Positive Body Image and Impact On Teen’s Self Esteem – Written by Vinti Mittal

Studies have found that 1 out of 2 teens in Singapore, believe that they are too fat; 8 in 10 want to change the way they look; and 1 in 5 would consider plastic surgery. Research shows that there has been an increase in body image concerns and decrease in self-esteem among teens in Singapore. This is concerning, considering that a healthy body image in early years lay the foundation for good physical and mental health.

Some facts from National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), America

  • Body size awareness tends to start around the age of 5 in children.
  • 40-60% of elementary school girls and 25% of elementary school boys are worried about weight gain.
  • By preteens, 50% of girls are dissatisfied with their weight, shape and start to withdraw from activities because they feel bad about their appearance.
  • In middle school girls, start to actively manage their appearance (more than boys), and is particularly stressful for them because of the change in body shape, as a result of puberty.
  • Statistic shows that, body satisfaction may hit a low between the ages of 12-15.

Body Image is defined as a way that one perceives their bodies. It relates to individual’s shape, size and weight. The need to look perfect is spreading across most age groups, ethnicity, strata and the influence seems to be strong and impossible to ignore.

24-year-old double Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington, credited with inspiring generations of young swimmers, was reduced to tears feeling insecure during a conversation about body image after her retirement from the sport.

What influences Body Image?

Family life and culture tends to have a strong influence on one’s view about their bodies. Different cultures and families have varied views about ideal body shapes and sizes – some being more encouraging and realistic than others. A family’s pressures to look perfect, a coach’s expectations of “making weight” for the sports team, or body changes during puberty may impact a child’s perception of body image. Interestingly, media has been defining the “ideal” size by bombarding us with unrealistic, air brushed pictures, creating negative influence on our children’s concept of body image.

How Does Body Image affects Self Esteem?

Body Image plays a major role in defining a teenager’s self-esteem. It’s hard to feel good about oneself, if one is unhappy with their bodies or appearance. Self-esteem is the “real” opinion one has of them. It’s something that can’t be touched or seen but seems to be always following us around like a shadow. Some children may try to compensate the way they feel by manipulating (excessive exercise routines, using fad diets, counting calories etc.) their body images. Parents can play an important role in helping children form a positive body image.

How can parents help boost positive body image?

  • Ensure use of positive statements around food, meal times, body sizes and shapes.
  • Model healthy behaviors, to ensure “fit” bodies with higher levels of self-esteem and healthier body images.
  • Avoid practicing fad diets and introduce “Self Attuned eating”, a concept of learning to pay attention to and trust feelings of hunger and fullness – this will help promote a healthy, normalizing attitude toward eating.
  • As a parent, appreciate and celebrate your own body for what it can do, not just how it looks.
  • Model to accept and value people for who they are irrespective of their looks and appearances.
  • Compliment children on their qualities rather than their physical appearance
  • Enhancing the children’s knowledge on the genuinity of the images on screens and magazines projected by media around us

When in doubt?

You may begin to wonder what is really happening, when you notice your teenager seeking for unusual assurance on their appearance, are overly obsessed with looks, drastically changing their food habits or experiencing loss of considerable weight  etc. ? Discuss your concerns with them, if things don’t work out, consider talking to a counselor/psychologist to get some help.

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