Helping Teens have a Healthy Body Image

It is hard for today’s teen to avoid the subject of body image. The perfect body is promoted via magazines, internet sites, TV shows, films, advertising and more. What to eat, what to wear, how to sculpt the body, changes from week to week, and teens feel they have to keep up with their peers and the latest trends – because that is what being a teen comes down to… fitting in. It affects both genders, a fact often lost in the media. Then how do parents help to nurture positivity about body image in their teens?

Above all else, parents need to lead by example. Parents are the first teachers. Their morals and prejudices are passed on daily. If a parent diets constantly and jumps on each and every fad, the child learns this is acceptable behaviour. Equally, if a parent ignores exercise and diet in favour of junk food and slobbing on the sofa, this becomes the ‘norm’ for the child.

Parents need to show teens a balanced attitude towards body image. Getting into the mentality of body image is the biggest step. It is very important not to let ‘casual’ remarks slip by, such as a heedless comment about a neighbour putting on weight or derogatory remarks about a skinny model. All bodies are beautiful and this is the attitude every parent needs to project. Hidden bias can do more damage than is at first apparent. Think carefully and get into the habit of avoiding body remarks. Talk about character not curves.

Parents are also the front line when it comes to fighting peer pressure. It is out there, always has been and will be for a long time to come. Being part of the ‘in crowd’, the popular group’ or having the ‘right’ friends is a vast part of teen life. Teaching a teen that being happy is more important than wearing the latest label or going to the right party is one of the hardest battles a parent will face.

Teaching, from the earliest possible age, will help a teen cope with body image pressure. A child who has been brought up to understand that who a person is far outweighs what they wear or weigh will have an easier time dealing with the pressure to conform. Parents need to show, again by taking the lead, that negativity leads to poor body image. When the teen starts bemoaning their (usually non-existent) weight gain or plasters on make-up to hide the dreaded acne (amounting to one spot currently hidden by the obligatory fringe for flicking at parents in moments of teen angst and disgust), use positivity.

Talk about how great their hair looks, how gorgeous their nails are, how great that t-shirt looks. Use positive reinforcement to help chase down the negatives they are using. Help them see the good in their bodies. Every little really does help, and constant repetition of the positives will eventually get through and bolster their confidence.

Use the media as much as they use the public. Seek out good body role models and point them out to teens. Don’t stick to a type, but try to cover the spectrum of body types. Currently, Adele is much in the news, after her Oscar win for Skyfall, and she is a great body role model. She is well rounded, importantly, in all aspects of her life and her confidence shines through. Gok Wan is an excellent role model. He almost killed himself because of his weight, but has gone on to be healthy, happy and hugely successful.

Use the internet to cut through the myths and photo-shopping. Find the sites which show stars and models as they really are, before the magic mouse click that thinned their thighs and air-brushed their acne to oblivion. Help teens understand that healthy is always going to be more important than popular, even if they find it hard to believe at aged 15. Find the positive body image companies and use them.

Keep a healthy house to help teens keep healthy bodies. Find the recipes which let teens snack, but don’t overload them with sugar and fat. Exercise, even if it is something simple, like walking, or swimming and make it fun. Include teens, although the chances are they will not respond readily at first. Inclusion is one of the best ways to keep a teen close during a difficult transition period when they are neither child nor adult. Show them that being positive and relaxed about body image is one of the best ways to get through the teen years.

In the end, there is far more stress, misery and pressure involved in ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ than there is in simply learning to be oneself and growing to love that person for who they are, not who other people want them to be. Teach that to a teen and half the battle is won.