“You’re so skinny!” Sounds like a compliment, right? But for a teen with body image concerns, it’s most definitely not. There are many types of body image issues that can have a negative impact on someone’s emotions and confidence, and I’m going to share how my family has been affected.
When I hear my 15-year-old daughter, Jordyn, talk about how kids are telling her that she’s skinny, it’s difficult not to respond with, “There are so many girls who would love to hear that!” But she doesn’t love to hear it. And I know that a response like that would be discounting her feelings and the fact that this truly is an issue for her.
I’m not sure how long Jordyn has had body image issues. My husband, Jason, and I noticed a few months back that she was looking online for information about healthy foods, and we thought it was great that she was interested in improving her eating habits. But then we started to see signs that it was about more than just wanting to eat better. At her annual check-up with her pediatrician, Jordyn was more interested than usual in her weight and how it compares to others her age. She started to spend a lot of her free time working out, and I would frequently see her pull out the scale to weigh herself. Then there was the request to buy her a cream that makes your butt bigger (I didn’t even know that was a thing!). When she came home from school crying one day because several friends were commenting on her body shape, we knew what we had started to suspect – Jordyn had issues with how she viewed her body and it was having a serious impact on her.
Our approach to helping Jordyn has been focused on two areas. First, although body shape and size are mainly determined by genetics, we wanted to explore healthy ways for Jordyn to gain a few pounds and considered this from the point of view that this could help her as an athlete. In addition to researching exercises that build muscle, we also learned about healthy ways for a teen athlete to gain weight through diet. She now has two pieces of bread instead of one with her sandwich at lunch. Her backpack is full of snacks she eats throughout the day, including peanut butter and crackers, fruit, and nutrition drinks. Although she’s only gained a few pounds over the last month, she’s pleased to see her efforts are making a difference.
The second, and more important, part of our approach has been on the emotional aspect. Jordyn’s body will most likely never be exactly how she would like it to be – at least at this time in her life – so what can we do to help her have a healthy body image? We know that there isn’t one magic thing we can say that will make her be OK with her body size and shape. But it has helped a lot for me and Jason to accept that this is a problem for Jordyn and to acknowledge how it makes her feel. That’s opened the door to ongoing communication, which we know will be the key in working through this together. And just as important as what we say is what we don’t say – I try not to make any negative comments about my size or shape, and we’ve avoided telling her that she just needs to be happy with how she was made. But at the same time, Jordyn is so much more than how she looks, so although she continues to weigh herself, we focus on her being healthy and strong and having confidence in who she is.
There will always be things that will impact Jordyn’s body image. We can’t control the messages in the media about the perfect body, but we can help her develop tools to she can use when others say something to her about her size and shape. We’ve encouraged her to have discussions with friends, letting them know that their comments hurt her feelings. She’s come to understand that her friends aren’t intentionally trying to hurt her, but just don’t realize that telling her she’s “so skinny” makes her feel bad about herself. Knowing that it’s OK for her to let others know that it’s not OK to talk about her body has been helpful for Jordyn and given her confidence.
I know that many teens have body image issues, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t anticipate that Jordyn would have a problem with it. I’m thankful that Jordyn has been open to acknowledging the problem and sharing it with me and Jason, and we’ve been able to address and work through it as a family.