of your own concept of what is beautiful and what is not! Make her realise that inner beauty is what matters rather than outward appearance.
Based on inputs from Aparna Samuel Balasundaram – Award Winning Clinical Psychotherapist, Parent and Child Expert, with 10 years of experience in the USA. She is the Founder of Life Skills Experts that enables parents and teachers to raise happy, confident and successful children. www.LifeSkillsExperts.com
She is also the Founder of ‘A Flourishing Me’, that offers contemporary Counselling and Parent and Life Coaching [www.AFlourishing.me]