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Teens and Body Image

Tips on liking the skin that you're in

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What is body image, and why is it such a difficult issue for teens? Learn what body image is, signs of body image problems, and how to improve your body image.

What Is Body Image?

Body image has to do with how you think about your size and shape. How you think about your body relates to how you think about yourself as a whole, so a negative body image is often linked to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and feeling bad about yourself. Many people with a negative body image struggle with eating disorders, dieting and self-doubt.

Why Is It Important To Have a Positive Body Image?

A healthy body image is essential to your health, happiness and well-being. People with a healthy body image are less likely to engage in self-destructive habits such as crash dieting, smoking to lose weight, excessive drinking, cutting, and bingeing and purging. They are more likely to feel good about themselves overall and see the way they look as one small part of who they are and less likely to beat themselves up when they have too many french fries or a big slice of cake.

Why Do So Many Teens Struggle with a Negative Body Image?

For some, a negative body image is made worse by comparing themselves to models and actors on TV, in the movies and in magazines, even though the body type many of them represent is not realistic or healthy for most people.

Teens in particular tend to struggle with body image because they're self-conscious about the changes their bodies are going through during puberty. As your body grows and develops, some parts fill out more quickly than others. Genes play a big role, too: Some people inherit a very fast metabolism or a very lean body type, while a more muscular build runs in other families. Unfortunately, our culture tends to glorify some body types and discount others rather than focusing on what's healthy and realistic.

What Are The Signs of an Unhealthy Body Image?

A lot of the signs of an unhealthy body image are internal: negative or obsessive thoughts about food, self-hatred, constantly comparing oneself to others, etc. Some people constantly think about getting breast implants or having liposuction.

Some people with a negative body image will weigh themselves multiple times a day, obsessively exercise or count calories, or diet constantly. Some people cut or burn themselves to deal with the shame they feel about their bodies. Others force themselves to throw up (purging) or stop eating altogether: These are symptoms of a more serious eating disorder. Still others abuse drugs such as heroin or steroids to achieve the body type that they want -- while putting their health in great danger.

How Can I Improve My Body Image?

Improving your body image takes time, and it also involves improving your self-esteem in most cases. The first step involves accepting your body, no matter how big, small, fat, thin, dark or light it is. When you have a negative thought about your body, tell yourself to stop and remind yourself of something that you like about yourself or the way you look.

It's also important to recognize that there are some things about yourself that you can't change -- and that, for the most part, don't matter that much. So you've got chubby fingers or big feet, who really cares? Most people don't notice, and if they do, it probably doesn't matter to them nearly as much as it matters to you. What you're like -- not what you look like -- is what counts.

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