“I am too fat”, “I am too skinny.”, “I wish my skin is fairer.”, “I am too short”, “If only I had straight hair, bigger eyes, smaller nose, longer legs, I will be happy.” Does any of this sound familiar? If so, you are not alone.
Adolescence marks a period of intense physical, social and emotional changes. This is a phase where physical appearance becomes significantly important. Both young boys and girls have heightened awareness to external influences such as social media about the ‘ideal’ norms and an increased value placed on peer approval. As adolescents begin to focus more on their physical appearance; self-esteem and body image appear as significant factors associated with health and mental well-being during this developmental phase.
Research shows that recurrent body dissatisfaction during adolescence is correlated with earlier pubertal maturation and increased in eating and depressive symptoms (Siegel et al., 1998). In a culture that glorifies slender body, most adolescents, especially young girls may inaccurately assess their body image and struggle with low self-esteem. They may often magnify their dissatisfaction, become overly obsessed with their weight, have unrealistic expectations of themselves, reject compliments or engage in unhealthy eating habits in order to achieve the ideal norm. Overly concern of body image and physical appearance can have damaging effects and may lead to negative consequences in adulthood, such as unhealthy weight control methods and disordered eating behaviours. Conversely, those with a positive body image are more likely to accept the way they are, even when they do not fit to the perceived ideal norm portrayed by media.
Here are some tips to help you or your child to foster a positive self-image:
Talk about it- Talk to trusted adults when you feel confused or concerned about the physical changes that comes with puberty. It is important to inform your family if you experience any form of bullying in school due to your physical changes.
Identify positive traits and talents about self – Apart from physical appearance, let’s focus on other sources of self-esteem, such as artistic, academic and athletic accomplishments.
Focus on the positives – Look into the mirror and focus on your positive features instead of the negative ones. Practice self-talk and make positive self-statements and mental pictures. What we think determines how we feel, how we feel determines how we behave! Focus on the positive aspects of your life and good things you have done, you can change how you feel about yourself.
Be realistic – If you are overweight and you want to lose weight, have realistic expectations and aim for gradual change. Seek help from health professional if you have questions about your size or shape.
Exercise – Increase the levels of physical activity. Participate in activities in which physical energy can be positively channelled such as sports, dance, cheerleading, hiking, or running that involve physical demands. These activities provide youth with opportunities to exercise, make friends, socialize, learn about teamwork, gain confidence and competence, taking risks, self-discipline and build character.