"Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?"
You've probably heard this famous saying in a movie or read it in a fairy tale book. Our society places a lot of value on how we look. Photos of movie stars, singers and models that have been digitally altered to present “perfect” faces and bodies are all around us. It’s hard for people to avoid comparing themselves to these images. Many of the touched up images are unrealistic and they make people feel like no matter what you’ll never look that good. Teens, especially, can become insecure about their bodies when comparing themselves to these famous faces.
Poor body image can have a big effect on teens, including low self-esteem and self-confidence, depression and anxiety. For a lot of people, poor body image is a very serious problem called body dysmorphic disorder, in which body image takes over a person’s life. Image problems often lead to, destructive behavior and self-abuse-like having risky sex and developing eating disorders.
When you don’t feel okay with your body, It might seem strange that people with body image problems would want to be more sexually active. But, sex is rarely healthy behavior if it is done to make up for poor self esteem or body image. Instead, it’s a way for guys and girls to get approval from others. The sexual attention is mistakenly seen as love, acceptance or approval, despite the body flaws the person feels they have. Unfortunately, sexual attention is often measured by the number of partners, so people who feel bad about their bodies may have more sex partners. Also, guys and girls with bad body image may be less likely to use protection against STDs or unintended pregnancy because:
- They’re too worried about how a partner will react to seeing their body;
- They don’t want to “rock the boat” and potentially push away a partner by bringing up the subject; and
- The lack of self-esteem makes them unable to stand up for themselves when it’s time to use protection.
Eating disorders can happen when someone is unhappy with their body. Both guys and girls feel pressure from images they see and perceptions they have about what does and doesn’t look good. It’s important to remember that not all eating disorders fall under the anorexia or bulimia labels- for some, an eating disorder can be an extreme form of dieting or being on a constant diet. By the time an eating disorder has developed, it’s likely a person is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder- everything in his or her life revolves around how the body can be changed into something more consistent with what society considers “beautiful”.
Remember that nobody is perfect. And when people are “oohing” and “aahing” over flawless models in a magazine or in movies, remember these images are unrealistic representations- they most likely have been airbrushed and digitally enhanced. The absolute best you can do is to recognize, respect and appreciate your uniqueness. This can be especially hard during your teen years, when everyone already seems to be comparing each other and constant changes seem to be happening to you emotionally and physically. The more confidence and self-esteem you have, the better the decisions you’ll make for yourself. If you still have trouble appreciating yourself or your body, talk to someone you trust- a good friend, a parent or a counselor at school.