When you’re a teenager, it feels like everyone is watching you. You’re constantly being compared to your peers, and it’s easy to get caught up in wanting to have the nicest clothes, the coolest friends, and the perfect body. But what is the perfect teenage body? And more importantly, how can you achieve it without sacrificing your mental health?
It’s no secret that teenagers can be extremely harsh towards their peers and themselves when it comes to body image. Social media doesn’t help, with its constant stream of edited and airbrushed images of “perfect” celebrities and models. It’s no wonder that so many teens, especially young women, struggle with anxiety, depression, OCD, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.
The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect body. Everyone is different, and what works for one person might not work for another. The most important thing is to be happy and healthy in your own skin. That being said, self-esteem is not always easy to manage, and achieving a positive teen body image, can be very difficult.
What Is a Healthy, Positive Body Image?
So, how can you tell if you have a healthy body image? A good place to start is by thinking about how you feel about your body.
Are you worried about your weight gain?
Do you often think about your body shape?
Have you ever wished you could get cosmetic surgery?
Do you restrict your diet in an attempt to lose weight?
Can you easily pick out flaws when you at photographs or in the mirror?
Overall, do you love and appreciate your body, or do you constantly criticize it and wish it looked different?
[If you answered no to all of these questions then you have a healthy positive body image]
What Causes Unhealthy or Poor Body Image?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to a negative body image, including:
- Media portrayal of “perfect” bodies
- Pressure from peers or society to look a certain way
- Having a parent or other family member who is critical of your appearance
- Low self-esteem, poor self-esteem, or low self-confidence
- A history of being teased or bullied about your weight or appearance
- Dieting or using other extreme measures to lose weight
- Mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety
An unhealthy body image doesn’t happen overnight, but negative thinking about your body can become a destructive habit over time. If you’re not careful, it can start to take over your life and negatively affect your mental and physical health. Additionally, the body image and self-esteem that you establish as a young person can reach well into adulthood, and the negative impact of an unhealthy body image can have lasting effects in many areas of life.
What Are the Warning Signs of an Unhealthy or Negative Body Image?
There are a number of warning signs that may show that you have a poor body image, including:
- Constantly comparing your appearance to others
- Spending a lot of time thinking about your appearance
- Avoiding social situations or activities because you’re self-conscious about your body
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide your shape
- Critical self-talk (e.g., calling yourself fat, ugly, or stupid)
- Excessive dieting or exercising
- Obsessing over calorie counting or food intake
- Skipping meals
- Binge eating or purging
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Missing school or work due to body image issues
- Experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems
- Thinking about harming yourself (e.g., cutting, burning, or pulling out your hair)
If you’re experiencing any of these warning signs, it’s important to reach out for help. Body image issues can be extremely damaging to your mental and physical health, so don’t hesitate to talk to a trusted adult, friend, or mental health professional if you’re struggling.
How Social Media Can Affect Body Image
Social media is a powerful tool that can influence the way we think and feel about our bodies. In fact, studies have shown that social media use is linked to body dissatisfaction, dieting, and disordered eating in both teenagers and adults.
One of the ways social media can impact body image is by exposing us to unrealistic images of “perfect” bodies. We’re constantly bombarded with posts and photos of celebrities, models, and other influencers who have been professionally styled and Photoshopped to within an inch of their lives. It’s no wonder that so many of us start to feel like our own bodies don’t measure up.
Another way social media can affect body image is by giving us a false sense of comparison. We compare our own lives and bodies to the filtered, edited versions we see online, and it’s easy to come away feeling like we’re not good enough.
If you find that social media is affecting your body image in a negative way, there are a few things you can do to combat it. First, try to follow a healthy mix of people on social media, including friends, family members, and other people who make you feel good about yourself. Second, take a break from social media from time to time – even just a few days can help you reset your perspective. And finally, remember that what you see online is rarely an accurate representation of reality, so don’t compare your own life and body to the unrealistic images you see on social media.
Dangers of a Negative Teen Body Image
The thought patterns and eating routines that you establish as an adolescent can stay with you for a long time. A negative body image can result in low self-esteem, poor eating habits, and unhappiness, but an unhealthy body image may also lead to significantly more severe long-term effects.
Depression and Body Image Issues
Unhealthy body images can cause depression. Depression is a serious mental health condition that is marked by prolonged feelings of sadness or emptiness. If the depression becomes serious enough it may require medication, therapy, or other treatments. Depression can lead to significant physical health problems and could, in the worst cases, result in self-harm or suicide.
Anxiety and Body Image Issues
Unhealthy body images can also cause anxiety. Anxiety is another serious mental health condition that is signified by excessive amounts of worry and stress. Anxiety conditions often require treatment or medication and can lead to serious physical health problems. Both anxiety and depression can be completely devastating to a teenager’s life.
Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues
Unhealthy body images can also cause eating disorders. Eating disorders are very serious mental health conditions that consist of different patterns of abnormal eating. Two of the most common types of eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia.
If part of a teenager’s body image is a perception that they are overweight, the teenager might begin to obsessively avoid eating in an attempt to lose weight. This is called anorexia and can be extremely dangerous. When a person isn’t fueling their body with nutritious foods, or any foods at all, physical health problems can begin to occur quickly and growth and development can be affected.
On the other hand, when part of a teenager’s body image is a perception that they are overweight, instead of avoiding eating foods, the teenager may begin to vomit the food shortly after consumption. When a person expels food from their body in an attempt to regulate their body weight, it is called bulimia, and it can also be extremely dangerous. A person with bulimia will quickly start to notice physical health problems. Additionally, vomiting on a consistent basis can do severe damage to a person’s cardiac health. Bulimia is linked to a significantly higher risk of heart disease and premature death.
How to Develop a Healthy Body Image
Having a healthy body image doesn’t mean that you love your body all the time – it’s normal (and healthy) to have days where you feel less than confident. Instead, a healthy body image is about accepting and appreciating your own body just as it is.
Here are a few tips to help you develop a healthy and positive body image:
Focus on your health, not your weight. Weight is not an accurate indicator of health, so don’t let the number on the scale define how you feel about your body. Instead, focus on eating nutritious foods, getting regular exercise, and taking care of your overall health.
Accept that your body will change over time. Our bodies are constantly changing, so it’s important to learn to accept and embrace these changes rather than fight against them.
Stop comparing yourself to others. Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for disaster. Everyone is different, and there is no such thing as the “perfect” body. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on taking care of your own body the best way you can.
Give yourself grace. We all make mistakes, and that includes making choices that are not necessarily good for our bodies. If you find yourself in this situation, don’t beat yourself up – simply make a vow to do better next time and then move on.
Be gentle with yourself. Speak to yourself the way you would speak to a friend. Would you ever talk to your friend the way you talk to yourself? If not, it’s time to start being more gentle and loving with yourself.
Remember that you are more than your body. Your body is just one part of who you are. Don’t allow your body image to define your whole identity. Instead, focus on all the things that make you unique and special, both inside and out.
Developing a healthy body image is a process, and it may take some time to get to a place where you feel good about your body. Be patient with yourself, and remember that you deserve to love and appreciate your body just as it is.
It’s normal to have some insecurities about your body, but it’s important to make sure that these insecurities don’t turn into full-blown body image issues. If you find that your body image is affecting your mental health or causing you distress, reach out to a therapist or counselor who can help you develop a healthier relationship with your body. And remember, a healthy body image is not about having the “perfect” body – it’s about accepting and appreciating your body just as it is and doing your best to keep it healthy.