Posted by Bellefaire JCB on February 01, 2016

Image Isn't Everything

  • Counseling and Community Services Counseling and Community Services
  • Prevention & Early Intervention Prevention & Early Intervention

Body image - the internal personal picture we have of our bodies - can be a major preoccupation of adolescents. The "perfect body" can become a measure of self-worth, and may undervalue other abilities, talents, and strengths. A recent study of girls and boys found that 54% of girls ages 13 to 19 were dissatisfied with their bodies and wanted to lose weight. Furthermore, 41% of boys in the same age bracket reported overall dissatisfaction with their bodies.

Research indicates that teenage girls spend billions of dollars each year on fashion and beauty products —that dieting and obsessing over weight starts as early as 9 or 10 years old. Guys spend hours working out and even taking steroids to "get buff." These statistics are alarmingly higher than in past decades. (The Harvard Center for Eating Disorders). The reason for the increased dissatisfaction with body image is complex and influenced by a number of factors, including a growing disparity between a normal body weight and those portrayed by the media.

Who Is At Risk?

Every teenager is at risk for developing a distorted body image. Certain factors do contribute to a distorted body image and likelihood of developing a related disorder.

Females are at an increased risk over males. Other factors include: a perfectionist or rigid personality, dieting, personal or family history of obesity, eating disorders, substance abuse, and depression. Furthermore, elite performance in competitive sports where body shape is a factor can increase the risk of a distorted body image for males and females.

How Parents Can Help

  1. Help your teen to realize that he/ she is valued because he/she is unique, not because of appearance or thinness.
  2. Discuss with your teen the emphasis society places on appearance and encourage him/her to be critical of advertising claims and the media.
  3. Praise your teen’s positive abilities and talents.
  4. Monitor negative comments about your teens’ own bodies.

Promoting positive body image

Talk with your teen about ways to accept and understand their bodies. Instead of strict diet and exercise designed to cause weight loss, help your teen to focus on the skills that will help them feel better and improve their overall quality of life. Encourage them to think of realistic goals that are right for them. Help them to balance healthy eating with enjoyable physical activity. The following tips may help you help your teen develop a healthy body image:

  1. Reality check - To a large extent, one’s body shape and build is dependent on genetic factors.
  2. Be good to self - Talk openly with your teen about their concerns. What does he/she see as his/her strengths and limitations? Help him/her to develop a realistic view of him/herself and encourage them to embrace their uniqueness!
  3. Adapt a new attitude - Instead of encouraging your child to lose weight, help him/her to make healthy choices.
  4. Set a good example - Do YOU have a healthy body image? Are you sending positive messages? The things we say and do regarding our own appearance send very powerful messages to those around us. These messages shape how children think. Make sure that your expectations of yourself and those around you are realistic and based on health rather than size or shape.

Eating Disorders

If you suspect your teen has an eating disorder, it is important to seek treatment. Treatment should ideally include a primary care physician and a mental health professional. The symptoms do not typically go away without professional help. Since some type of emotional distress is usually at the root of the problem, treatment can help the individual address the reasons why the eating behavior and body/weight preoccupation became out of control.

The good news is that 80 to 90% of patients with eating disorders respond to treatment—typically within a two-year period. People who seek treatment begin to feel better and function normally. Early intervention can increase the likelihood of positive results for those suffering from eating disorders.

Did You Know?

Studies in the last decade show that eating disorders and disordered eating behaviors are related to other health risk behaviors, including tobacco use, alcohol use, marijuana use, delinquency, unprotected sexual activity, and suicide attempts.

Disordered Eating vs. Eating Disorders


Disordered Eating

Eating Disorder

Essential Distinction

A reaction to life situations. A habit.

An illness.

Psychological Symptoms

Infrequent thoughts and behaviors about body, foods, and eating that do not lead to health, social, school, and work problems.

Frequent and persistent

thoughts and behaviors about body, foods, and eating that do lead to health, social, school, and work problems.

Associated Medical Problems


May lead to transient weight changes and nutritional problems; rarely causes major medical complaints.

Can result in major medical complications that lead to hospitalization or even death.


Education and/or self-help can assist with change. Problem may go away without treatment.

Requires specific medical and mental health treatment. Problem does not resolve without treatment.


• The National Health Information Center /
• American Social Health Association /
• The National Women's Health Information Center /

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