Children's Mental Health

10 Ways To Cultivate Positive Teen Body Image

Body image is defined as how and what you think and feel about your body. It includes the picture of your body that you have in your mind, which might or might not match your body’s actual shape and size.

“A person has a positive or healthy body image if they feel happy and satisfied with their body, and are comfortable with and accepting of the way they look,” says Danah Gutierrez, a body positivity advocate and host of the podcast “Raw and Real.mp3” together with her twin sister Stacy. “They accept that everyone is diverse, and that the body is not an ornament to be looked at.”

On the other hand, a person with a negative unhealthy body image feels unhappy with the way they look. “People who feel like this often want to change their body size or shape,” Danah adds.

A person’s body image is influenced by many factors. These include family environment, the attitudes of peers, social media, cultural background, and more.

Puberty is also a big influence. This is a time when a child’s body goes through lots of changes; at the same time, teens encounter the pressures of fitting in and finding a sense of belonging. “In my high school, conversations about who are the best-looking in our batch were common; students would be ranked based on who was the prettiest, and I was told many times that if I lost weight, my rank would go higher,” Danah relates.

This is why if you are a parent to teens or work with teens, it is important to know that you have an influence on your child’s body image. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting your child to be well-groomed or present themselves well; these are good values,” Danah points out. “But how much do you value appearances, and is it perceived in a healthy way? Because there can be situations when teens will not process it the right way.”

An unhealthy teenage body image is directly related to low self-esteem, which are risk factors for the development of risky weight loss strategies, eating disorders, and mental health disorders like depression. “It might also lead teens to look for detrimental ways to feel desired, to feel a sense of belongingness, or to be valued, such as turning to peers or the media,” cautions Danah.

On the other hand, teens who feel good about their body grow up more likely to have good self-esteem and mental health as well as a balanced attitude to eating and physical activity.

“When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful!”

Danah Gutierrez, body positivity advocate

Here are the things you can do to help your teen develop a positive body image:

  1. Explain that weight gain is normal during puberty. During this time, children feel “out of control” with the changes they are experiencing in their body. It can help tremendously to know about and understand these changes before they occur. Girls who are experiencing their first menstrual cycle, especially, should realize that growth and weight spurts are necessary and normal for their development.

  2. ‘Instagram vs. reality.’ Tell your teen to be more discerning of what they see on social media or tv. Help assuage their insecurities by explaining how the images are often digitally manipulated so that people look more ‘beautiful’ than they really are.

  3. Focus on inner beauty. “Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body,” says Danah. “When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful.”

  4. Discuss self-image. “Have an honest and vulnerable discussion with your teen about weaknesses and flaws (theirs and yours), share your own struggles and what healthy ways you took to be better,” Danah explains.

  5. Help establish healthy eating and exercise habits. If your child wants to eat differently or do more exercise, that’s OK – but make sure it’s for healthy reasons, and the dieting and exercise don’t become extreme. “Let your child know that healthy eating and physical activity aren’t just for weight loss – they’re vital for physical health, now and in the future,” points out Danah.

  6. Praise achievements. “Don’t have to limit compliments to appearance, i.e. you’re so fair-skinned, you’re so skinny,” says Danah. “Tell your child that you’re proud of them for things that aren’t related to appearance, such as ‘I love how you’re so eager to learn about life’ or ‘You’re so mature for your age’ or ‘I really enjoy your company.’” 

Also focus on what their body can do, rather than how their body looks. For example, you can say, ‘Wow, you hit that ball a long way’, rather than ‘Gosh, you’ve got big arm muscles’.

  1. Set a good example. If you show that you feel positive about your own body, it’ll be easier for your child to be positive about their body. Talk about eating healthy, not dieting; talk about exercising to be stronger, not to lose weight; and do let your child see you eating a variety of food, vegetables, and lean meats, not only diet foods or fat-free foods.

  2. Discourage family and friends from using hurtful nicknames and joking about people who are overweight. Teasing can have a negative influence on body image and can also lead to bullying. It’s important to let everyone in your family know that teasing about weight or appearance is not okay. “I would call out the commenter by saying right away ‘What did you say? I don’t think that’s funny,’” Danah says. “Then I would have a private conversation with that person and tell them I would appreciate it if they did do that in front of my kid, that’s not going to help my child in any way, and I think my child is beautiful just the way they are.”

  3. Connect them with body positive role models. There are things teens cannot share with their parents, and that is normal. “So make sure there are other older people in your circle who are trustworthy, have good character, are grounded, and who carry themselves with confidence,” says Danah. “This way when your child needs to seek advice, they don’t just rely on their peers who  are just as confused and clueless as they are.”

  4. Actively listen and communicate with your child. Respect that they have insecurities. “Don’t just tell them ‘What you are feeling is wrong,’ take the time to listen and figure them out,” suggests Danah. “Assure them that their looks are not the only thing about them, that they have so much more to offer. Make them understand that their body is an instrument, not just an ornament; it’s an instrument to experience good things and bad things, to enjoy life. And tell them that they can be beautiful in so many other ways than just through their appearances.”

