Why Teens Develop a Negative Body Image and How to Help Them Avoid it

Posted on

At a point in every teenager’s life, they will feel insecure or even ashamed of their own body. Even grown adults struggle with adopting a healthy mindset toward their body image. While there are a lot of proactive messages supporting body positivity among teens, the facts remain that teen body angst is still a profound issue. By the age of 6, for example, girls begin expressing concerns about their weight or shape. As much as 60% of girls between the ages of 6-12 are concerned about their weight.[1]

How does this happen? What is leading our children to feel this way? Is the modern media landscape fueling it? Is teen bullying to blame? Unfortunately, there isn’t one reason, and as with most large-scale demographic trends, it’s multiple things. Some forces, however, are more impactful than others.

 The Media’s Effect on Teen Body Perception

Currently, in the United States, as many as 10% of young women suffer from an eating disorder.[2] The average height and weight for a model is 5-foot-10, 110-pounds, respectively. The average height and weight for all other women is 5-foot-4, 145 pounds.[3] Based on what children see on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, or even television, the perceived “normal” of what people look like is heavily skewed.

Skinny is perceived as beautiful, and girls say the pictures they see in the media influence their concept of the ideal body shape at a rate of 69%.[4]

The good news is the advertising community is beginning to take responsibility and put forth campaigns and images that show real girls with athletic or healthy bodies. Recently, companies like Dove and Nike have been making a point to promote body positivity through their messaging both online and offline.

In the social media environment, girls often follow specific “influencers” on platforms like YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. Influencers are the new celebrities, and according to the Pew Research Center, 71% of 13-17-year-olds use Facebook, 52% use Instagram, and 41% use Snapchat. These modern-day celebrities are reaching teens at all times on multiple platforms thanks to today’s advances in technology. Researchers also suggest that adolescent girls and young women following fitness boards on a platform like Pinterest were more likely to report intentions to engage in extreme weight-loss behaviors, such as crash dieting or a radical exercise plan.[5]

Social media influencers wield vast amounts of power over the physical and mental state of children, yet it seems they’re unwilling to take necessary precautions to present body positivity in healthy ways.

Bullying and Body Image

Approximately 40% of higher-weight kids are teased about their weight by peers or family members.[6] Targets of verbal bullying based on weight — sometimes referred to as weight teasing ‑— can experience many negative consequences, including a change in body perception.

Weight stigma poses a significant threat to teens’ mental and physical health. As many as 65% of people with eating disorders say bullying contributed to their condition.[7] Teens teased about their body weight are also likely to avoid physical activities at school, like gym class or sports.[8]  With ever-increasing access to smartphones, cyberbullying has become an evolving epidemic, with more teens succumbing to depression, anxiety, which can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

How to Help Your Teen’s Body Image

There are ways to help combat against teenagers feeling negatively toward their bodies. Here are a few tips:

  1. -Educate your teen about advertising tropes and why they’re inaccurate.
  2. -Discuss how photos of models are altered and airbrushed, distorting reality.
  3. -Talk to them about the health risks of being too thin.
  4. -Know your teen’s social media activities and the accounts they follow.
  5. -Expose teens to positive role models or athletes that support and endorse healthy body types.
  6. -Educate teenagers on nutrition-related topics and talk about the dangers of extreme dieting.
  7. -Sign them up for sports or physical activities.
  8. -Encourage your child not to compare themselves to their peers.

Getting Quality, Useful Information from the Source

Knowing how teenagers view their bodies and how it ties to their self-esteem is a challenge. It’s not something most teens want to discuss with anyone, let alone adults. But what if there was a way to get them to open up as a group? Knowing what to ask — and how to ask it — is difficult. The good news is there are resources available to help.

Pride Surveys has provided research-quality data for schools and communities since 1980. We gather fact-based data and information through anonymous and useful survey tools, which allows community leaders to understand better how teenagers are coping with the stresses they experience. With this information, educators, parents, PTAs, and other community organizations are in a better position to secure future funding from a variety of sources to support their programs and better their local community.

Our Pride Survey for Grades 6-12 is our longest-running and most popular survey, with more than 8 million respondents over the last 35 years. This comprehensive questionnaire for students collects data regarding alcohol, tobacco, and drug use, discipline problems at and outside of school, personal information, academic achievement, family life, and more. Using a student behavior and school climate survey, we have been able to track significant longitudinal data and trends, and have released multiple national data sets, allowing our customers to compare their area against national trends.

Please browse through our portfolio of student surveys and find out why more than 14 million students, parents, and faculty members have responded to Pride Surveys. If you have any questions on our process or how these surveys work, please call us today at 800-279-6361 or fill out our quick online contact form.

[1] “Bullying and Weight Shaming.” Retrieved March 2019 at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bullying-weight-shaming

[2] “Eating Disorders in Teens.” Retrieved March 2019 at https://www.aacap.org/aacap/families_and_youth/facts_for_families/FFF-Guide/Teenagers-With-Eating-Disorders-002.aspx

[3] “The Media and Your Teen’s Body Image.” Retrieved March 2019 at  https://www.verywellmind.com/body-image-issues-teens-and-the-media-2609236

[4] “Bullying and Weight Shaming.” Retrieved March 2019 at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bullying-weight-shaming

[5] “Selfie-Esteem: The Relationship Between Body Dissatisfaction and Social Media in Adolescent and Young Women.” Retrieved March 2019 at http://www.in-mind.org/article/selfie-esteem-the-relationship-between-body-dissatisfaction-and-social-media-in-adolescent

[6] “Bullying and Eating Disorders.” Retrieved March 2019 at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bullying

[7] “Bullying and Eating Disorders.” Retrieved March 2019 at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bullying

[8] “Weight-based Teasing and Bullying in Children: How Parents Can Help.” Retrieved on March 2019 at https://www.healthychildren.org/english/health-issues/conditions/obesity/pages/teasing-and-bullying.aspx



1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)