How to Help a Teen Develop a Positive Body Image

positive body image

Being a teenager can be tough. This is a time of change and self-discovery and it’s not uncommon for teenagers to struggle with their body image. The pressure to look a certain way, whether it is from peers, media, or society, combined with growth spurts, puberty and new changes to their body can be overwhelming. As adults, we have the responsibility to support and guide teenagers as they navigate through these difficult years. One way we can do this is by helping them develop a positive relationship with their body.

Promoting A Positive Body Image

People of all ages can work towards a positive or neutral body image, but especially teenagers, as adolescence is a pivotal time for self-development. We know that teens and young adults experience an onslaught of body and diet messages and social pressures from peers and adults. Negative teen body image can take a real hit on your self-esteem and increase the risk of disordered eating, so getting ahead of it with positive messaging and supports is critical.

There are ways to help your teen develop a positive body image. Here are a few.

Body Image is Not the Same As Body Size

Body image is your inner picture of yourself. Keep in mind that your body image isn’t necessarily what you look like and people in all body sizes and shapes can have varying degrees of body image. It’s more about the feelings you have about your perception of what you look like. Remember to check in on your own weight-biases or assumptions of how a teen feels in their body – body image is not determined by body size.

Acknowledge Unrealistic Body Pressures

Even if you create the most body-affirming home environment for a teen, they will still live in a society that treats people differently based on body size, witness body or weight-based bullying, and see messages promoting narrow and unsustainable standards of beauty and thinness. These messages harm people in all bodies and they disproportionately harm people who are not thin, white, straight, cis, and able-bodied. Age appropriate discussions about how these messages and biases are harmful, who profits from them, who is harmed by them and how they make a teen – or anybody – feel can open up discourse and awareness.

Celebrate Diversity

Even if every teen (or any person for that matter) ate and exercised exactly the same as each other, their bodies would still look different. In order to help a teenager with body image issues, consider helping them notice and celebrate diversity in body sizes, shapes, and abilities. Help them understand that their worth as a human is not determined by their body size, appearance or how closely they fit with the arbitrary (and ever-changing) standards of beauty. Expose them to diverse representation in media and encourage discussions about body positivity. Seek out books, movies, TV shows, and media that positively – or neutrally – features people in all bodies, and discuss how it feels when that is not represented.

Encourage Self-Acceptance

Help teenagers understand that everyone is unique and there is no such thing as a perfect body. Encourage them to accept and embrace their unique features, take care of their growing bodies and understand that engaging in patterns of dieting has risk factors.

Avoid “You Earned It” Food Comments

Shift the focus away from ‘earning’ or ‘burning’ food or calories. All bodies need adequate nourishment, movement that feels good, rest, sleep, water, and food that tastes good! Comments that imply that food needs to be ‘earned’ or we need to compensate for eating more or differently than usual is a powerful and damaging message. We want teens to know that their bodies can handle digesting all different types of foods and that if they feel overly full or eat something that gives them a stomachache (like excitedly eating a food that tastes good) this feeling will pass and they do not need to engage in extreme behaviors after.

Encourage teenagers to participate in activities that make them feel good physically and mentally. Remind them that taking care of their bodies is about feeling strong and confident, rather than conforming to a certain standard of beauty.

Help Teens Build Confidence

Confidence is closely linked to a healthy body image. When teenagers feel confident in themselves and their bodies, they are more likely to have a positive outlook on life and take on new challenges. Here are some ways to help build confidence in teenagers…

Praise Their Strengths

Identify and acknowledge your teenager’s strengths, whether it is their kindness, intelligence, creativity, humor, or athletic abilities. Provide specific and genuine compliments, highlighting their unique qualities. By focusing on their strengths, you can boost their self-esteem and help them develop a positive self-image.

Encourage Them to Try New Things

Encourage teenagers to step out of their comfort zones and try new activities or hobbies. Whether it is joining a sports team, participating in a school play, or learning a musical instrument, trying new things can help them discover their passions and talents. Success in these new endeavors can boost their confidence and self-belief.

Create a Supportive Environment

Be a trusted and supportive adult figure in your teenager’s life. Create an open and non-judgmental space for them to express their feelings and concerns. If your teen shares feelings of distress about their body or body image, listen actively, ask questions to learn more and validate their emotions. Instead of rushing to say “no your body is beautiful!” in response to them sharing hard feelings, which can make them feel like beauty or external validation trumps their feelings, ask for what they need and be there for them. If you feel like the conversations become frequent, concern you, or you’re not sure what to say, seeking out the support of a registered dietitian who specializes in supporting teens through body image challenges is a great starting point.

Lead by Example

What is your own food and body talk like? One of the best things you can do to pass on a positive body image is to explore and work on your own relationship with food and your body. You might not realize that your own dialogue around how you feel in your body is impacting young people around you. If you are actively dieting or struggling with Show teenagers what it means to have a healthy body image and confidence by leading by example. Practice self-acceptance and self-care and avoid negative self-talk or body shaming in their presence. Embrace your own imperfections and demonstrate that your worth is not dependent on your appearance.

Building a healthy body image and promoting confidence in teenagers takes time and ongoing support. By practicing empathy, understanding, and providing positive guidance, we can help teenagers navigate through the challenges of adolescence and develop a healthy sense of self. Remember that every teenager is unique and may require different approaches, so be patient and adapt these strategies to individual needs. Together, we can cultivate confidence and promote body positivity in our teenagers.

Nourishing Your Whole Self with The Wellful

The Wellful is  a supportive community devoted to helping you and your family rebuild a peaceful relationship with food and your body. In this judgment-free space, you’ll find resources to nourish both your body and soul while rejecting restrictive diets. 

We work with people of all ages, teenagers and college students included. If you’re looking to help your teen develop a positive body image and could use some professional support from a registered dietitian, we encourage you to schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Brenna today. We’re here to  help you cultivate the unconditional self-acceptance you deserve.


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