Articles Good Health

Breaking the Body Image Bondage

Closeup of a young woman measuring her waist in the bathroom

By Dr. Dean Beckloff | Contributor

Our teens are struggling and not just with the current pandemic. For a long time, they have been struggling with having a negative body image, or in other words, feeling that they do not measure up when it comes to their bodies. That there is something wrong with their bodies, in small and even big ways. Sometimes no matter how small the issue, it becomes all-consuming to the person. And regrettably, our teens struggle with this one – mightily.

When self-esteem issues get to what is considered pathological, the problem is often referred to as ‘Body Image Dysmorphia.’ Here there is enough clinical evidence to warrant treatment of some sort. The person is essentially obsessed with the undesirability of their body and is consumed by it to the extent that they are struggling with severe depression and strong anxiety symptoms as well. Suicidal thinking can often be part of what is taking place with the individual. These teens need some good intervention and treatment.

Many of our teens are consumed and concerned about their bodies and what they perceive to be wrong with their looks. Why is that, and is it a problem?

First, it’s normal for teens to be over-focused about a lot of things, particularly when it is about their peers, and what their peer group might think. That is a normal, albeit painful, part of development. I remember that if I had a blemish on my face, it seemed like that blemish was my entire face, glaring and beeping loudly to everyone I met. Most teens do not realize that all teens are over-focused on themselves, and hardly think twice about any supposed blemish – as long as it’s on someone else. So, it is normal to be overly focused on what the teen may perceive as being inadequate or not measuring up. For many, it is their weight, fearing that they may look fat and inadequate. I was so surprised as my daughters became teenagers to hear them express worry and fear about their bodies, sometimes asking several times if they looked fat. I am a therapist – I encouraged my daughters and affirmed them in how they presented. My encouragement did not seem to matter – one of the reasons is that males and females are taught about how they should look. They are taught that there should be no weight that is more than whatever norm that they see.

Society crushes our daughters in believing the lie that they must look a certain way. Society crushes our young men as well, about being overweight, or as to whether they have enough muscular development.

There is the fear in our young men that their bodies are too small, ‘puny,’ and that they have inadequate muscularity. And as parents, who esteem and value our daughters and sons, we feel disturbed that our teens are going through these self-doubts. We want to guard them against self-doubt that can turn into self-hatred, brought on by their development coupled with the lies our culture tells.

How do we then help them in this battle? Well, the first thing is to acknowledge the problem with our teens. Next, begin ever so gently talking about the pressure that exists for all of us but particularly our teens. Let them know that all teens have self-doubts about their adequacy, and it is normal. Let them know about the worries you have experienced about yourself and your fear of not looking a certain way. And let them know that for the most part, it will pass, even though it may be crushing. Normalize that this intense worry is normal for many teens and adults. Work to really listen to your teen.

It is said that most of us listen to respond, rather than listening to understand.

Promote your understanding of their perspective, by responding to what they are feeling and asking questions that get at what they are telling you. Listen to understand. Give information next – tell them the truth about bodies. No one is perfect, and everyone has slight differences and that does not make anyone someone who is to be rejected. Encourage health, of course – healthy eating, healthy habits, healthy exercise. But we must help them reject the lie that they must be perfect before they can be acceptable. Help them to realize their own thinking is important in these matters, and to focus on the truth – that they are acceptable, wonderfully unique, and have a very needed place in this world as they grow up into adults.

Focusing on the truth is critical, rather than the negative thoughts about any perceived deficiency.

Finally, if your teen seems obsessively disposed to this worry and cannot shake it, get some help from a professional therapist or psychologist. There may be other underlying issues that they may need to find ways to help. Although this is a common problem, it can be alleviated, and your teen can indeed find relief from the jarring and painful struggle that this tends to be. Get the teen in front of someone who can help them to focus on the truth of who they are and how they are gifted, needed, and wonderful human beings with a place in this world that is vital and important. Get the help your teen may need, whether from you or a therapist, to help them soar in life on that truth.

About Dean Beckloff, PhD, LPC-S

Dr. Dean Beckloff, founder of the Beckloff Behavioral Center in Dallas, is a pediatric therapist who helps children and families navigate life challenges.  He specializes in filial play therapy treatment, family counseling and parenting, works with children with emotional or behavioral issues, as well as children with ADD, Asperger’s Disorder, and other issues, and works extensively with families navigating divorce and post-divorce issues.  He is a former elementary school teacher in Oklahoma and Texas and served as an elementary school counselor in the Richardson School District, consulting with administrators, teachers, and parents and conducting crisis counseling and special programs.

Editor’s Note: If you wish to contact Dr. Beckloff, he can be reached at the Beckloff Pediatric Behavioral Center: DrBeckloff.com / 972.250.1700

Related posts

Holidays and COVID-19: Six Tips to Stay Healthy

goodlifefamilyadmin

GIVING THANKS: 23-Year-Old Aubrey Reeves Reflects On the Life-Saving Transplants that Saved Her Life 15 Years Ago

goodlifefamilyadmin

Five National Philanthropy Day Award Recipients Express Gratitude and Joy of Serving Others at Dallas’ 35th Annual Virtual Celebration, “The Stars of Texas”

goodlifefamilyadmin

Subscribe now and join the family!

Subscribe to the Good Life Family e-newsletters and automatically receive updates on new Good Life Family issues, articles, events, deals and coupons.

  • Stay up to date on the latest issues and articles
  • Get access to special deals and coupons
  • Automatically be entered in contests and giveaways
Close this popup