Negative Body Images: We are Failing Our Youth

Allure asked girls, ages 6 to 18, to talk about body image. Here are a few of their disheartening reflections:

“Honestly, I just don’t really feel comfortable in my own skin sometimes.” She goes on to mention her height and facial structure upsets her and since she can’t change those things, she avoids mirrors. ~ Mia, 11

“I know a term nowadays is slim-thick. So even if some parts of you are slim, other parts of you have to be full.” She shares that the perfectly balanced body, according to society, is a tall order. ~ Claudia, 15

“I have trouble with my body. I feel, sometimes, really insecure in my own skin. In 8th grade, I didn’t really struggle with an eating disorder, but I definitely went through periods of time when I’d be fasting.” She goes on to say that there’s a trend in the media regarding the “thigh gap”, and she’s insecure about the lack of a gap between her thighs. ~ Rachel, 14

“I wear black leggings because I feel they make me small or skinny.” She talks about how her parents’ comments about how skinny she is doesn’t count because they have to be supportive since they’re her parents. ~ Izzi, 10

“People used to call me fat all the time, and it would really bring me down.” ~ Ella, 13

“Especially with my friend group at school, all the girls are so skinny.” She continues to talk about how, even though she’s not overweight, she struggles not being as skinny as her friends. She also talks about how being tall hurts her self-confidence. ~ Eva, 17

“Among my friends, their biggest insecurity is probably what their body looks like. Not so much their face but what their body is…” She adds that her friends worry about if they’re “chubby”. ~ Savannah, 17

“People that don’t look good in bikinis, shouldn’t go out in public in bikinis.” This is a social media post that Chloe read, and she’s never forgotten it. ~ Chloe, 16

“The kid in my school came up to me and said, Who are you supposed to be?” She replied, “Madonna,” (it was Decade’s Day in middle school) to which the boy said, “Isn’t Madonna supposed to be skinny?” ~ Angeline, 18

“Lately there are a lot of people out there who advertise having a larger butt or larger breasts and then, a tiny skinny waist.” ~ Emily, 18


We, as a society, need to do better. Our youth, specifically girls, believe there is a gold standard for beauty. And that standard, for many, is Barbie, the one with a tiny waist, long thin legs, and breasts large enough to balance a plate. Personality. Character. Values. Spirit. Ambition. Talents. These weren’t mentioned once by the girls in the Allure interview. Perhaps even more gut-wrenching is that one girl, Mia, doesn’t even look in a mirror because she doesn’t like her facial structure. Mia is eleven. Of all the things she could’ve learned in her short life, she’s learned negative self-talk and gained a negative body image. This is devastating.

What’s even more frustrating is that the negative consequences of society’s obsession with physical standards of beauty have been known for years and yet, here we are in the same, if not worse, boat. In 2014, the Park Nicollet Melrose Center shared harrowing statistics that shot a fiery flare into the sky that still hasn’t come down:

  • Approximately 80% of U.S. women don’t like how they look.
  • 34% of men are dissatisfied with their bodies.
  • Over 50% of Americans aren’t happy with their current weight.
  • 70% of normal weighted women want to be thinner.
  • Body image is a big problem in our society and can lead to depression, social anxiety, and eating disorders.
  • Over 80% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
  • 53% of 13-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies. (This number grows to 78% by the time girls reach 17.)
  • By middle school, 40-70% of girls are dissatisfied with 2 or more parts of their body.
  • Around 30% of 10 to 14-year-olds are actively dieting.
  • 46% of 9 to 11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets (82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets.)
  • Over 50% of teen girls and 30% of teen boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
  • Adolescent girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge eat as girls who don’t.

Between the personal quotes from Allure and the above statistics, the reality of negative body images running rampant among youth is clear. This reality deserves a larger spotlight because negative body images are connected with eating disorders (unhealthy weight control behaviors, such as fasting, diet pills, etc.), depression, anxiety, increased risk of suicidal thoughts, low self-esteem, interpersonal problems, alcohol and drug use and abuse, and reduced physical activity, among others.

But what can you do once the venomous sting of a negative body image courses through someone’s veins? How can you release the tentacles of low self-esteem and an inability to stop comparing yourself to others once they unleash their unforgiving grip?

Experts agree that getting treatment is a critical first step. A negative body image doesn’t evaporate overnight, and it certainly won’t go away if you just ignore it. Talking to people who are trained to help combat a negative body image is crucial.

In addition, within the Allure interview, it was recommended that people with a negative body image should identify as many things about themselves that they love as possible. Once they recognize those things, they should remind themselves of those as often as possible. Let finding and focusing on the parts of yourself you do love be your new obsession.

With all this said, I know one article will not change the trajectory of the entire negative body image epidemic, but it does have the potential to change the trajectory of the person reading the article. It’s important for those struggling with a negative body image to know that there is a massive part of society that believes beauty is unveiled, not seen. Beauty is internal. Beauty is subjective. Beauty cannot be limited to and defined by a certain predetermined set of physical attributes.

So if you’re reading this and you do put yourself into the negative body image category, then I want to apologize for every magazine cover, social media post, movie, and entity that made you feel your unique self doesn’t justify your sense of beauty. I want to apologize for everything and everyone that made you feel not enough. You. Deserve. Better. You deserve more. You deserve a world that lifts you up, not sends your self-esteem, feeling of self-worth, and sense of beauty plummeting into free fall.

One place to start when trying to steer clear of negative self-talk and body issues is with nutrition. Research suggests that mental health issues (such as anxiety, depression, etc.) are nutritional deficiency disorders. Wow. That sentence deserves a second look. What this means is that there are vitamins and supplements, such as EMPowerplus, that help provide the body and brain with the nutrients needed to support itself, resulting in feeling more balanced and stable. And feeling more balanced and stable in both body and mind absolutely affects self-talk and our perception of our body image in a positive way.

Bodies change. Bodies age. Bodies wrinkle and creak with time. So instead of placing your definition of beauty on your physical state, lay it next to your spirit, heart, and character. Beauty, after all, should not be reliant on whether or not you flicked the light switch on. Beauty is found in conversation, interaction, experience and expression, not in a photograph alone.

Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach