When we speak of teen body image, we are referring to how young adults see their bodies. Body image also includes how they feel about their body and how they care for it. having a positive body image is, therefore, a crucial part of teen development.
Furthermore, teen body image has been associated with self-esteem, partly because social media places a lot of value on our appearance.
This continuous emphasis on the way we look contributes to body-image issues and eating disorders in adolescents. For instance, according to a study published in the SAGE journal, 93 % of teenage women speak negatively about their body and their desire to lose weight.
Early Development of Body Image
Teen awareness of body image and societal ideals regarding appearance begins early in their life. Therefore, by the time young children are in preschool, they already have behaviors and attitudes related to body image. Their beliefs about body image emanate from various factors, including the media and family.
A 2003 study indicates that kids are aware of dieting by the age of 6. Moreover, they may have even tried to diet at that tender age. This same study also discovered that young girls’ desire to lose weight surfaces around that time. Also, approximately 40-60 % of girls aged 6 to12 worry about their weight or about getting too fat.
Hence, both boys and girls have established feelings and beliefs about their bodies by the time they become adolescents.
What Influences Body Image in Teens?
Studies show that many factors shape an adolescent’s body image. Some of the things that influence body image are:
Research indicates that body image dissatisfaction doesn’t occur without outside influences. Mental health has a significant impact on body image and vice versa. For this reason, teens and children who have negative feelings about their bodies are more likely to feel anxious, depressed, and out of control.
Young girls whose parents worry about their weight have lower body esteem and lower perceived physical ability. The body image of their parents also influences children. According to a study conducted in 2003, young children whose mothers are dissatisfied with their bodies are more likely to develop a negative body image.
Adolescent body image is also affected by peer attitudes and judgments. A 2014 study reported that fifth-and sixth-graders who go to schools with older students have more negative body image compared to girls of the same age in school with younger students only.
Cultural and societal norms
A study conducted on American teenagers concludes that ethnic and racial backgrounds influence body-image issues. Generally, Asian-American teen girls have high body dissatisfaction, while their white, middle-class counterparts are most likely to experience eating disorders. On the other hand, African-American teens are less swayed by the unrealistic “slim ideal” perpetuated by the media.
The negative impacts of media on adolescent body image are well-known. A 2014 survey named “Ideal to Real” body image found that 80 % of teenage girls compare themselves to celebrity images. Additionally, nearly 50 % of those girls said that celebrity pictures make them feel unhappy about their appearances.
Social Media & Adolescent Body-Images Issues
Teenagers who use social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., continuously compare their bodies to pictures of their peers and celebrities. The feeling that results from coming up short is why social media is associated with narcissism, depression, and teen body-image issues.
According to a Common Sense Media survey, 35 % of teens who actively use social media report that they worry about friends tagging them in pictures that are not attractive. Moreover, 27 % say that they stress out about their appearance when they share photos, while 22 % report that they feel bad about themselves when no one likes or comments on the pictures they post. Although these negative feelings are more common among teenage girls, increasing numbers of boys report that they also have these reactions.
A study of boys and girls who are 13 years of age (titled #Being Thirteen) discovered that participants who visited social media websites between 50 to 100 times every day were 37 % more distressed compared to those who only checked a couple of times per day. The use of the popular social networking site, Facebook, has been associated with a greater risk of eating disorders. The reason for this is that it combines some of the risk-increasing factors: low self-esteem, peer influence, and the influence of media pictures.
This impact of social media is also real for older teenagers and young adults. In a study conducted in 2016, a group of researchers interviewed 881 US women in college. Findings showed that the more time teenage girls spend on social media websites, the more these women compared their bodies with those of their close friends. As a result, they felt more dissatisfied with their own body. Another study published in 2017 found that taking and posting selfies reduce self-esteem.
The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Adolescent Body Image
Studies have shown that body dissatisfaction and negative body image contributes to the development of eating disorders. Teenagers with a negative body image are not happy with their appearances and may see their bodies in distorted ways. Consequently, they cultivate unhealthy behaviors to change their bodies.
Research shows that 15 % of boys and 44 % of high school girls are trying to lose weight at a particular time. And using the wrong approach, this behavior can result in an eating disorder. Up to 10 % of young American women have an eating disorder – according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. Also, a lot of teenage boys suffer from this condition too.
However, negative body image and body dissatisfaction are not the only causes of eating disorders in teens. Research indicates that several risk factors are involved.
The Difference in Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Between Body-Image Issues
While body-image issues are common among teenagers, some teens suffer from a mental health condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Teens with this condition tend to focus only on one or two parts of their bodies that they see as flawed or unacceptable.
An average teenager may worry over a bad haircut one day and acne the next day. However, a teen suffering from BDD focuses on a particular feature, and this focus does not seem to wane.
Some of the symptoms of BDD are worries, repetitive behaviors, and intrusive thoughts. Therefore, teens with Body Dysmorphic Disorder try to improve their looks through intensive, time-consuming, and harmful practices. These include grooming excessively, fixating on cosmetic surgery, and methodically inspecting parts of their body.
The Advantages of a Positive Teen Body Image
Teenagers who cultivate a positive teen body image enjoy some essential benefits. Positive adolescent body image brings about changes in many areas:
- Increased self-esteem and wellbeing: Teens who feel better about their bodies have a positive outlook and confidence.
- Improved self-acceptance: Teenagers with a positive body image are more accepting of their bodies and their appearances.
- Healthier behaviors: Teens who are satisfied with their bodies are more likely to take good care of themselves. That includes sleeping well, eating healthy foods, and exercising their bodies.
Tools for Cultivating a Better Body Image
These approaches can help teenagers build a more positive body image:
Reports show that yoga practice helps young adults to be more satisfied with their bodies. Practicing yoga can help teens to develop mind-body awareness. As a result, they have a better understanding of how they feel both mentally and physically. Consequently, they have more self-acceptance and self-compassion.
When carried out at healthy levels, exercise can make teens feel strong and empowered. However, doing too much exercise can harm teenagers who are dissatisfied with their bodies. For this reason, we encourage that the teens follow a moderate schedule of physical activity and balance their activity with adequate nutrition.
Support from family members and peers plays a significant role in how teenagers perceive themselves. Positive relationships increase overall self-esteem in teens, and that impacts body image, too.
As mentioned above, media and social media have a negative influence on adolescent body image. Therefore, teenagers who reduce the amount of time they spend online avoid unhealthy body comparisons.
Teen body image has a significant impact on adolescent mental health and wellbeing. Therefore, teens and parents can promote self-esteem and self-confidence by becoming more aware of their behavior and attitudes regarding body image.
If you are a parent of a teen struggling with weight issues and body image, it can be painful to watch and without the right tools, leave you feeling helpless. Many of the families that begin our teen program are relieved by the focus of our curriculum being on health and education. The shame of struggling with body image is isolating and creates a rift between young adults, their peers, and their parents. Our program is an effective tool that allows parents to step back and focus on the behaviors that will help their teen form positive body image and self-esteem. We work with the teen to help them shift beliefs and healthily achieve their goals.