Self Esteem & Body Image

“I’m too skinny.” “If only I was shorter/taller/had curly hair/straight hair/a smaller nose/longer legs, I’d be happy.” These are some of the common statements of every teenager, regardless of the gender. Boys, girls, men and women can all be affected by body image issues, but in different ways. For example, teenage girls who don’t like their bodies often want to lose weight and be thinner, whilst teenage boys want to lose weight, be taller or have more muscles. “Self Esteem and Body Image are like the two sides of one coin”. They both go hand in hand.

Self – esteem is how much we value ourselves. This typically and unfortunately translates in modern society to how much we feel others value, appreciate and love us. People with a healthy self-esteem are able to feel good about themselves, appreciate their own worth, and take pride in their abilities, skills, and accomplishments. People with low self-esteem on the other hand may feel as if no one will like them or accept them or that they can’t do well in anything. A person who has high self-esteem will make friends easily, is more in control of his or her behaviour, and will enjoy life more. At times, self-esteem is a belief construct that is learned.

Body image is how someone feels about his or her own physical appearance. For many people, especially those in their early teens, body image can be closely linked to self-esteem. That’s because as kids develop into teens, they care more about how others see them. Teens exposed to excessive criticism or rejections from parents, teachers and peers will commonly develop self-esteem issues.

Body image can change through the lifetime, and is strongly connected to self-esteem and healthy lifestyle choices. When one feels good about one’s body, he / she is likely to have good self-esteem and mental health as well as a balanced attitude to eating and physical activity.

A healthy body image in childhood can lay the foundations for good physical and mental health later in life. Unfortunately, an unhealthy body image in childhood can have long-lasting consequences. Children as young as five or six are more likely to have concerns about their body shape if they are exposed to the modern marketing techniques that emphasis body image obsessively.

Some of the factors which influence body image are: family environment, skin colour, ability or disability, attitudes of peers, the media and advertising, and the fashion industry. Cultural background is also a factor. Cultures have different views about ideal body shapes and sizes – some are more encouraging and realistic than others.

Some people struggle with their self-esteem and body image when they go through puberty because it’s a time when the body goes through many changes. These changes, combined with wanting to feel accepted by their friends, means it can be tempting to compare ourselves with others. Between glossy fashion magazines, social media, and popular movies, teenage girls can get the impression that fashion models and celebrities have perfect bodies and flawless skin. Many teenage boys compare themselves to the buff athletes and movie stars they see in magazines, the Internet, and on TV. They feel dissatisfied if their own teen bodies don’t measure up. In some cases, negative body image has been linked with depression, eating disorders, and other risky teen behaviors.

Improving the body image takes time, and it also involves improving the self-esteem in most cases. The first step involves accepting oneself, no matter how big, small, fat, thin, dark or light he or she is. For teenagers, dealing with all the physical changes and psychological pressures of adolescence can seem overwhelming. People with high self-esteem know themselves well. They are realistic and find friends that like and appreciate them for who they are. People with high self-esteem usually feel more in control of their lives and know their own strengths and weaknesses.

Parents have a huge influence on a teenager’s life. Parents should act as role model by being positive about their children, and emphasizing other qualities over appearance. Parents should give emotional support to ignore negative comments from peers. A good health should be practiced as a family affair. Practice healthy eating habits and encourage regular exercise. Team sports are a great way for teens to improve body image and self-esteem. Limit the time spent using the Internet and watching television. Be open and talk to children about their concerns.

A positive body image helps to accept oneself completely. This healthy attitude allows exploring other aspects of growing up, such as developing good friendships, growing more independent from your parents, and challenging yourself physically and mentally. Developing these parts can help boost one’s self-esteem.

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  • Shilpa

    My Daughter, 5-year-old, likes this story called “The Dragon Who Could Not Breathe Fire”. It talks about accepting the way you are. The dragon in the story cannot breathe fire and hence finds a witch to help him breathe fire. However, he ends up drinking many magic potions to finally breathe out beautiful and fragrant flowers. He then decides that it is better to breathe out flowers instead of fire. At the end, he is happy for what he is.
    It is completely the parents’ responsibility to instill the value in the child. The whole world just waits to challenge this value. The stronger and confident the child grows; it becomes immune to these challenges and grows to become a better person in life.
    I totally agree with the author here, that image and self-esteem are two faces of the same coin. Yet one has to realize this fact to grow as a better person. So start now, let the child know that it is good and alright to accept what they are. Everything else will follow.

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