Friday, July 12, 2024

Body Image and Teenagers

Do you ever notice how the person on the cover of your favorite fashion, teen or celebrity magazine doesn’t even vaguely resemble what most people around you look like?  Retouching techniques, which include airbrushing, create an image of someone that is unrealistic.  Their features become too perfect — unachievable by most human standards.  In fact, it isn’t uncommon for the photos of these models to be modified to have even thinner thighs, tinier waists and bigger muscles, or to virtually erase wrinkles, freckles and blemishes.

The body image of teenagers — the way they see or picture themselves — changes as they go through the many stages of puberty.  How they feel about their physical appearance is partially formed by all of these images they view through media like TV, internet and magazines.  Unfortunately, these images, especially of fashion models, are thinner than 98 percent of American women.  The average female is 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds, yet the average model is 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighs merely 117 pounds, qualifying as underweight.  For teens to compare themselves to these unhealthy and typically airbrushed models is unrealistic and often dangerous.

Sadly, 42 percent of elementary school children between first through third grades want to be thinner, and 80 percent of children older than 10 are afraid of being fat.  As these children get older, we know that one in five teenage girls suffer from some sort of eating disorder, and that many teens with eating disorders also struggle with substance abuse. The rate of eating disorders is higher in South Orange County than surrounding areas.

Parents should be aware to set good examples of positive body image by avoiding negative comments about their own or their teen’s body and to focus on good eating habits instead of dieting.  In fact, the diet industry is a $40 billion industry, but 95 percent of dieters regain their lost weight within one to five years, so ultimately “diets” fail.  Parents should also avoid being overly focused on appearance and instead emphasize things that truly matter, such as good health,  honesty, being a good friend and working hard in school.

As a parent ,you can choose to not purchase magazines that reflect an unrealistic body image on the cover.  If you do keep these magazines in your house, you can talk about how you notice that these models never seem to have the same imperfections that most people do, and remind your teen that this is because these photos are retouched.  That there is no such thing as perfect is a very important thing to point out to your teen, especially as they struggle with the normal trials and tribulations of adolescence such as acne, wearing braces and going through puberty.

Boost their self-esteem and body image by telling them how much you love them, encouraging them to join in activities that increase their self-confidence and even buying them clothes that make them feel comfortable and beautiful about their body.  If they gain some weight around the typical age of their adolescent growth spurt, remember that it is normal for them to gain up to one pound per month — sometimes growing “thicker” before they grow taller.

Encourage regular daily exercise and limited screen time, and fill your refrigerator and pantry with a variety of healthy, whole foods to help foster normal weight gain that supports this rapid increase in growth — this will help them to reach their ultimate height.  If they appear to be restricting their food intake, cutting their food into tiny bites, over-exercising or seem anxious or depressed, seek the help of a registered dietitian (R.D.) who specializes in eating disorders.

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