In a social culture that is constantly seeking perfection, teens can find it difficult to be happy with their body, self-image, or looks. They may want curly hair, straight hips, to be taller, bigger pecs, or a smaller nose. No matter what the teen focuses on, that part of their body becomes a negative issue that can follow them for their entire life. Here are some of the many topics pushing teens to develop negative body images and how to fight against them.
FashionsThe clothes teens cover their body with are more than just fabrics they slip on each morning. Their idea of fashion is a means of individualistic self-expression, personal social status, and identification of which group he or she belongs to. The fashion industry often preys on teens by creating images of waifs dancing through streets to meet buff young men, and the happy, joyful group embraces and wanders into the future. For the youth that wants to emulate these ideal fashion icons, problems arise when there are five extra pounds to lose, or they aren’t tall enough. The need to build abs or lose belly fat are real emotional battles the teens face, and that is why the fashion industry and eating disorders have been linked so many times. Teaching teens early that no one is perfect is an important first step in the creation of a positive body image. Being comfortable in the skin you have can take a long time for many people, but it is an important lesson to learn.
PeersMost teens do everything with their friends. They hang out and discuss their feelings, shop for the latest fashion trend, and talk on the phone for hours. This is how many teenagers bond. Using their peers to mirror their self-esteem is an important way they can build and affirm their sense of belonging and importance. The problem with this sense of self can come when teens realize they are different from one another and begin to disassociate with something about themselves in order to associate with something in their friends such as perfect, blemish-free skin, ability to attract the opposite sex, or perfect teeth. While one person may be tall, another may be short, and this can have a large impact on the youth that is trying to be perfect in a world he or she is still trying to understand through the eyes of his or her friends. Constantly worrying about how others perceive their clothing, laugh, nose, and figure can result in emotional and mental problems. That is why it is important to emphasize being unique is essential in a society of sameness, i.e., Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowling, Albert Einstein, and Oprah Winfrey.
Social MediaThe teen years are rife with pressures from inside and outside, but when social media sprang out of nowhere, the pressure multiplied by hundreds of times. Not only were the teens able to compare themselves to those around them, but all the sudden they could evaluate themselves against a world of photoshopped bullies. Hidden behind a keyboard of false representation, the images people presented to the world suddenly became created instead of natural, what they wore was fake, and where they spent their time was falsified. Teens can innocently be drug into comparing themselves to these false images if they are not made aware of the unreal world social media can create. Preventing feelings of inferiority to a world that does not exist is important as a teen begins to create his or her own story with a narrative about what makes him or her strong and positive. Teaching the youth to remove the unrealistic expectations he or she develops about a world that doesn’t exist is vital for both tweens and teens as they flip through their social media sights. They must also understand how to perceive the trolls and bullies of the media world and how to navigate around the faceless negativity as they learn to look at the comments with a grain of salt.
ProductsThe world is bombarded with products that are guaranteed to make the users look better and feel healthier. From makeup to protein powder to energy drinks, the shelves are lined with products that present unrealistic expectations to get everyone to use them. Advertisements are created that prove using the item will get the user a fast car, better skin, a cuter boyfriend, or a whiter smile. Since the teen consumer can be especially vulnerable to this type of marketing, the products often focus on this age group. For many, marketing has a negative impact because of the reverse psychology involved. If the teen doesn’t use the product, they won’t have a fast car, get clear skin, or build bigger muscles. Trying to make a teen understand he or she doesn’t need to try the product to begin building a positive body image is a difficult task because teenagers believe what those they admire have to say.
No one is perfect, yet everyone wants to be a better image of who they believe they can be – especially the vulnerable teens. The best thing parents can do to help teenagers develop a positive body image is to create an atmosphere of openness and discussion. Making sure home is a positive force, and protective environment that keeps the bullies and negativity at bay can allow the child time to discover who he or she is and what strengths he or she can fill the world with. Encouraging uniqueness that includes all body types is the best gift you can give your teenager.