Article Written By: Audrey Bristol
In today’s world topics of beauty, weight loss, and health are all around us. We are constantly bombarded with ways to look good and feel our best, teens and children are not immune to the constant attack of thinness disguised as health and wellness.
The National Center for Health Statistics shows that there is an increase in teens trying to lose weight, research showing a steady increase now up to 38% of adolescent boys and girls attempting to lose weight, a majority using exercise or eating less.
Dieting at any age increases the chances of disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, low self esteem, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, damage to one’s physical body, eating disorder behaviors (like compulsive overeating, food restriction, taking diet pills or laxatives, excessive exercise) and even an eating disorder (bulimia, anorexia. binge eating disorder, and others).
Body positivity “refers to the assertion that all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size, and appearance” (Cherry). The body positive movement urges people to understand that regardless of how their body looks it is good and worthy of love. A certain body weight or BMI does not equal health. While parents cannot control the media, diet-culture, and ridiculous beauty standards that every family member is bound to consume, parents do have some control of the messages in their own home and can lead the conversation on body acceptance celebrating body diversity.
Change your language.
One thing that can quickly change in a household to be more body positive friendly is the language that is used to describe food, health, and weight. Labeling food, body types, and people often leads to stigmatization rather than respect for diversity. “Food-talk” is one of the first things I discuss with families who are struggling with a teen with disordered eating, I asked them to take out labels such as fat, junk, good, bad, diet, unhealthy, etc. I encourage them to challenge this by instead discussing what foods can do for you and it encourages a variety of different foods. Discuss and encourage movement or exercise as a tool that helps your body feel good rather than a way “stay in shape” or “lose weight“.
Be a role model.
Examining your own beliefs and prejudices around weight, physical appearance, healthy body image and general health is key in preventing the spread of unhealthy body image and beliefs. While this can be very challenging, it allows you to have insight into what you may be communicating to your family.
Often, I find myself telling parents that it is important to see how you are talking about your own appearance and those around you. Teens and children tend to pick up messages if their parents are highly self-critical, often comparing their own bodies or appearance. Celebrating your body and your accomplishments sets the standard for what your family truly cares about.
Talk about it.
While talking to teens about anything can be difficult it is also highly impactful, especially around body positivity. Teaching your teen to be critical of media and having an open dialogue can help your teen challenge what they hear and see.
Talking about the discomfort we all feel helps create space for your teen to open up about their own struggles and pressure to look a certain way. Engaging in discussions around what health, beauty, and confidence look like allows the opportunity for your teen to explore their values and create their own definition of body positivity.
Notice eating behaviors.
Being aware of the signs that your teen might be struggling with eating such as skipping meals, over exercising, irritability, withdrawing, hiding food items, worrying about weight gain or weight loss could be a sign that your teen is needing more support. Having the help of a therapist or registered dietitian can give your teen a safe place to explore how to have a better relationship with their body and help avoid a lifetime of struggles and the possibility of needing more intensive treatment in the future.
It feels like we are fighting an uphill battle when it comes to diet-culture, social media, and beauty standards but starting in the home can be the most impactful for your loved ones and are risk factors for an eating disorder. The body positive movement empowers people to take care of their physical and mental health.
A positive relationship with one’s body allows space for more confidence, comfort, and gratitude for their body in a society that can be very destructive to one’s self esteem.
While many of us struggle with feeling content in our bodies it is important that we do not feel our body would be rejected from the ones that matter the most, our family. If you or someone you love is struggling with negative body image or low self esteem do not hesitate to reach out and seek professional treatment from a therapist, registered dietitian, or medical provider as these may lead to more challenges in life. Struggles with eating and body image may indicate there is more going on like anxiety, depression, trauma, substance abuse, thoughts of suicide and more. It is sometimes best to reach out to professionals who specialize in teen counseling and family therapy.
Cherry, K. (2020, February 25). Why body positivity is important. Retrieved February 05, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-body-positivity-4773402
McDow KB, Nguyen DT, Herrick KA, Akinbami LJ. Attempts to lose weight among adolescents aged 16–19 in the United States, 2013–2016. NCHS Data Brief, no 340. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2019.
Audrey Bristol is a Licensed Social Worker who works with teens and young adults struggling with body image, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. She is passionate about honoring health at every size and helping teens and young adults to embrace their strengths, learn to overcome obstacles, and provides support and encouragement along the way. Teen and young adult years can be very challenging. Audrey provides a compassionate, clinically solid approach to therapy and reaching struggling teens. Visit Audrey’s bio to learn more about her and to reach out to her directly for help and support through therapy at Denver Metro Counseling email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We help people build positive relationships with themselves and others.