Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Teen Body Image

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In today’s culture I am really alarmed by how much focus there is for teens (and even preteens) on body image, shape, skin, hair, and “sex appeal.” It seems like everywhere I look I am struck by the excessive preoccupation with comparing our own body to the media image of the so-called perfect body. I am not only talking about girls - more and more young males are experiencing the same pressure to “be perfect.”

It does not help that the clothing industry seems to believe that young children should look “sexy” and that it is difficult to shop for children’s clothing that is not too provocative. It also does not help when young males go the Web in search of information about male health and are immediately confronted with images suggesting that male health is all about muscles, the size of their penis, and their ability to attract women.

The final sign for me that we have lost all perspective on body image is the fact that when people greet each other the first thing out of their mouth tends to be some judgment about the other person’s clothes, hair, body size, tan, or health – most of which is none of their business.

The majority of this preoccupation with body image is around weight, and acknowledging the issues our country is facing with obesity, there is an immediate need to help teens develop a healthy attitude about their bodies. Here are some resources to help.

Resources
My favorite body image site is Dr. Burgard’s Body Positive Site, which has some nice activities and lots of helpful information.

A Body Positive Approach
The Body Positive Approach is very simple – instead of focusing on weight, you focus on the decisions you make day-to-day about how to parent yourself and meet your needs. The idea is to work with your body, make it a partner (not the enemy), and find joy in it.

The steps that Dr. Burger proposes include:
• Changing your motivation from weight loss to quality of life.
• Replacing “will power” with “inner parenting”
• Making only those changes you can live with forever
• Facing the limitations on our capacity to control weight
• Freeing energy and time for more important projects in life
• Addressing the body blame underlying many different difficulties by
• Creating a body disparagement free zone – which is really hard!
• Healing the relationship with your body so you are motivated to take good care of yourself.
• Building skills that are useful for life and lifetimes
• Learning to defend yourself in a stigmatizing world
• Creating multiple ways to soothe, stimulate, nourish, and rest your body
• Getting “back on the horse” when life bumps you off
• Studying exercise as a foreign language
• Naming and cultivating the “hunger to move.”
• Building an athletic identity
• Discovering preferences for activities
• Body Positive Inspired Eating
• Allowing your body to be your partner in eating – (hunger and satisfaction)
• “Dieting detox” – undoing the damage of dieting to your trust in your body and its signals.
• View of food as sensual nourishment – your right to more than just food.
• Research about behavior change
• Understanding progress and relapse – the harm reduction model
• Letting go and grieving the pursuit of body/self transformation
• Letting go of the belief that our worth is reflected by our body
• Building a supportive community
• Create friendships that reflect the real you
• Becoming an activist to “Clean up the culture.”

Another great site is About-Face which is about making changes:
• Stop talking about your weight (especially in front of young girls).
• Make a list of women you admire.
• Question the motives of the fashion industry.
• Stop weighing yourself.
• Concentrate on things you do well.
• Get physical for fun.
• Value your dollars.
• Voice your opinion.
• Be a role model.
• Break the barriers.




Photo credit: jsgphoto
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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