Children are confronted with their body image from an early age, often because of the models they identify with. During adolescence, puberty brings its share of transformations and plays a crucial role in the development of a person’s body image. As parents, how can you help your children develop and maintain a healthy body image?
The definition of body image
Body image is the way a person perceives their own body. It is the image they have of themselves and what they project in society. A person’s feelings about their body can be very positively or negatively impactful. A positive body image is very empowering. A negative body image can be crippling.
The causes of a negative body image
There are several factors that influence the negative perception of adolescents’ body images. Some examples include:
The media (television, magazines, video games, social networks, etc.) often present young people with a distorted image of reality. Constantly exposed to perfect, slim and muscular bodies, young people can believe these are real beauty standards and use them in comparison to themselves. In addition to this, some filters modify the physical appearances that can be found today on most social media networks. These can refine the face, enhance the nose, rework the complexion or even change the shape of the eyes.
In adolescence, concerns about weight and appearance are often the focus of conversations within a group of friends. Young people are likely to compare themselves and comment on others or themselves. Criticism of another's body or appearance is a form of bullying.
Remarks by a parent, coach, school staff member or any other adult about a child's weight are behaviours that can cause much damage to a child's body image and self-esteem. Particular attention should be paid to prejudice and fat-shaming comments.
The consequences of a negative body image
Adolescents with low self-esteem tend to engage in behaviours that harm their health.
A person with an eating disorder is often overly concerned about their body image. The desire to achieve unrealistic standards leads to unhealthy eating practices, such as limiting their food intake or not eating at all.
To learn more about eating disorders, check out our PSST! guide: Eating disorders.
In young people, low self-esteem can have varying degrees of mental health consequences. In fact, an obsession with body image often explains the appearance of symptoms that are harmful to health, including:
- Stress and anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Emotions at the surface of the sking
- A drop in energy
- Sleeping disorders
- Eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts
When to consult
Any unusual behaviour in a child can be a red flag for a mental health problem. Symptoms may be temporary, but consultation with a physician or specialist is strongly recommended when they persist or worsen.
Ways to promote a healthy and positive body image
Some interventions with young people can help them develop a positive body image—and motivate them to accept themselves as they are.
Social media education
Selfies on social media are very often retouched, either by filters or editing software; they can be found everywhere on social media. Education about this appearance-based content is crucial. Teens need to understand that these are unrealistic beauty standards and that the more they interact with these types of posts, the more they will be displayed on feeds. Authenticity encourages the development of a healthy body image in teens. Find a few more authentic accounts to follow with your teen to keep a balanced news feed.
It is essential to emphasize the acceptance of differences and the fact that each person is unique through discussions of body diversity, specifically body shape, size and colour.
Understanding that the body can accomplish many amazing tasks and activities, such as jumping on the trampoline or playing with a ball, helps children develop a positive self-image. Be sure to value not only the child's skills but also their character and personal qualities.
Pitfalls to avoid
Certain actions or comments by parents or adults around the teen should be avoided, such as:
- Do not comment on the child's or any other person's weight or make comparisons
- Do not make remarks about your own body in the presence of the child
- Do not mention personal preferences, for example, thin bodies
- Do not create associations in the child's mind between weight and food; encourage a healthy relationship with food
Here are a few resources that can help teens in difficulty or those around them with questions:
Telephone: 1 800 263-2266
Text: (514) 600-1002
Anorexia and Bulimia Quebec
Listening and referral line: 1 800 630-0907
Psychosocial services (telephone consultation), free and confidential: 811
Line 1 866 APPELLE
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-866-277-3553
If you have any questions about weight or body image, you can ask your pharmacist or family doctor. They will be able to direct you to the appropriate resources.
Let’s get a healthy conversation about body image started!
Text written in collaboration with Vie de Parents
To help your teenager on a daily basis, consult our free guide.