Having a healthy body image involves much more than achieving an ideal weight. Body image touches many areas of life, physically and emotionally, affecting not only self-esteem, but also the quality of relationships and general happiness and satisfaction with life.
These days, teenage girls go through a multitude of changes and challenges. Fluctuating hormones, peer pressure, social stresses, and body changes all imprint upon young teenage minds. We can no longer just lecture girls about Barbie’s improbable proportions and leave it at that. Social media, peer groups, and family dynamics all influence how young women form their own body image and self-esteem.
Body Image and Social Media
Young teenage girls constantly flip through multiple modes of social media including Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, and Twitter. These platforms bombard them with images from every angle of our society’s perception of perfection. Even celebrities aren’t spared! An unflattering photo of a Hollywood starlet instantly attracts catty remarks from what teens may refer to as “haters.” Studies have shown that adolescent girls who rely heavily on social media have a higher body dissatisfaction and are more likely to have distorted eating habits.
Body Image and Self-Esteem
Friends and social groups also influence how teenage girls feel about their bodies. At that age, appearances are extremely important. Considering the independence and rebellion they display, it may be surprising that teens heed anyone’s suggestions at all! But in fact, multiple studies have shown that peer groups have the strongest effect on how teenage girls view their bodies and the eating habits they develop. How teenagers talk to each other about their bodies directly influences self-confidence and identity. Teenage girls experience more pressure from their friends to conform to a social norm than through any other external influence.
Issues at Home
The highly toxic relationship between words and body image starts early in adolescence. How parents talk about their bodies and body types telegraphs directly to their daughters. Mothers especially have a strong influence over teenage daughters. When a daughter hears her mother negatively speak about her own body, it gives the daughter permission to do the same. One study revealed that women have an average of 13 negative body image thoughts per day! Mothers can see how very important it is to check this behavior in themselves before attempting to guide their daughters to a healthier body image.
How to Instill Healthy Body Image
Parents should not be intimidated by the topic of body image; but, rather feel empowered by the positive influence they have in their daughters’ lives. Open discussion with daughters leads to self-confidence in their body image and in life.
1) Facilitate open communication and conversation. Speak openly with a daughter about changes that will begin to happen. Let her know that there are no silly questions. Discuss sex, menstruation, common symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, and how and when to use pads and tampons. The more open one is with a daughter, the more prepared she will be for the changes to come. When topics are discussed openly, she will be more comfortable and confident in her body and less apt to believe the myths and disempowering notions spread by social media or her friends.
2) Teenage girls should be reminded that healthy does not equal skinny. Everyone is created with a unique body composition. The importance of taking care of her body now to enable her to live a healthier life in the future must be taught. Remind her that her body is a gift, and that she must eat healthy food to strengthen and fuel her body.
3) Remind teenage girls that social media does not represent reality in any way, especially when it comes to beauty. Happily, we see many famous women speaking out about the importance of strong, healthy bodies and self-esteem. Parents need to reiterate to their daughters that what they see on TV and through advertisements should never be a standard by which they judge themselves.
4) Don’t be a “hater.” Mothers and fathers should be aware of how they talk about their bodies when their daughters are listening. What they hear, they will repeat. There is power in positive body communication and self-compassion. This does not mean ignoring issues, such as obesity, but facing them with an underlying talk-track of improving the health and strength of the body, not just appearances.