Help teens reduce worry over body image

According to surveys by the National Institute on Media and the Family, 53 percent of girls report being unhappy with their appearance. Experts have found that poor body image can lead not only to social isolation, but also to serious emotional problems, including depression and anxiety.

Much dissatisfaction with one's appearance is driven by the media. Tracie Pasold, PhD, Professor of Psychology and Clinic Director of the Psychological Services Center at Marywood University in Scranton stated, "The media is one of the most influential factors in body image concerns among teens both males and females . . . primarily because of its promotion of the 'thin ideal' through digital image alteration (via Photoshop and similar software) and by showing only people who are above average in attractiveness."

Thus, it's inevitable that the majority of teens will feel that they don't measure up.

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association offers tips to parents to help teenagers develop a healthy body image:

It is impossible to fully isolate teenagers from media images. But you can help balance that exposure by reducing focus on weight and appearance in your home, as well as by paying more attention to your kids' positive traits. For example:

  • Compliment your child when he or she demonstrates qualities that you admire in your heroes — compassion, courage, kindness, etc. Also compliment your child on effort and accomplishments. These help build self-esteem and self-confidence from the inside.
  • Set a good example by avoiding self-criticism about your own body.
  • Hide the scale —  just for a couple of weeks as an experiment. At the end of the time, talk with your family about the experience of not focusing on weight on a daily basis.
  • Have your children cut the size labels out of their clothing:  It's another way of reducing focus on numbers in defining themselves.
  • Limit the number of fashion magazines around the house. Since most are filled with unrealistic portrayals of beauty and thinness, they are counter-productive to forming a positive self-image.
  • Remind your kids frequently that you think they are beautiful.  Note their sparkling eyes, their beaming smile, or the graceful way they move. Surprise them with positive, encouraging notes on their mirror or in their lunch bag. Such frequent reminders will help them recognize their positive qualities.

Together with your teen, view online demonstrations showing how makeup and digital photo manipulation can transform ordinary looking girls into images of ideal beauty. Powerful examples include "Dove Evolution" and "Dove Body Evolution" both on Youtube. Also, search online for "stars without makeup." Without enhancements, everyone has flaws.

For additional information about promoting healthy body image development, please contact the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, 717-232-3817. To learn more about childhood self-esteem, please visit the Pennsylvania Psychological Association's website,, or the American Psychological Association's Consumer Help Center at

The Pennsylvania Psychological Association promotes the science and practice of psychology by supporting psychologists to meet the evolving needs of the public. Our mission is to effectively communicate to the public, policy makers, and membership the value of evidence-based and ethical practices; to support the lifelong learning of competent and ethical psychologists; and to promote and connect our membership to foster a community of professional psychologists.