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How to talk to your teen about positive body image

By Mical Imbukwa
Adolescence, a phase marked by significant physical and emotional changes, often brings about body image concerns. Teens face pressure to meet societal beauty standards, influenced by media and peers, which impacts their self-esteem.

Elema Joyce, Miss Universe Kenya Marsabit County 2022, shared on Facebook how societal conditioning during her teenage years negatively affected her self-esteem. In her community, not having a bright complexion was considered unattractive.

Reflecting on her journey, Elema confessed to struggling with her looks in the past, resorting to using cheap bleaching creams available in shops all over Marsabit to conform to the perceived beauty standards. She learned to mix and apply them to fit in and please someone she needed to impress.

Despite achieving confidence in her appearance today, Elema admitted that there was a time when she couldn’t even look at herself in the mirror and smile. This experience is not unique to her, as many teenagers, particularly girls, grapple with various image issues, whether related to skin, height, or weight.

In response to Elema’s post, Edith Sonnie shared her struggles with height and weight during childhood. Edith recounted being bullied by boys due to her height and shape, emphasizing that such issues extend beyond skin concerns.

Elema and Edith’s shared experiences highlight the importance of addressing body image issues among teenagers. Parents play a crucial role in supporting their children through these challenges.

Here is a guide on how parents can initiate conversations about body image with their children, promoting understanding and self-acceptance.

When initiating conversations about body image, ensure that you are in an environment where your child feels safe and comfortable to express their thoughts and concerns. Ensure that discussions are private, free from judgment and that you listen actively. Reassure your child that you intend to understand and support them rather than criticize or impose unrealistic expectations.

Instead of focusing solely on appearance, emphasize the importance of overall health and well-being. Encourage healthy eating habits, regular exercise, and sufficient sleep. Frame these discussions around the positive impact on energy levels, mood, and overall life rather than connecting them solely to weight or appearance.

Choose words carefully to avoid reinforcing negative body image. Encourage positive self-talk and discourage the use of derogatory language about one’s own body or others. Help your teenage child understand that their worth is not solely determined by their appearance but by their unique qualities, talents, and character. In one of her videos, Dr. Shefali Tsabary says, ‘Don’t tell your child that she is so skinny or so pretty, because when they get to the point of not feeling so pretty or skinny, they will feel like they are lesser than. Teach them that whatever it is they are, they are perfect.’ She encourages parents not to fall victim to labels.

Teens often learn by example, so it’s essential to model a healthy attitude toward your own body. Demonstrate self-love, acceptance, and a positive body image. Avoid making negative comments about your own appearance, and showcase a balanced approach to diet and exercise. 

‘How it is you own your wrinkles, your body and your cellulite, for instance, is how your girls will embody them and how they will embrace their last of youth when they grow older,’ says Dr. Shefali

Discuss the potential impact of peer pressure and bullying on body image. Teach teens to stand up against body shaming and promote empathy and kindness. Please encourage them to surround themselves with friends who appreciate them for who they are and support a positive self-image.

As you have the conversation with your child, remember that every conversation is an opportunity to strengthen the bond between you and the teenager in your life, helping them develop a healthy relationship with their body and build a foundation for lifelong well-being. Start that conversation today!

Are you a parent whose child has struggled with body image? Share with us useful tips on how to help them deal with the problem and achieve body confidence.

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