Teenage Girls and Body Image

New Study Sheds Light on Reasons for Negative Body Image

A lot of people, especially women, have a love-hate relationship with their bodies we love to think about how much we hate the way we look.

And though having a negative body image is quite common, body dissatisfaction can contribute to a number of unhealthy practices and conditions, including eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.

Why the Negativity?

Why are we so negative about our own bodies? Recent research by scientists at University College London suggests that our brains are to blame.

In the study, which focused on the brain’s representation of the hand, researchers found that we have inaccurate and distorted views of our bodies. Study subjects consistently demonstrated a strong tendency to perceive that their fingers were shorter (by one-third, on average) and their hands wider (by two-thirds, on average) than they truly are.

Researchers suspect that the same distorted model we carry in our brains may apply to other parts of the body, possibly explaining why so many people suffer from negative body image. Interestingly, participants in the study were able to visually pick out photos of their own hands in a crowd of distorted images, but this didn’t change their distorted mental image.

Creating a Healthy Body Image

Having a negative body image is strongly correlated with unsafe weight loss practices and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, which can further the cycle of low self-esteem. There are a few steps women and teenage girls can take to nurture a healthy body image:

  • Understand the natural changes that take place in the body caused by puberty, genetics and life stressors
  • Scrutinize media messages that promote unattainable ideals of beauty and send mixed messages about weight and food
  • Challenge negative thoughts about others with different body types and work to accept that healthy body shapes vary
  • Focus on what you like about yourself
  • Use positive self-talk about your achievements and character rather than calling yourself “fat” or “ugly”
  • Maintain a healthy weight by exercising moderately and eating nutritious meals
  • Get help from a doctor, therapist or eating disorder treatment program if your negative body image is beginning to result in disordered thoughts and behaviors