Body Image – Tips for the Teens you Know

Body image is how you see your body, and your thoughts, feelings and judgments about what you see. Body image changes over time depending on what is happening around you. Things that affect body image include what you think your body should look like; changes during puberty; comments made by other people and your self esteem.

Being happy with your body can be challenging these days. Unrealistically thin and muscular bodies are being promoted as the “ideal” and at the same time there are constant reminders about the risks of being overweight. They are told not to go on a diet; but there are so many mixed nutrition messages. That leaves many young people asking the questions: “How can I be happy with my body? How can I find a balanced, healthy approach to pursuing a healthy body?”

Here are some solutions. Encourage teens to shift away from a weight-centered and dieting approach. Instead, focus on a lifestyle of eating and physical activity for health and energy.

Remember that cultural ideals of beauty and desirability have existed throughout time but are not based on what is healthy. For example, in China foot binding was practiced on young girls until it was banned in 1911. Small feet were seen as desirable and beautiful. This caused many women a lot of pain, just as trying to be thin or muscular does in our society today.

Have patience with your body during puberty and don’t compare yourself to others. Everyone develops differently and at different times. Some people will grow “up” and then “out” and some people will grow “out, and then up”. It is normal to feel a little too chubby or too tall during puberty. Your body will adjust to the way that it is supposed to look.

Look at family snap shots of people in your family at your age. People vary in terms of size, height, and shape – a large part of this is due to genetics. By looking at family photos you can see sizes and shapes that are common in your family. It is likely that you have inherited some of the same genes. Keep in mind though, your family’s eating and physical activity habits also affect their body shapes.

Physical activity should be a natural habit for everyone. It is something everyone needs to do for health, just like brushing teeth. One of the main reasons people put on too much weight is because they are not active enough. It does not mean that you have to be a jock. Build physical activity into your leisure/fun time. Go for a walk with a friend or join a club that interests you. For a copy of Canada’s Physical Activity Guide for Youth go to www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/guide/.

Listening to your body and not some diet plan is the key to growing into a healthy body weight. People who eat breakfast tend to be a healthier body weight than breakfast skippers. Eating regularly helps your body tell you if you are hungry or full. Listen to those cues.

Teen years can be a time of fast foods and junk foods. The good thing is that your energy needs are very high due to growth. It is okay to eat high fat/high calorie foods once in a while but make sure that most of what you eat is on the healthy side. Choose low fat foods most often and eat 5 to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit each day. Use Canada’s Food Guide as a tool.

WRITTEN BY THE PUBLIC HEALTH NUTRITIONISTS OF SASKATCHEWAN

References:

Cummings, S.R., et al., “Consequences of Foot Binding Among Older Women in Bejing, China”, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 87 (10), October 1997, pp. 1677 – 1679.

Georgina Binks,”Dying to be Pretty”, CBC News Viewpoints, December 31, 2004,www.cbc.ca/news/viewpoint/vp_binks/20041231.html.

‘Help! Is This My Body?’ – Teen’s Health,www.kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/beautiful/help_body.html.

“Body Image and Self-Esteem” – Teen’s Health,www.kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/body_image/body_image.html.