The Power Of Body Image

By: Megan Ratcliff, PhD., M.P.H., a pediatric clinical psychologist in GMC’s Center for Weight Management. She enjoys helping people to be their best self possible.  

“I’m so fat!” “If only I looked like fill-in-the-blank-beautiful-person, I would be happier.”  We hear statements like this all of the time, sometimes even out of our own mouths. Body-image, how we see our physical selves and how we believe other people see us, is an important part of who we are. It not only affects how we feel but also what we do, sometimes preventing us from pursuing opportunities because we just don’t think we measure up. For many of us, focusing on our perceived imperfections results in a big hit to our self-esteem.

This is especially true in adolescence. Physical and hormonal changes accompanied by interest in dating and increased peer influence can wreak havoc on even the most confident teen. Add to that the unattainable beauty ideals portrayed in the media and it’s no wonder that so many young people struggle with mood and identity issues.

There is no one solution to preventing or treating negative body image. But there are things you can do to help your child nurture a healthy sense of self, no matter his/her weight, shape, size, or physical abilities.

Here are a few suggestions for you to consider:

·         Comment on things other than appearance. Even constant compliments reinforce the message that looks are critically important.

·         Encourage kids to take good care of their bodies: eat well, exercise, drink water, get enough sleep. Focus on health before appearance. Nurturing our bodies is the first step in valuing them.

·        Encourage kids to focus on what they can realistically change. Bone structure, height, body build…some things aren’t worth stressing about since they can’t be easily altered. Good personal hygiene, wearing flattering clothes, and accentuating best features are all doable. 

·     Encourage participation in activities that increase physical mastery and reinforce the message that the body is a powerful tool and not merely ornamental.

·     Beauty/entertainment magazines reinforce unhealthy beauty ideals. Regularly viewing these images is associated with increased body dissatisfaction and disordered eating among youth and adults alike. Throw them out.

·         Point out negative self-talk. “I shouldn’t be eating this.” “I look terrible today.” People often put themselves down without even realizing it, saying things to and about themselves that they wouldn’t even say to their worst enemies. Words are powerful. Shifting from a negative to a positive framework can make a difference.

·         Weighing oneself regularly (i.e., once a week) can be a helpful weight management strategy but too much focus on weight, calories, and size can be destructive, especially for people who are more prone to perfectionistic or Type-A tendencies. It’s a fine line. As a caregiver, don’t be the scale police but if you notice that your child is overly numbers focused, you can help them by doing “blind” weights (i.e., child steps on scale without looking). This may help them to stay on track without being obsessed with the number.

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