Part I:  Establishing an Acceptable Body Image

According to Research:

  1. 80% of high school girls reported that they were above the weight of which they would be happiest (Fisher et al., 1991)
  2. Early adolescent girls are already aware of the concept of dieting
  3. 78% of teenage women (13-19 years old) are dissatisfied with their weight (Eisele et al, 1986)
  4. A negative body image is positively correlated with low self-esteem and depression

The following tips can be used to help teens develop an acceptable body image.  Or, if you’re a teen, consider the following discussion points to gain a better understanding of whether you have a healthy body image.

Recognize the Influence of the Media:  If you landed on Earth after having lived your entire life on another planet and your only means of learning about women was achieved through watching TV/looking through magazines, what characteristics would you attribute to women?  Are women merely objects of desire?  How are men supposed to treat women?  What messages are conveyed through the media about women?  Point out to your teen that magazine advertisements are designed to sell products and often they can be harmful to one’s self-image.

Awareness to Unrealistic Measurements:  You know you’ve seen those wafer thin bodies plastered on billboards and in magazine ads.  Do these women look healthy?  Could they withstand physical exercise without breaking? Do they look happy?  Next time you see a super skinny model, ask your teen if she thinks the model is happy and remind her of everything the model has sacrificed (i.e. her happiness, health, food, relationship with family, etc.) to look the way she does.  It just isn’t worth it!

Equate Attractiveness with Behaviors: What is beauty?  At first you may be tempted to name physical characteristics such as a slender build or clear skin, but step outside of what may be considered traditional beauty.  Have a conversation with a teen and help her to see that beauty comes from within.  Help girls equate attractiveness with behaviors and redefine beauty as a combination of uniqueness and character traits that they alone possess.

Evaluate your Relationship with Your Body:  How do you feel about your body?  Do you frequently make negative statements about your body?  Are you constantly obsessing about what you look like?  Have you tried almost every fad diet?  If you have a negative body image and you are constantly criticizing your body, chances are great that your teen will begin to internalize those same feelings or will display similar actions.  It is important to model acceptance of your own body.

Works Cited:

Eisele, L., Hertsgaard, D., & Light, H. (1986).  Factor related to eating disorders in young adolescent girls.  Adolescence, 21, 283-290.

Fisher, M., Schneider, C., & Napolitano, B.  (1991).  Eating attitudes, health-risk behaviors, self-esteem, and anxiety among adolescent females in a suburban high school.  Journal of Adolescent Health, 12, 377-384.