First, let me say that I think you're amazing for wanting to help your teen, friend, or student. You obviously recognize that something is seriously bothering them and you're seeking a way to help them overcome their battles.
Teens are not alone in their body image struggles. In fact, 73% of teenage girls struggle with body image, and 69% of teen boys. Why do you think that number is so high? Well, everyone has access to a smartphone right in their pockets. And unfortunately, our teens spend the most time on social media. These things aren't bad, however, the content is a main factor in their self-perception.
Social media and its algorithms are based on a "numbers game". Humans tend to see numbers as a measure of success or worthiness, and whoever has the most engagement, is most popular on these platforms. That may not always be the reason someone struggles with body image but the data proves that it is a top contribution. Another is bullying, criticism, and low self-esteem.
Regardless of its source, body image issues are affecting a lot of people. How can we help them all? We can't ban phones and social media. We can't stop advertisement companies from using stereotypical imagery and we can't stop artists from making misogynistic music.
But here's what you can do to help a teenager with body image issues:
1. Find out the source of the body shame & limit the trigger. Ask your teen what is causing them to feel shameful and depressed about their looks. Once you can identify its source, work together to limit the exposure. This may look like taking frequent breaks from social media, setting a curfew, confiscating the smartphone completely, addressing a bully, getting rid of magazine subscriptions, and being less critical of them, etc. This is because it will provide some relief from the negative feelings associated with the trigger and make it easier to address the root cause. Have you ever tried explaining something while you're angry or in pain? It's harder to think and create solutions when emotions are high. So take a rest from the source of pain.
2. Replace the source with healthier options. I want you to think about your environment like you think about food. If your food is making you sick, then you eliminate what's causing it and replace it with healthier options. Your mental health is equally important. Replace the negative music with positive and encouraging songs (this helped me a lot when I started healing), find cleaner shows to watch, and follow social accounts that make you a better person & not just a better-looking person. A shopping spree could also bring some fun to the elimination & replacement process. This can help your teen learn how to take control of their choices. If they can learn that negative choices will lead to negative habits, then this teaches them that positive choices will lead to positive habits. Teaching your teen cause and effect in their personal lives can go a long way into adulthood. You can start by asking them, "How do you want to feel right now?" And help them navigate which options will bring the desired result.
3. Work with a counselor or body image coach to address the mindset, emotions, and habits contributing to body shame. Some things aren't easy to break and could require additional support. A healthy support system can help with accountability and address deeper issues that you may not notice. Many teens develop depression and debilitating anxiety along the way and need professional help to overcome this.
I work with teens and young women from ages 13 - 25 years who are struggling to overcome body image and low self-worth. We spend around six months together alone or with a parent to identify the root of the issue, navigate negative thoughts, and implement healthier habits. There is also progress work in between sessions so that as the coach, I can identify poor thought patterns and understand my client's point of view. Sign up for a free consultation with your parent if you're under 18 or alone if you're over 18.
Helping a teenager with body image issues can be challenging and can create feelings of hopelessness. You're not alone. These three tips can start your teen on a path to healing and recovery from body image and low self-esteem, and provide strategies to continue navigating the social landscape.
Let's talk about it! I'd love to help you begin. Sign up here.
73% of teen girls struggle with body image, 69% of teen boys - EverydayHealth
Social media content affects self-perception - Modest Movement