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Importance of a Healthy Body Image

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January 2, 2019

Amy: Hi, I am Amy Taylor…. I’m joined in the studio by Kat Garrard, a dietetic intern, with Mississippi State University Extension Service. Today, we are going to talk about a healthy body image and exactly how that can affect the health of your children in their pre-teen and teenage years.  

Kat, Thank you for joining us today!

Kat: I appreciate you having me. I am really excited to be here and speak to your listeners today about encouraging a positive body image.

Amy: There are many challenges facing the teens and preteens of this generation.  They are growing up in the ‘age of technology,’ where the media has a great deal of influence over the way they view themselves and their bodies. Kat, can you first speak a little about what a positive or healthy body image is?

Kat: Amy, you bring up a great point about the challenges teens and preteens face today, and I want to talk more about that a little later.  But to answer your question, having a healthy body image means liking your body, accepting it, and appreciating its qualities and capabilities.  Now, this acceptance and satisfaction applies to everyone, however, preteens and teens can be especially vulnerable to the issue of body image.  For instance, research from the National Eating Disorder Association on this subject shows that of American teenage girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape and 47% of those girls said the pictures made them want to lose weight.

Amy: Tell us a little more about that.

Kat: As children approach teen years, their bodies begin to change and grow as they go through puberty.  Now, it is common and natural for kids to become more interested in appearances, as they become more aware of how their bodies are changing and look.  Preteens and teens will often compare their looks with others’ or with media images of the ideal way to look.  This is where the age of technology, that you spoke about earlier, fits in and plays an important role in the development of body image.  Preteens and teens are no longer only influenced by a few ads on the television or in magazines.  Today, they are bombarded with thousands of images of the average boy or girl being thin, tall, and happy, with shiny hair, and perfect skin through additional social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pineterest.  Over time, these images can cause teens to be too self-critical about appearance and this can interfere with how they view themselves.  

Amy: So what are some signs you can look for if you are worried about your preteen or teen and their self- body image?

Kat: In most cases, the focus on appearance is very natural and a common part of becoming a teenager.  However, it is important to identify some signs of a negative body image that could lead to more serious issues such as eating disorders. If you are worried about your preteen or teen, look for signs such as:

  • Skipping meals 
  • Developing rules about food or creating rituals about eating
  • Losing weight rapidly
  • Wearing extremely over-sized clothing
  • Eating secretly, or hiding food
  • Picking at food, or pretending to eat in public
  • Continually talking about being fat
  • Coming up with excuses not to eat
  • Excessively or compulsively exercising
  • Becoming withdrawn and socially isolated
  • Binge eating

Amy: Kat, what are some ways parents can help boost the body image of their preteens and teens?

Kat: Parents can encourage a positive body image by being sure to:

  • Accept and understand that being concerned about looks is part of growing up, and eventually, concerns about their appearance will stop dominating their lives.
  • Give compliments and provide reassurance about your teenager’s outward and inward qualities. Compliment them on their appearance such as their smile; their physical attributes, such as strength or grace; and their personal attributes like generosity or determinism.
  • Talk about what appearances mean and how people often, express themselves through their clothing or hair styles.
  • Be patient, but set reasonable boundaries on how much time your kids can spend on grooming and dressing.  Limits help kids understand how to manage time, be considerate of others’ needs, share resources, exercise self-discipline, and keep appearances in perspective.
  • Be a good role model and remember that how you talk about your own looks sets a powerful example.
  • Encourage your teens and preteens to exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet to reduce stress, maintain lean muscle mass, improve sleep, and boost their self-confidence.

Amy: That is all really great advice.  Kat, what’s the take home message for parents on how they can help their preteens and teens develop a healthy body image?

Kat: The best way to encourage a healthy body image in your preteens and teens is to help them follow a balanced diet, engage in regular exercise, and plenty of rest, while having patients- a healthy body image does not develop overnight!

Amy: Thank you for joining us today, Kat.  Do you have any concluding remarks?

Kat:  If you have any questions or concerns, please see your health care provider, or visit the National Eating Disorder Association’s website at for more information.  Also I wanted to take a moment to mention to your listeners a great program that many of our MSU Extension Agents have been equipped to deliver that helps preteens and teens better understand what a healthy body image means.  For more information about that, please call your local MSU Extension office and ask for the Agent with Family and Consumer Science responsibilities.  And remember, when parent’s care for and appreciate their own bodies, they teach their kids to do the same.  Thank you again, Amy!

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