Body Image: What You See is What You Become?

Are negative body images setting teenagers up to be overweight by age 30?  It’s possible.

I came across an interesting article last night, detailing the findings of a recent study conducted at Norwegian University of Science and Technology, in which researchers concluded that normal-weight teens who perceive themselves as overweight are more likely to become overweight as adults.

In a study of 1,200 adolescents (both female and male), 59% of those who believed themselves to be overweight eventually were, based on BMI, by age 30 (when waist circumference was measured, the number jumped to 78%). Those without distorted views of their bodies were far less likely to become overweight in adulthood – 31% and 55%, respectively.

Researchers suggest that stress over attaining the “perfect” body plays a role in this eventual weight gain, as stress causes weight to accumulate around the waist. Another contributing factor could be due to eating habits, such as skipping meals.  They also found that exercise did not compensate for the negative effects of feeling overweight at a young age.

Society can help to combat the body image demons that haunt so many teenagers today. By focusing on healthy eating habits, committing to regular exercise and prioritizing quality sleep, teens can help start healthy habits at a young age. Additionally, by embracing that there are many types of bodies in our world – not the largely unattainable “ideals” that are splashed across magazines and on television.

So, why did I find this article so interesting? Because I have struggled with the size and shape of my body for most of the last 20+ years. I absolutely remember being 15 years old and 115 lbs. (at 5’5”!), thinking that I was huge. I know for a fact that when my body responds in the way I really want it to is when I stop worrying, and stressing myself out over how many calories I’ve burned in a workout, or beating myself up over giving up to my sweet tooth (hey, everybody deserves a cookie once in a while, right?).

Yes, at 31 years old, and likely the best shape of my life, I still want to lose 10-15 lbs. I can’t remember a time that this wasn’t a goal. I work my butt off six days a week, week in and week out, I watch what I eat like a hawk, but I still struggle with accepting my body for what it is (trust me, it took YEARS for me to learn to love my muscles). I’ve had fellow instructors, trainers, and the occasional random person tell me I look great, but I still see the chubby 11 year old in the mirror (I still argue with my mother over this: I think I was fat. She claims every kid gains a few pounds at that age. I still hate looking at pictures of myself from grades 5-7). I’ll admit, those “fat” demons can be incredibly difficult to exorcise.

Which is exactly why it’s crucial that we start healthy habits, and encourage positive body image, young. Active kids tend to be of healthy weight, and by encouraging fitness and healthy eating, we can encourage the next generation to love their bodies, and who they are – not who the magazines and television tells us we’re “supposed” to be.

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11 thoughts on “Body Image: What You See is What You Become?

  1. I saw a little girl in the locker room of the Y a few weeks ago standing in front of the mirror starting at herself and poking around at her tummy and then fussing with her hair. She looked maybe 9 years old and it made sad. Simply, sad. (I ruminated about it for at least three days after and started to write a post about it that I shelved for the time being.) The picture became clearer when the (overweight) mother started harping about the way the daughter’s hair looked, then made her get on the scale. Message received loud and clear. Doesn’t that just make you sad? I wanted to give the mom the what-for SO badly!

    • At 9 years old … so sad. This is how children end up thinking they aren’t good enough, or thin enough, or whatever else enough. I’ve spent a lot of years struggling with the “not ___ enoughs” … and that’s with parents that do encourage me and have always told me that I’m whatever I want myself to be (and still tell me I’m too skinny when I visit). The media plays a big part, but family support can be the make or break when it comes to self-esteem, for sure.

  2. I really enjoyed this post. I struggled with eating disorders for about 5 years but am now the healthiest that I’ve ever been. It really is all about started healthy habits which creates that healthy lifestyle. I can’t stand what is portrayed as “beautiful” in society. I think we are all becoming more aware of this problem though. Hopefully someday it will all change.

    • You’re absolutely right – it’s definitely a societal problem. I was at the critical, formative age of late elementary school during the height of the whole waif thing in the early to mid-90s, and yeah, I’m pretty sure that had an impact on how I viewed myself then, and continue to now. The fact is, what makes us different is what makes us beautiful. I do credit the companies that are starting to recognize that (I think of the Dove campaigns and whatever commercial it is that has women stepping on scales and it reading “fierce” or something instead of a number). It can definitely be hard to see “perfection” that for 99% of the population is unattainable. At least today people are becoming more focused on healthy lifestyles because there is so much more out there that makes it easy to incorporate fitness and nutrition into our lives from a very young age.

  3. Wow–great article–reminds us of how powerful the mind is. This basically supports the idea of self-fulfilling prophecy and that what we think and focus on will become our reality. A great reason why we need to teach our daughters to appreciate the shape and body type they were given–and realize they are at a healthy weight.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Dr. Meghan
    Your Skinny Coach

    • Absolutely – and it’s scary to think that these negative body images starts so young! You figure in middle school and high school, all these kids want is to be accepted and fit it – yet they aren’t accepting of themselves and it can hurt them well beyond those teenage years.

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