I've been struggling with my body image. How can I boost my confidence?
- 16 year old female
Bodies are weird, right? And people are weird, too.
When I was a teen, adults were quick to tell me that looks don't matter, but there are studies that disprove that (for example: tall men make more than short men). And I didn’t need studies to tell me how important looks were, because I was in high school, and all the pretty girls were popular.
We know that in most cultures looks matter, weight influences what people think of us, and -- in America, if not everywhere -- mainstream media favors super-skinny, busty blondes and tall, ripped guys. But. Things are changing. The body positive movement asks us to live peacefully and healthfully in our own bodies irrespective of our appearance and to give the same consideration to others. Sounds nice, right? But how do we do it?
First of all, self-talk is super-important. If you wouldn’t say something to your best friend, don’t say it to yourself.
Second, I encourage you to be conscious of the media you consume. So much of what we think about ourselves we’ve been told to think, so what we read, watch, and listen to matters.
Singers like Lizzo, writers like Lindy West (and the show Shrill based on her work), and books and movies like Dumplin', The Duff, and Fat Girl on a Plane, all give a different perspective on what beautiful is. Which is not to say body image struggles are all related to weight, but that seems to be what popular culture is tackling first.
Third, along with changing up the messages you allow into your headspace, you may want to explore how your body image and self-confidence are connected. Have you seen body-image-activist Taryn Brumfitt's documentary called EMBRACE? The whole movie is wonderful (you can see the trailer here), but her central message is that her body is a vehicle, not an ornament. She talks to a variety of women who struggle with their weight or body hair or physical disfigurement, and she talks about her own "before and after" shots, which shocked the world because they upended the traditional notion of what we should be striving for. I've found comfort in Brumfitt's advice to her young daughter which is really advice to us all: "Darling girl," she says, "don't waste a single second of your life being at war with your body. Just embrace it." I know that can be easier said than done, but with new messaging and more diverse role models, you may find yourself reassessing your feelings about your body and yourself.
About The Author: Jamie Beth Cohen writes about difficult things, but her friends think she's funny. Her debut YA novel, WASTED PRETTY, is about being noticed for the first time and all the things that are exciting, annoying, and sometimes dangerous about that.
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A final note: We are strong believers in the power of therapy. We know that this isn't a realistic option for every teenager, since some of you might not have the parental support or extra income necessary to make this happen. But, if possible, please consider therapy. Many of the adults you respect most have benefited from therapy, and it's likely that you will too. There's no shame in getting support. You deserve it.