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Why Do Teens Think They Need to Have a Perfect Body?

by Erica Loop

If your daughter thinks that she has to look like that perfect supermodel on the cover of her favorite magazine or your son thinks that the muscle-bound actor in the latest action flick is an ideal image, your child is not alone. According to the child development experts at the Kids Health website, self-esteem and a positive body image directly tie together. The need to have a perfect body can decrease a teen's self-confidence and lead to unrealistic -- or unhealthy -- expectations.

Girls and the Media

According to the University of Washington's Teen Health and the Media website, 53 percent of 13 year old and 78 percent of 17 year old girls report that they are unhappy with how their bodies look. The unrealistically skinny image of women shown in magazines, movies and TV can easily influence the teen's understanding of what is ideal. The Women's Center at Southern Connecticut State University note that the female body type that the media glorifies only comes naturally to roughly 5 percent of all American women. Although it's unlikely that every teen girl can achieve this look, it's not uncommon for an adolescent to feel that she must take extreme measures to look like her favorite movie star or the girl featured in a magazine ad. This includes drastic actions that can turn into eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Boys and Media

Girls don't have the market cornered when it comes to wanting an ideal body. Teen boys may also share a skewed image of the perfect physical form. Although it's unlikely that many boys have the same picture of perfection that girls do, media portrayals of muscular young actors with six-pack abs and bulging biceps can certainly have an impact on the teen's psyche. The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that a 2012 research study on muscle-enhancing behaviors found that over 34 percent of teen boys used protein powders or shakes, 10 1/2 percent used some form of muscle enhancing substance and almost 6 percent used steroids in order to get the idealized muscle-bound physical form.

Peers

The media isn't the only influence on teens when to comes to the desire to have a perfect body. The experts at the Kids Health website note that negative comments and teasing by peers have an effect on how teens view their own bodies. When taunting or bullying at school focuses on how a teen's body looks, the adolescent may develop feelings of low self-esteem. This in turn makes the teen think that a "perfect," skinnier, curvier, more muscular or toned body is better than his own possibly average-sized figure.

Adults

Kids aren't the only ones who can influence the way that your teen views her body. Sports coaches and even you or your spouse can contribute to your teen's perceived need to have a perfect figure. This may take the form of making a specific weight for a sport like wrestling or meeting an ideal body type such as the super-skinny gymnast. Additionally, parents may make offhand remarks about a teen's changing body shape or project their own views onto the child. These can make the teen feel that her body isn't up to snuff or set an impossibly high standard.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Photo Credits

  • Ezra Shaw/Digital Vision/Getty Images