From eating disorders to depression and suicide, body image can have an immense impact on a teen’s life. Far more likely to impact teen girls than guys, the backlash of an image-oriented society seems to fly in the face of feminism’s attempt at evening out the playing field: The only occupations in which women earn more than men are prostitution and modeling.
Looking at other insights regarding teen body image, a few underlying deceptions emerge. As parents and mentors understand these issues, they can be better equipped to help teens overcome the serious results of negative body image.
The Issue of Shame
In a 1984 pole by Glamour magazine, 75% of women considered themselves to be “too fat,” and in a 1997 survey, 89% of female respondents reported wanting to lose weight. The increasing rate of body dissatisfaction isn’t just skin deep. Dieting and the pursuit of thinness has become so normative in Western society that those who aren’t on the weight loss bandwagon experience judgment from the masses: Thinness and its pursuit are often seen as symbolizing success and self-control.
When a woman both sees herself (either legitimately or illegitimately) as unattractive or overweight and as being perceived negatively by others, a deep sense of shame tends to result. As far back as 1953, women have revealed that they are more embarrassed about their weight than they are about homosexual affairs or masturbation practices. The issue of shame is a complex one, and we’ve dealt with it on this blog before.
The Issue of Self Worth
Especially with the increasingly thin models — the average size of idealized women measuring between 13-19% below physically expected weight for healthy women — the unachievable nature of ideal body image adds to the dilemma. Women often feel helpless to meet the unattainable standards, leading to a sense of dysphoria or depression.
Where do teen girls get the idea of value and self-worth being tied to image and appearance? Many are presented with that message, starting at very early ages: In our society, a “pretty girl” is often favored over one that’s smart, hard-working, kind, funny, or loyal. For high school students, girls report magazines as their main sources regarding health and diet. Not only do fashion magazines fall short of presenting God’s viewpoint about what gives a person worth, but they also encourage a focus on self, on externals, and on transient trends.
The Issue of Satisfaction
In her book “The Battlefield of the Mind,” popular Bible teacher Joyce Meyer recognizes the problems women have with negative thinking of all kinds. When we have trouble with self-esteem (high or low), we’re esteeming (or thinking about) ourselves too much.
Ultimately, we all need to realize that the human soul longs to worship something — or, rather, Someone. And it isn’t you or me. Even if we get as thin as we or others think we should be, our heart’s longings will never be fulfilled in anything other than a relationship with God and pursuing His purposes for our lives.