A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Help kids build better body image

Mom talking to daughter - Teens and body image

Be a good body image role model. Avoid speaking negatively about your body and talk to your teen about what her body can do rather than how it looks.

How we think about our bodies plays a big part in our self-esteem.

People who have a positive body image feel good about how they look and understand their appearance doesn’t determine their worth. They tend to feel confident and have high self-esteem.

People who are unhappy with how they look tend to have lower self-esteem and may be at risk for eating disorders and depression.

Culture, the media and things we hear about our appearance shape body image starting at a young age. Parents can help kids feel more confident by modeling positive body image and teaching them they have more to offer than how they look, said Stacy Braun, Ph.D., a Marshfield Clinic child and adolescent psychologist.

Build children’s self-esteem

Teach kids to manage stress and focus on things they like about themselves when negative thoughts about their bodies creep in.

“Encourage activities that highlight positive traits other than appearance,” Braun said.

Emphasize the value in their skills, character and accomplishments. Achievements in sports, volunteering, band, theater and after-school clubs give kids something to feel good about.

Be a body image role model

Kids pick up on parents’ body image struggles. Before you know it, negative self-talk has become normal in your family.

“Avoid bad-mouthing others’ bodies and your own,” Braun said.

Talk to kids when they’re young about what their bodies can do instead of how they look. Make exercise and eating healthy foods a normal part of life for good health rather than for weight or appearance.

Limit your family’s exposure to media images that set unrealistic expectations for how people’s bodies should look. Help kids choose realistic and positive role models.

Signs of negative body image

Negative body image comes in many forms, including worries about weight, acne, makeup, hair, muscles and individual body parts.

Critical self-talk is a clear sign of negative body image, but teens and pre-teens usually show other signs they’re feeling bad about themselves, including:

  • Spending a lot of time trying to improve their appearance
  • Avoiding mirrors or excessive mirror checking
  • Rejecting compliments
  • Seeking reassurance about their looks
  • Extreme dieting or exercise
  • Comparing themselves to others or media images

“Let kids know it’s common to struggle with body image, but thinking about how they look shouldn’t consume their lives,” Braun said.

These tips from Safeteens.org can help kids start feeling better about themselves:

  • Make a list of 10 things you like about yourself that aren’t related to your looks.
  • Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Do something nice for yourself, like taking a bath or spending time outside.
  • Wear clothes that make you feel confident.
  • See yourself as a whole person, not individual body parts, when you look in the mirror.

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