Helping teen girls develop a positive relationship with their body

The pressure to fit an unrealistic beauty ideal weighs heavily on young women, as they’re bombarded with messages from social media, peers, and even their parents that they’re not thin, stereotypically beautiful, or fair-skinned enough.

According to Dr. Jessica Alleva, an assistant professor of psychology and body image researcher, “The way girls feel about their appearance has an enormous impact on how they feel about themselves as a person.”

When this feeling is negative, it can lead to challenges such as disordered eating, depression, lower self-esteem, and even withdrawal from important activities including seeing friends, participating in class discussions, or trying out for a team.

Fostering positive embodiment

Although helping girls love their reflection in the mirror is a worthy goal, it’s also time to transcend this hyper-focus on appearance. Promoting a concept known as “embodiment” (or how we feel “at home” in our bodies, regardless of what we look like) is a good place to start. Dr. Erin TeWinkel, a naturopathic doctor who specializes in teen health, says that when we promote positive embodiment from a young age, it sets teens up for success.

Toward positive embodiment

These strategies can help girls along this path (and are great for women, too).

Focus on function

Homing in on what our bodies can do—such as going for a walk, eating and digesting food, or giving someone a hug—is one of the best ways to build body positivity, says Alleva.

Tip:  Try journaling every day about something positive your body did—a recent study found that those who did so felt positively connected to and grateful for their body.

Practice kindness

When you criticize your weight or pick at perceived flaws in your appearance, it “not only makes you unhappy with your body, it also negatively impacts the people around you,” says Alleva.

Tip: Choose a group of peers who accept and appreciate you for who you are—not what you look like—and do things together that are not focused on appearance.

Do what you love

Doing things you enjoy—from listening to your favorite music to being in nature or practicing yoga—connects you to your body in a positive way.

 Tip:  Part of a healthy routine includes physical movement, which experts agree is important for teens’ health. However, instead of exercising to lose weight, Alleva emphasizes the importance of finding an activity that brings you happiness.

Clean up your (social) feed

Alleva says that, when young women intentionally follow body-positive social media, it helps them develop a broader conceptualization of beauty and feel better about themselves.

Tip:  TeWinkel recommends paying attention to how you feel when scrolling through your feed. If you’re upset or feel bad about your own body after looking at a certain account, it might be time to limit or unfollow their content.