Body Image and Teenage Mental Health

photo from

Naomi Navarro, Journalist

Low self-esteem and body image begin in the mind, not in the mirror. This changes the way people perceive their value and worth. A healthy body image is a significant part of well-being as well as confidence and happiness.

Body image reflects societal values that can force young people to make judgments about their self-worth based on their physical looks. The effect of a distorted body image on mental health goes beyond the occasional negative thought. These thoughts of deflated emotions can cause symptoms of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts. Because of these feelings, part of managing mental health also involves cultivating a healthy body image. 

One common contributor to an unbalanced body image is the pressure to measure up to the “perfect” appearance. This contributes to feeling shame when we perceive ourselves not meeting the standard. Social media contributes to this ideal as well. How teens develop their sense of “the model appearance” varies between genders. Females often feel pressure to be thin but still maintain curves whereas males desire to be tall and muscular.

Like many teenage girls, I have dealt with insecurity around body image. As someone who has struggled with chronic acne since 6th grade, I know what it is like to feel uncomfortable, or even ashamed in your own skin. In my experience, my own thoughts were more devastating than anything someone could ever say to me. Over the years, it really affected my self-esteem and overall mood.

There were times when I did not want to go anywhere outside of my house without layering on makeup. Even then, I still felt like everyone was watching me. I did not look in the mirror for fear that I would see that I did not look as pretty as everyone else. Even though I have learned to manage these negative thoughts, I still have days when it is hard to walk outside of my house without feeling ugly. 

In today’s society, it is easy to want to look and be like someone else. But recently I have found that regardless of what I think of myself, I am loved and that is all that really matters. 

So, how can I cultivate a healthier body image? 

  • Eat and exercise to help your brain and body be happy – not as a way to control your body shape.
  • Treat your body with respect and practice self love and care.
  • Try to spend less time on social media and unfollow anyone who makes you feel ashamed of your body type.
  • When you have negative thoughts about your body, talk to someone close to you that you trust, and remind yourself that how you look on the outside is not nearly as important as who you are on the inside.
  • Remember that you are worthy of love and kindness.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others!
  • Give out compliments and be kind to everyone around you. You never know what they are going through.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Practice self-compassion.

In the end, if you struggle with confidence and it is causing your mental health to spiral down, look around you and remind yourself of the people who really care about you. For me, it is my family and a few close friends. I do not feel as self-conscientious around them, even though I am still uncomfortable in my own skin. I know that they are there for me and will love me no matter what. 

Finally, remember that you are loved and that you are never alone.