There was this totally new set of friends that my child made when he entered O level-1 in his school. Since his old friends selected a different combination of subjects, so now he was in a class where kids sharing his choice of subjects were mostly new to him. I decided to call his new friends over lunch to get to know them better.
So there they were a bunch of energetic young men, in their early teens, trying to act like grownups, yet carrying that cute baby look and enthusiasm. And when they joined in for lunch I very soon learned their names. The tall and thin one was being called as ‘ceiling fan’, the chubby one who looked much like my son was ‘ Motay’, my son was ‘goloo’, the one with dark complexion was ‘maila’. The only boy who was called with his proper name was the average built, fair complexioned one. Well, I did try to call them by their real names while we ate but it was difficult remembering their real names afterward. It has been eight months since then and my son still calls them by those ‘pet names’.
My son and his friends apparently accepted those titles, but often my son asks me if he is too chubby and fat. He and his friend Motay do not participate in racing sports, because when in the beginning they did, they were ridiculed by the others as ‘rolling stones’. My boy has been under much mental pressure lately because of his body image.
Not everyone is perfectly built and there is this common thing in all societies that people love to point out to the physical imperfections rather focusing on the good qualities of a person.
This is especially more prominent among teens when they move in a group of fellow students or friends and are supposed to conform to the common concept of a body image. Those who do not, are usually made to feel bad about it.
Your teenage girl may have been asking you if she looks fat or skinny. Or if she appears average looking or if she is too tall among her friends. These may appear to be small minute problems to you because you look at your daughter with a different eye, but these could actually be putting your child on low confidence and self-esteem. The negative body image can put a child under much stress. Do remember that there is always an outside influence coming from entertainment media and social media that describes a certain body type as beautiful or strong. This cue is followed by the groups your teen moves in. Failure to conform to that image makes them conscious of their body, making them uneasy when they have to move in public. The low self-esteem can push them to find other ways to escape from their problems and they may either start shunning the social activities or take to drugs for satisfaction.
A strong supportive attitude from their homes can help alleviate the negative feelings attached to a body image in teens. We as parents can help our child start feeling good about their bodies and become resilient to outside negative forces which try to bring them down.
When they come up and ask you about something they feel is imperfect about their body, do not shun them aside by telling ‘ oh no you are just perfect’, instead be all ears and ask them to talk in detail about their problem. Let them express their feelings to you and confide in you. If they themselves don’t tell you but you observe someone calling them names related to their body image, or treating in a lowly manner because of it, then do ask them to discuss it with you. Letting their inner feelings out will help them make feel better. If they don’t speak the feelings will keep hurting them. Therefore provide them with one-to-one time when they can talk at length about their problem with you. Remember they don’t want to hear they are fine, rather they want your help in a finding a workable solution to their problem.
Once they are into telling you about their perceptions and insecurities related to their body image turn it into a discussion. Ask them if they feel their negative body image is in any way keeping them from achieving their academic and personal goals. Ask them to set their priorities in life which lead them to happiness and cut upon the factors which hinder their path to it.
Tell them that all teenagers pass through bodily changes and none of the change is permanent.
Tell them that a plump teenager will shed body fat as she passes into adulthood; a lean girl will fill up as she grows older; that each child has a different growth period and the short boy will eventually gain inches according to his own biological clock; that they are the masters of their body and can build it over time with good diet and workouts and sports; that they need not take instructions from others to make their body according to their perceptions and rather love themselves for who they are.
Tell them about celebrities who overcame their negative body images and made it big in life. Show them people from a common walk of life who have flawless bodies but are trying to survive in their lives due to lack of education or talent. Let them understand for themselves that a perfect body image is not the criteria for success for anyone.
Focus On Their Positive Attributes:
Ask them what are the things in their bodies which they feel good about? Admire them for those attributes and also for those which you see in them. A little appreciation and support from the family means a lot to the teen and helps develop their self-esteem.
Ask them how they feel about their different talents and how do they plan to develop them? Help them identify the positive aspects of their personality and appreciate them for it. Help them exploit their positive attributes and talents and to channel those for their personal gains and accomplishments. For example, if they are good at expressing themselves in words, help them to channel it through creative writing and getting published in local newspapers/magazines.
Acceptance Of What Cannot Be Changed: Be Their Role Model
There are certain things about one’s body that cannot be changed, such as eyes, nose, height, and complexion. As parents, if you find that the child lacks in any way on these aspects make sure never to discuss these with other family members when these children are still little and below teen. If you are too eloquent in discussing their physical attributes with others they will grow up with a low self-esteem and will always be conscious of their physique. Secondly, you are a role model for your child. Therefore avoid lamenting a physical attribute in yourself in front of them. If you accept and own your body whether you are plump or skinny, short or tall, with pride and do not complain about it in front of them it will become a benchmark for your teenager too.
Many of one’s physical features can be enhanced through proper clothing, hairdo, and footwear. Set an example by using these tools at their best to bring out your natural confident look. Your child will follow in your footsteps and will own his body no matter how it is and use his/her imagination to make it look attractive according to his/her own perceptions. By being a good role model you can instill confidence in your child about his own body and no amount of peer pressure will be able to bring him down.