Monday, 19 August 2013 08:25

Teens, Self Esteem and Body Image

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Teens, Self Esteem and Body Image




Jill is getting ready for her first day at secondary school. Jill is 13 years old and hates how the uniform looks on her. “I’m too short and too fat for this skirt” she says. “If only I had longer legs, then the skirt would fit so much better”. “I really don’t want to wear this to school as everyone will look and stare at me”.



The ‘teen’ period is a difficult time in a young adolescent life. There is much change occurring with both the body and the mind. Your arms and legs may be growing faster than your torso; your hormones may be up and down where you feel upset sometimes and angry at other times. What is important to recognise as identified in Jill’s case above; is as your body transforms into a young adult so does the image of yourself. Your body may have flaws and coming to terms with those flaws is what is important. If you are negative and just focus on what you don’t like about your body you may bring down your self-esteem.


What is Self-esteem and Body Image?


Self esteem is the value you place on yourself whereas body image is how you see yourself physically in relation to others. Self esteem affects our relationships and the trust we place in others. Having a positive self-esteem gives you the strength and flexibility to take charge of your life and learn from your mistakes without the fear of rejection.


A healthy body image lays the foundations for good physical and mental health into the future. When you have a positive body image you feel happy and satisfied with all aspects of your body. You learn to accept the flaws and you have a balanced attitude towards eating and physical activity. A study by the University of Alberta supports this by noting that there is a correlation between a child’s body image and self esteem. The study surveyed 5,000 grade 5 students in Nova Scotia and found that youth who performed well in school had a higher self esteem and a balanced attitude towards their body (Wang and Veugelers, 2008).


What impacts on a person’s Self-Esteem




The media has immense power and influence over the way you think and feel. With endless advertising, persuasion and subliminal messaging, you are constantly bombarded with unrealistic and at times unachievable images that cannot be achieved. This can impact on the way you feel about your own body and also the value you place on yourself. The majority of people we see on television spend hours in make-up and wardrobe preparing themselves to look perfect for their role. The pictures you see in magazines and in social media are often airbrushed or digitally altered to portay are unrealistic expectation of beauty.



Puberty is a time of significant change. Your body begins to grow and your hormones begin to change. You also become more independent as you explore your own thoughts and opinions about things. It is also a time when you make comparisons with your peers. You begin assessing the way others dress, their look and their style and make comparisons to judge your own self esteem. This can be dangerous as everyone grows and develops differently and one look and style does not suit everyone.



A role-model is someone we look up to in our life. They provide support and guidance when needed and can influence our self esteem and body image. For example, you may consider that your father is your role model however he may struggle with his own body image and thus criticise the way you look or dress. He might make comments like: “Why are you wearing those shorts, they make you look fat”. This can have a significant impact on your body image making you self conscious especially if you are sensitive to another person’s comments. It is important to have a variety of role models with different styles, views and opinions so you get a balanced view of what are positive qualities in yourself and others.


Healthy Self-esteem: How do I get it?


A healthy self esteem starts when you learn to accept yourself for who you are. This means accepting all of your flaws and understanding that you don’t have to fit an ideal media image. Below I have listed 6 key points that you can adopt to foster healthy self esteem:

  • Try new things when you get a chance.
  • Think of mistakes as opportunities to grow and develop.
  • If you have negative thoughts all the time, try to rephrase them by finding something positive to say about yourself. It is important to catch yourself when you are being critical.
  • Try and set short and long term goals that you can aim for.
    Exercise and eat healthy. There is a strong link between exercise and food and the chemicals released to reduce stress.
  • Enjoy yourself and try to have fun. Enjoy spending time with people you love to be around.


Improving Body Image


The body you have now with all of its flaws and faults is the body that you are going to have into the future. With this in mind, it is important then that you learn to love and appreciate it. Below I have identified a number of tips you can follow that helps you change the way you see your body:


  • Your body is your body. It has enormous potential and you are in control of what you do with it and how you want other to see it. Try and focus on its strengths not what is wrong with it or what you want to change about it.
  • Set goals and work hard to achieve them. If there are aspects of your body that you want to change like losing weight or eating healthier, set a plan with small incremental goals. Make sure you reward yourself every time you achieve one of those goals.
  • Positive affirmations are important for rewiring the negative thoughts you may have towards your body image. Identify 2 things that you don’t like about yourself and reword these things to a positive statement. For example: ‘I am fat' could be reworded to ‘I am exercising and eating heathy so I can look fit’.
  • Stop negative thoughts in their tracks. When you catch yourself saying something negative about your body image, stop that thought immediately. This will be hard at first and requires a lot of discipline. The more you practice the easier it will become. Change the negative thoughts into a positive affirmation.

    Reviewed By: Kellie Bradbury M.Ed  B. Psy (Teacher and Pschologist)

  • References Wang, F. and Veugelers, P.J. Slef Esteem and cognitive development in the era of the childhood obesity epedemic. Obesity Review, 2008;9(6):615
Read 2812 times Last modified on Monday, 19 August 2013 09:35

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