Teenagers are frequently presented with unrealistic ideals of body types on social media as they see images of influencers, celebrities and models. These images can lead to expectations and worries around body image, as teens focus on how they feel they should look. Trying to encourage young people to embrace body positivity can feel like an uphill battle.
Health and development
As teenagers go through hormonal changes and new experiences, their bodies naturally change and grow. Their weight and shape can fluctuate, and their skin type can change, all of which can have an impact on their self-esteem and emotional state. While your teenager is going through continual physical and emotional changes, they may become more sensitive to hormonal mood changes. Many of the difficulties facing today’s teenagers are unique to their generation as they live in different times.
Understanding their influences
Teenagers may feel pressure to look a particular way from a variety of sources. They may feel anxious about their image if they feel their friends and peers look a certain way. Talk about peer pressure, and the idea that friends should accept each other for who they are and not what they look like or how much they weigh. Remember to check in on your own attitudes occasionally to make sure you are providing a positive example of these attitudes.
Social media and online media can have a seriously huge impact too. They will often see filtered images of social media influencers, celebrities and other media stars and feel that this is their ideal image. It can be really frustrating for parents and carers as most of these images are filtered and altered for social media so in essence, these images are not realistic in any shape or form.
Spotting the signs
Most people feel unhappy with some aspect of the way they look. If you are worried about your teen and their body image, look out for these signs:
- Continuous criticism about the way they look
- Comparing the way they look with others
- Changes in their appetite and obsessing with calories, fat content, etc.
- Changes in their mood and behaviour
- Withdrawing themselves from friends and family
Talking to teens about body image
Have a relaxed conversation with your teenager to find out their thoughts on body image and any insecurities they may have about themselves. If you sense your teen is worried about their appearance, listen to their concerns without judgement and remind them that they can always come to you to talk about how they are feeling. Avoid downplaying how they are feeling otherwise they will be reluctant to continue the conversation.
Promote a healthy attitude to body image by being a positive role model around the home. Try to avoid making comments on your own or others' body size and shape and point out the things you like about yourself. Praise your teen’s strengths and talents, and make sure they know that you love them no matter what. Encourage them to show kindness to themselves and others as this is hugely crucial to their wellbeing.
Remind your teen that the images they see in the media are not representative of reality, and that pictures are often digitally retouched to create a false sense of 'perfection'. Quite often, most of the image you see online have gone through about 40 stages of retouching to gain that final image. Let them know that the uniformed look that a lot of these online celebrities and influencers try to adhere to is often because they have issues with their own confidence and self-esteem. Reinforce the belief that comparing themselves to something that is not real is a vicious cycle and that stepping away from that is an empowering step.
Encouraging healthy choices
Encourage your teen to eat a healthy balanced diet which includes fruit and vegetables - try not to refer to 'good food' or 'bad food' as most things are fine to eat in moderation. Help your teen get active and undertake regular exercise as this is great for wellbeing as well as health. This could be something you can do together.
Ensure that your teen has a good skincare routine through washing regularly and using natural products to help them if they have skin outbreaks such as acne. A hygiene routine is important and encourage them to shower regularly and use an anti-perspirant to feel fresh.
Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to help their body regenerate through the night. Point out the positives of getting a good sleep and ask them to put their phones away at least an hour before they go to sleep.
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
You may find it helpful to read and download a confidence kit from Dove on building self-esteem.