Column: Fostering A Positive Body Image

By: Havah Bernstein

During gym class, I walked out of the girls’ locker room with a friend who started insulting her body and commenting on how she looked in her outfit. Then, later that period, I listened closely while all of the girls changed out of their gym uniforms and into their regular outfits, and I noticed the negative comments filling the air: “I gained so much weight!” “I need to get fit!”

It’s no secret that many teenagers suffer indescribable body image insecurities. Videos and social media posts meant to empower people that blindly call all of their viewers beautiful can’t really change what people think about themselves. So what will?

Social media has changed the way people can present themselves. When you feel beautiful, you can send a selfie to your streaks. Then you’re expected to send pictures daily. When you don’t feel beautiful, photoshop and filters can help with your photo.

But teenagers should not be seeking a way to change their appearance. The primary reason teens feel insecure is because they’re changing and developing in a society where everyone seems so sure of themselves. But in reality, most are far less than sure.

Sydney Klein, a student in 10C, stated, “A huge part of having body image issues is living through adolescence. But even as a teenager, I know that when I feel bad about myself it’s because I’m a 16-year-old girl in a public high school, and literally everyone feels bad about themselves sometimes as well.”

So how can we teach teenagers that their insecurities are the fault of their surroundings rather than their own bodies?

Everyone faces insecurities, but that is exacerbated when people turn those insecurities into insults about themselves or others instead of bringing it up in a more healthy way.

For example, let’s go back to my friend in the locker room. When she spoke so negatively about the way she looked in her outfit, I felt inclined to add to the conversation by insulting myself, though I realized quickly that adding to the self-deprecation would would only feed the fire.

That’s how most conversations about body image play out. One person will point out something about themselves that they don’t like, and someone they’re with will quickly shoot down their complaint with an insult about themselves.

There is a scene from the popular teen movie Mean Girls that is a perfect example of how this happens. Three characters casually look in the mirror insulting aspects of their body, from the size of their pores to the size of their hips to the quality of their calves. They then look over expectantly to another girl who seems content with her appearance, who proceeds to quickly say “my breath smells bad in the morning.”

What if the conversation was about people’s general insecurities, rather than insults piled on top of each other? Perhaps instead of adding to a list of things teenagers don’t love about themselves, we can accept that everyone faces body image insecurities. People will feel less alone, and will rightfully blame their insecurities on society as opposed to their actual pores or hip size.

I challenge you to be conscious of the way you discuss your body. In the locker room, if you’re feeling unhappy with the way you look, pose to your friend how you’re feeling uncomfortable with your body image, instead of slandering the size of your thighs. They may just agree with you and say that they feel insecure as well, rather than frantically feeling like they need to respond with a specific insult. Then, instead of building negative body image upon negative body image, together you can discuss a completely healthy and solvable problem that can be fixed with a mutual understanding that you’re not alone.

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