Body image is the opinion you hold of your own physical appearance. For many teenagers, body image suffers as they go through the awkward growing years.
What Your Teen Should See
Ideally, you want your teenager to be satisfied with his own body. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes, and no one body type should be idealized over another. Your teenager should look in the mirror and see a happy, healthy person who can achieve mental and physical success. Your teenager should be comfortable in clothing, particularly a swimsuit or during physical education class. Defining physical characteristics, such as a bump on his nose or a birthmark, should be embraced as who he is, not viewed as imperfections or flaws to be fixed.
How Self-Esteem Influences Body Image
Self-esteem, the mental perception we all hold of ourselves, plays a large role in teen body image. Teenagers who value themselves for traits other than physical ones, such as intellectual or social skills, will likely have a higher opinion of their body images than teenagers who do not. You can encourage positive self-esteem and body image by focusing on nonphysical traits and helping your teenager understand her changing body during adolescence. You should also check your own attitudes about yourself and your physical appearance, as your perceptions can be a huge influence on your teen.
What Your Teen Really Sees
Most teenagers, particularly girls, do not hold an ideal body image of themselves. Recent surveys show body image issues begin long before the teenager years. One study indicated over 40 percent of girls in first through third grades wanted to be skinnier.
Media images bombard your teenager on a daily basis. Celebrities are idealized and touted as perfect on television. Many teenagers do not realize the magic of Hollywood editing and how easily flaws and imperfections can be erased. Sports heroes may not reveal (until they are caught) the use of performance-enhancing drugs to gain muscle mass and more physical agility. Your teenager may look in the mirror after watching the Kids' Choice Awards and wonder why she doesn't look like Demi Lovato. What she doesn't realize is that Demi had a stylist, make-up artist and hairdresser help her get ready for three hours before her five minute camera appearance.
Peer pressure is another factor in teenager body image. Kids can be cruel and taunting, particularly in the locker room. Many teenagers will avoid participating in gym class because they don't want to change in front of others. This happens often for a girl who might develop breasts more quickly than her same-age peers. One negative comment can set your teen up for years of hiding under baggy clothes or even worse - eating disorders or excessive exercise.
Putting it into Perspective
Thankfully, more celebrities are admitting to just how much work and makeup goes into their media images. Fox News ran a piece called Stars Without Makeup which showed 41 celebrities au natural and all done up. Sites like this can help your teenager see that celebrities are normal and don't look all that different from real people without all the hype and styling. Watching television with your teenager and talking about what he or she sees can help you gauge their opinion of themselves. You can then talk to you teen about any misconceptions she has about body image, opening up a dialogue that will hopefully continue throughout the teen years.
Remaining positive and helping your teenager through body image struggles can be difficult for any parent, especially when you see them as a handsome or beautiful. Encourage your teenager to try an exercise program and even offer to work out with them. Try to be patient if your teenager decides to try a diet or wants to become vegetarian - experimentation is how teenagers learn about life. However, if you suspect an eating disorder or diet pill abuse, you need to talk with her immediately about the danger of these decisions. Every teenager wants to look good, but a positive body image should not come at the price of a life.