Girls who watch thin, beautiful adult women on TV shows have a more negative body image later on, a study in The British Journal of Psychiatry found. This research described a cohort of adolescent girls who hadn’t been exposed to much television. But after watching it for three or more nights a week, half the teens were more likely to call themselves “fat” and about a third were more likely to go on a diet than those who didn’t watch as much.
It’s possible to navigate the rough waters of pop culture and the peer pressure to achieve the “perfect body” without developing dangerous body issues. Building self-esteem and taking a stand against negative comments are steps in that direction.
A healthy body image is a difficult thing to define, especially in a culture where it’s common for people to casually put themselves down. But here’s a simple, reasonable definition: “A healthy body image is a body image where you feel happy and confident and accepting of yourself,” says Drew Anderson, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York in Albany.
This doesn’t mean that you never have a moment of discontent — just that your complaints or concerns about your body, whatever they are, aren’t leaving you with body issues that affect your quality of life.
It’s important to work toward a healthy body image. Women who have severely negative body images are at greater risk for depression, social isolation, and a host of health problems, such as extreme dieting or eating disorders.
Even though you might not have whatever you think is the perfect body, there is a lot you can do to love the body you are in. Here are some steps you can take toward building self-esteem and appreciating the body you have.
Deconstruct What the Media Is Trying to Present
Learn the facts about what goes into making TV and magazine images of what passes for the perfect body. For example, Anderson says, girls who learn how photographs of stars and models are digitally manipulated before publication often have more positive body images. Also learn about the fashion industry, in particular that models’ body types are really dictated by their ability to wear and sell clothes.
Be Realistic About Your Individual Size
The vast majority of people, even those at an ideal weight, cannot measure up to the “perfect body” of supermodels or professional athletes. “We have this persistent myth that everybody can be like that if we try hard enough, just buy the right product, work hard enough, etc.,” Anderson says. And when you physically can’t achieve that goal, “not only do you dislike yourself, but you also start blaming yourself for not being able to meet that ideal,” he adds. You can probably make some important changes, such as working toward a healthy body weight if you are over- or underweight, but you can’t turn yourself into a 6-foot-tall, lanky supermodel if you are in fact a curvy, petite, 5’2″.
Appreciate the Wonderful Person You Are
“If your whole life is focused on your weight and shape, you’re in trouble,” Anderson warns. Try shifting your focus to other aspects of your life that you enjoy, whether that’s being a good friend, playing a sport you love, or volunteering for a good cause. Make a conscious effort to appreciate the way in which your body, as it is right now, makes it possible for you to enjoy these activities.