As a parent, teacher, or close adult relative, you are the most influential role model in your children’s life. If your teen seems to have anxiety or stress about how he or she looks, start by talking with them about your concerns. And if things don’t change and you’re still worried, consider reaching out to a health professional. MindNation’s psychologists are available 24/7 for online consultations with you or your child. Book  a session now through or email [email protected] . Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential.

Featured Mental Health 101

5 Ways To Build A Healthy Body Image In Children

Self-acceptance starts at home.

Previously, we talked about how adults can develop body positivity. But because body image concerns can begin as early as childhood, it’s also important for parents and other adult role models to promote a positive body image to the younger generation

Why? Studies have shown that young people with a positive image of themselves grow up to be more confident individuals. They are more likely to succeed in their goals because they do not spend time worrying about calories, food, or weight. On the other hand, kids with negative body image feel more self-conscious and anxious. They are at greater risk for excessive weight gain, eating disorders, depression, and other mental health issues. 

Here are the things you can do cultivate body positivity in your children: 

  1. Be a good role model

Children pick up cues from their parents, so be conscious about the way you talk about bodies to your children. Does she see you constantly stepping on the weighing scale or measuring your waistline? Do you often complain about how certain clothes make you fat? If yes, your child might begin to become conscious of her appearance as well. 

How about how you describe others? Do you often describe relatives and friends as “the fat one,” “the one with bad skin,” or “the sexy one”? Refrain from doing so, or, if possible, make positive comments about people of all shapes and sizes or point out other forms of beauty. 

  1. Stop obsessing about numbers. 

Instead of focusing on a target weight or clothes size, aim to live a healthy and active lifestyle. This means encouraging kids to play instead of “working out,” and eating balanced meals instead of “dieting.” This teaches kids that taking care of their bodies is more important than needing to look a certain way. 

  1. Praise strength over sexiness.

Show like “American Ninja Warrior” and “The Titan Games” showcase people of different shapes, sizes, and color doing amazing feats of athleticism. These are the people your children should be emulating.

  1. Watch out for body shaming. 

No one is perfect, but if you look at the comments on social media you would think that everyone should be perfect lest they get teased or bullied. Tell your child to either ignore these nasty comments, or, if she’s old enough, to respond simply with “I try not to talk negatively about bodies” or “What a weird world we live in where people feel they can judge each other’s bodies.” 

  1. Educate them that there is no such thing as the “perfect body.”

Help your child be more critical and observant. Explain to them that the pictures of models they see on tv, magazines, or online have been retouched or changed so that the bodies appear “perfect.”

Remember that a healthy body image begins at home. Focus on healthy living and not on outward appearances, so that your child will grow up confident and comfortable in her own body. 

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8 Ways To Have A Healthy Relationship With Your Body

Body image is defined as how you think and feel about your body. Having concerns about how you look is not in itself a mental illness, but a negative body image can trigger a range of problems such as putting you at higher risk for depression and eating disorders. 

Here are some steps you can take to develop a healthier body image:

  1. Treasure what your body can do. Every day, your body works tirelessly to let you eat, breathe, sleep, laugh, play, dream, have sex, earn money, etc. Be thankful for this amazing body.
  1. Make a list of the 10 things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with your weight or appearance. Refer to this list every day, so that you will feel good about yourself regardless of how you look. 
  1. Remember that true beauty is not skin deep. Beauty is a state of mind. The most charismatic people in the world are not necessarily the most physically attractive; instead, they are the ones who feel good about themselves, and therefore radiate a sense of confidence and openness that makes others gravitate towards them.  
  1. When you look at the mirror, don’t nitpick. Don’t focus on specific body parts and what is wrong with them; instead, see yourself as you want others to see you – as a whole person. 
  1. Have good role models. Surround yourself with body positive people. It will be easier to feel good about your body when you are with friends who have a healthy body image. 
  1. Search for body positive affirmations online. Then print them out and post them where you can see them often. The next time you feel bad about how you look, refer to these mantras to pick yourself up. 
  1. When choosing clothes, pick comfort over trends. Everyone’s body built is differently, so the outfit that looks good on a supermodel or your co-worker will not necessarily look as good on you. Instead, choose clothes that flatter what you already have; when you are comfortable, you will feel good and confident. 
  1. Watch what you see on social and mass media. Photographs can be manipulated to look good with the aid of proper lighting, filters, and Photoshop. People can also change the way they look through shapewear, makeup, and hair extensions. Don’t feel envious or sad; be aware that what you see is not necessarily what is real. 

Transforming negative thoughts into a positive body image will not happen overnight. Let the list above guide you in taking small steps towards a healthier way of regarding your body. Hopefully one day, you will embrace the body that you naturally have and feel better about yourself.