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Distorted Body Image in Teenagers

By Eliza Martinez ; Updated June 13, 2017

The teen years often bring about concern regarding looks and weight. For some teens, this worry about fitting in and looking right can lead to a distorted view of appearance. Several factors play roles in your teen's body image, but she isn't doomed to feeling bad about herself forever. Stepping in and helping your teen overcome issues surrounding her looks can improve her self-esteem and keep her healthy.


Pressure to fit in with peers can drive a distorted body image. If your teen perceives friends as being muscular and physically fit or skinny and toned, he might look at himself and feel like he doesn't measure up. Unhealthy body trends pictured in magazines, social media and television can also influence your teen's body image, according to "Thriving Family," published by Focus on the Family. Because teens want to conform, looking different than perceived ideals can have a negative impact on your child's body image and self-esteem.


Many studies have been done regarding teens and their body image. Research indicates that up to 88 percent of teen girls have a negative view of their body, 58 percent of teen girls want to lose weight and more than one-third of teen males feel they are too small, reports the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Because many teens equate their appearance to self-worth, a distorted body image can affect their lives in many ways.


In many cases, a distorted body image can lead to unhealthy dieting practices. Both male and female teens report using laxatives, vomiting, diet pills, cigarettes and diuretics to induce weight loss, according to the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. In some instances, a teen develops an eating disorder, which can lead to many health problems and might even result in death if the condition is left untreated. Teens who develop an obsession surrounding certain aspects of their looks might spend large amounts of time on make-up, weight training or other means to achieve their desired body image. Some teens might quit going to school or spending time with friends because the focus on appearance takes up all of their time.

What Parents Can Do

If you're concerned that your teen is struggling with her body image, getting help can resolve the issues and improve her self-esteem and quality of life. Therapists specializing in teen body image and cognitive behavioral therapy are good options. You can also model healthy habits for your teen. Cook and eat healthy meals, and get plenty of exercise each day. Kaiser Permanente recommends getting your teen involved in planning and preparing meals, and choosing physical fitness activities that she enjoys. This increases the chances that she'll make healthy lifestyle choices. Refrain from talking about your own body issues and avoid discussions about weight loss or dieting, which can drive distorted body image behaviors. Compliment and praise your teen on traits that don't have anything to do with her looks, such as a good grade on a test or a successful free throw at her basketball game.

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