I wonder how kids and teens today feel about their appearances. With such increased access to media and the internet, it only makes sense that their access to mind-molding images is far more than mine when I was younger. I think back to high school and remember how hard it was to appreciate myself, because I was so incredibly consumed with the parts of myself that I was uncomfortable with: which were my, um, just about everything. Sound familiar?
I have three nieces and two nephews, and every time I see them, they seem to be approaching teenager status faster than I can keep up with. My sweet, energetic 5 year-old niece Eliana is already looking in the mirror and asking her Mommy questions about her appearance, and my 11-year-old niece Jacqui could seriously pass for a 15-year-old fashionista beauty queen. My 9-year-old niece Jillian has such a tremendous spirit and imagination, which I fear every day have the potential of being broken down by societal norms. I look at the three of them and my breath is taken away by how beautiful they are. And then I remember what a cruel world it can be out there, and I fear that at one point not far down the road, the they will learn to be uncomfortable with their bodies or guilty about certain foods. I have this connection with my nieces and not as much with my nephews, simply because I was never a teenage boy! But I'm 98% sure they go through their own versions of self-induced teenage hell. I hope we can nip this one in the bud and encourage teens today to have positive body images that will last them a lifetime.
I wish I had a way to stop this from happening, but if I said that kids are more likely to listen to their Auntie over a new, colorful, funky advertisement or Disney fairytale movie or Ken and Barbie, I'd be totally full of it. On a more positive note, Michelle Obama has been pushing her Let's Move! campaign as a way to get kids excited about healthy eating and exercise. While this movement is mostly geared toward reducing childhood obesity rather than encouraging positive body image, I'm hoping that it will have double the effect and do both. But we can't rely on national campaigns or major companies to fix the twisted messages reaching these kids...we have to at least try to make a difference at home first.
Here are a few tips on how you can influence the teens in your life to love themselves just a little more:
- Compliment their athletic abilities and encourage them to build their strength and endurance.
- Let them know they are talented and smart and imaginative. Focus on their intellectual feats...as our BU professor Joan Salge-Blake always says, "The sexiest part of a woman is her brain!"
- Tell them they are beautiful for everything they are on the outside, but most importantly, because of everything they are on the inside.
- Be straight forward! Kids are smarter than we think, and if we just sit down with them and say something like "these thoughts you're having are normal...everything you see that makes you feel bad about yourself has been making others feel bad about themselves too...it's hard, but you have to try to remember that you are unbelievable and special and that no one can take that away from you..."
Do you remember what it was like to be a teen? Do you have any specific memories of struggles with body image that you'd like to share?