What is Body Image?
Body image is psychological in nature. It is influenced by your self-esteem and self-worth and it in turn, influences your self-esteem and self-worth. It is how you percieve your physical body and how you feel other's percieve it. It is not based in the truth, but in what you see as the truth.
Body image is forever changing. It is sensitive to your mood swings, physical environment, and your experiences. It is formed out of every experience you have ever had and all of the people around you -parents, role models, the media, and peers who give you an idea of what it is like to value your body. For instance, if blue eyes are valued in a family because almost everyone in that family has them, anyone who is born with any other color eye will feel a smaller sense of belonging to that family. They will wish that they had blue eyes. This negatively impacts one's self-esteem and can even go as far as impacting one's self-worth.
Therefore, body image is not only what you see when you look in the mirror, but also what you feel when you think about your body and how you feel in your body. If you feel ashamed, self-conscious and anxious about your body, then you have a negative body image. If you feel comfortable and confident in your body, you have a positive body image.
Does Your Daughter Have a Positive Body Image?
Ten-year-old Melissa looks at her image in the mirror and doesn't like what she sees. Sound unusual? Not according to research that suggests girls as young as age 9 report dissatisfaction with their bodies. Body image is based on perception, which may often be distorted. Because perception is subjective, the things that affect body image are individualistic. Dream Big, the Big Ten Conference's program to promote young girls' participation in sports, consulted with Claudia Rappl, Psy.D., with the Madison Center for Children, South Bend, Ind., to help parents and others understand how they can reinforce a positive body image in girls.
Girls tend to struggle with body image in far greater numbers than boys. Studies show that boys don't focus as much on their body shape and size as do girls.
Children often mimic their parents' beliefs and prejudices. "Anything, such as a comment a parent makes, can set a child in the wrong direction," Rappl said. That's why parents need to be aware of what they say, and how they react to their own and others' body shape and size.
Rappl recommends a positive approach when talking with your daughter. "Anything you focus on or make a big deal about becomes even bigger. Focus on things that have nothing to do with her physical appearance, such as character, personality and talents. Focusing on the inner qualities is more helpful," said Rappl.
A girl's peers may affect her perception of body image. This is especially true as she reaches adolescence and peer groups become more important.
The media continue to be a major influence on body image. Television shows, magazines and advertisers often show thin and pretty actresses and models. How much impact the media have on perception may be debatable; however, there appears to be some influence. The book "Girl Power in the Mirror" recommends that girls take a reality test when viewing fashion magazines or TV shows that portray these beautiful and thin women. For example, girls should realize models have had professional assistance to look as good as they do. Does their beauty make them happier and healthier? Don't let girls compare themselves to models and TV stars, because what they see isn't reality.
Some attention to body size and shape is part of the normal growing process. As children reach adolescence, their bodies change, and children, especially girls, become more aware of how they look. Parents and teachers should realize some of these feelings are normal.But when a girl doesn't want to participate in sports because she is unhappy with the way she looks in the uniform, this may signal a problem. Rappl suggests that avoidance and isolation are red flags of a poor body image. At that point, the child may need outside counsel.
Being in a positive and healthy relationship with someone helps girls maintain positive body images. The ability to talk with someone and feel accepted by that person, whether it's a parent, teacher or coach, can heal a child and reinforce a strong body image. Self-esteem and self-control are key components to a healthy body image. For the most part, if a girl displays confidence and personal control, the likelihood of a positive body image is greater.
How does the media effect body image in teens?
Advertising in teen magazines and on television typically glamorizes skinny models who do not resemble the average woman. In fact, today's models generally weight 23% less then the average woman. Considering the average person in the United States sees approximately 3,000 ads in magazines, billboards, and television every day, your teenager is getting the wrong message about body image much too often. Media targeting teenage girls are emphasizing the ideal of thinness as beauty.(See How do I teach my teen media literacy? When you stop and think about the fact that the average height and weight for a model is 5'10" and 110 lbs, and the height and weight for the average woman is 5'4" and 145 lbs, it's easy to see why this creates a tremendous health risk for young girls.
You can help your daughter minimize the media's impact on her body image by:
- Limit your teen daughter from this type of advertising. This doesn't mean that you need to take away all teen magazines, just be aware of which ones take this teen issue into consideration. Check them out at the store before purchasing a subscription.
- Start an advertising awareness program in her school.
- Talk to her about the health risks of being so thin and use the medai for teachable moments.
- Talk to her about how photos of models are altered and airbrushed.
Parenting Tips on Positive Body Image
As a parent of a teen, you can help him/her relate to food in a healthy way and create a positive body image by using these seven tips:
- Create and maintain a door to open communication. This is often, and sometimes the only, step to many of the problems parents have with their teenagers. So work on keeping that door open. Use these articles to help:
- Avoid talking negatively about food, weight, etc. Also avoid talking about how ‘good’ someone looks because they are thin.
- Have fun and nutritious food available for your teenager all of the time as teens get hungry 24/7.
- Be careful of what the media is portraying to your teenager about body image. Limit the television and teen magazines. Watch or read with them so you can talk about what your teen is seeing.
- Compliment actions – what they do is more important than how they look!
- Make food interesting and cool. Find healthy and fun recipes your teen will enjoy making, then let them invite a friend to “play” in the kitchen. Smoothie recipes are great for this purpose.
- Encourage awareness in your community by taking part in a talk at a PTA meeting, or becoming involved in a youth organization with your teenager and actively promoting against size and sexual discrimination through positive activity.
Positive Discipline for Teenagers
7 Things Your Teenager Won't Tell You: And How to Talk About Them Anyway