I'm fat. I'm too skinny. I'd be happy if I were
taller, shorter, had curly hair, straight hair, a smaller nose,
bigger muscles, longer legs.
Do any of these statements sound familiar? Are you used to
putting yourself down? If so, you're not alone. As a teen,
you're going through a ton of changes in your body. And as your
body changes, so does your image of yourself. Lots of people have
trouble adjusting, and this can affect their self-esteem.
Why Are Self-Esteem and Body Image Important?
Self-esteem is all about how much people value themselves, the
pride they feel in themselves, and how worthwhile they feel.
Self-esteem is important because feeling good about yourself can
affect how you act. A person who has high self-esteem will make
friends easily, is more in control of his or her behavior, and will
enjoy life more.
Body image is how someone feels about his or her own physical
For many people, especially those in their early teens, body
image can be closely linked to self-esteem. That's because as
kids develop into teens, they care more about how others see
What Influences a Person's Self-Esteem?
Some teens struggle with their self-esteem when they begin
puberty because the body goes through many changes. These changes,
combined with a natural desire to feel accepted, mean it can be
tempting for people to compare themselves with others. They
may compare themselves with the people around them or with
actors and celebs they see on TV, in movies, or in magazines.
But it's impossible to measure ourselves against others
because the changes that come with puberty are different for
everyone. Some people start developing early; others are late
bloomers. Some get a temporary layer of fat to prepare for a growth
spurt, others fill out permanently, and others feel like they stay
skinny no matter how much they eat. It all depends on how our genes
have programmed our bodies to act.
The changes that come with puberty can affect how both girls and
guys feel about themselves. Some girls may feel uncomfortable or
embarrassed about their maturing bodies. Others may wish that they
were developing faster. Girls may feel pressure to be thin but guys
may feel like they don't look big or muscular enough.
It's not just development that affect self-esteem, though.
Lots of other factors (like media images of skinny girls and
bulked-up guys) can affect a person's body image too.
Family life can sometimes influence a person's self-esteem.
Some parents spend more time criticizing their kids and the way
they look than praising them. This criticism may reduce a
person's ability to develop good self-esteem.
People may also experience negative comments and hurtful teasing
about the way they look from classmates and peers. Sometimes racial
and ethnic prejudice is the source of such comments. Although these
often come from ignorance, sometimes they can affect another
person's body image and self-esteem.
If you have a positive body image, you probably like and accept
yourself the way you are. This healthy attitude allows you to
explore other aspects of growing up, such as developing good
friendships, growing more independent from your parents, and
challenging yourself physically and mentally. Developing these
parts of yourself can help boost your self-esteem.
A positive, optimistic attitude can help people develop
strong self-esteem - for example, saying, "Hey, I'm
human" instead of "Wow, I'm such a loser" when
you've made a mistake, or not blaming others when things
don't go as expected.
Knowing what makes you happy and how to meet your goals can help
you feel capable, strong, and in control of your life. A positive
attitude and a healthy lifestyle (such as exercising and eating
right) are a great combination for building good self-esteem.
Tips for Improving Your Body Image
Some people think they need to change how they look or act to
feel good about themselves. But actually all you need to do is
change the way you see your body and how you think about
The first thing to do is recognize that your body is your own,
no matter what shape, size, or color it comes in. If you're
very worried about your weight or size, check with your doctor to
verify that things are OK. But it's no one's business but
your own what your body is like - ultimately, you have to be happy
Next, identify which aspects of your appearance you can
realistically change and which you can't. Everyone (even the
most perfect-seeming celeb) has things about themselves that they
can't change and need to accept - like their height, for
example, or their shoe size.
If there are things about yourself that you want to change and
can (such as how fit you are), do this by making goals for
yourself. For example, if you want to get fit, make a plan to
exercise every day and eat nutritious foods. Then keep track of
your progress until you reach your goal. Meeting a challenge you
set for yourself is a great way to boost self-esteem!
When you hear negative comments coming from within yourself,
tell yourself to stop. Try building your self-esteem by giving
yourself three compliments every day. While you're at it, every
evening list three things in your day that really gave you
pleasure. It can be anything from the way the sun felt on your
face, the sound of your favorite band, or the way someone laughed
at your jokes. By focusing on the good things you do and the
positive aspects of your life, you can change how you feel about
Where Can I Go if I Need Help?
Sometimes low self-esteem and body image problems are too much
to handle alone. A few teens may become depressed, lose interest in
activities or friends - and even hurt themselves or resort to
alcohol or drug abuse.
If you're feeling this way, it can help to talk to a parent,
coach, religious leader, guidance counselor, therapist, or an adult
friend. A trusted adult - someone who supports you and doesn't
bring you down - can help you put your body image in perspective
and give you positive feedback about your body, your skills, and
If you can't turn to anyone you know, call a teen crisis
hotline (check the yellow pages under social services or search
online). The most important thing is to get help if you feel like
your body image and self-esteem are affecting your life.
D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: March 2009
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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