Teenagers' Ideal Body Image

Updated March 5, 2019
Teenage girl measuring her waist

Body image is the opinion you hold of your own physical appearance. For many teenagers, body image suffers as they go through the awkward growing years. Learn about ideal body image vs healthy body image and what you can do to improve the thinking of your teen.

What Your Teen Should See in the Mirror

Ideally, you want your teenager to be satisfied with his/her own body. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes, and no one body type should be idealized over another. Your teenager should look in the mirror and see a happy, healthy person who can achieve mental and physical success. Your teenager should be comfortable in clothing, particularly a swimsuit or during physical education class. Defining physical characteristics, such as a bump on his/her nose or a birthmark, should be embraced as who he/she is, not viewed as imperfections or flaws to be fixed.

Ideal Body Image vs Healthy Body Image

Most teenagers have an ideal body image, which is how ideal they perceive their body to be or what they think their body should look like, that isn't realistic or attainable. This can have nothing to do with whether their size or shape is healthy but more to do with what is perceived by teens as being the ideal shape. For example, recent surveys show body image issues begin long before the teenage years. A National Eating Disorders Association study showed 42 percent of girls in first through third grades wanted to be skinnier. Ideal body image can contrast drastically with a healthy body image where teens are happy with their body and comfortable with how they look. The gap between having a healthy body image and ideal body image typically comes from self-esteem, media, and peers.

Self-Esteem Influences Body Image

Self-esteem, the mental perception everyone holds of him or herself, plays a large role in teen body image. Teenagers who value themselves for traits other than physical ones, such as intellectual or social skills, will likely have a higher opinion of their body images. However, teens that have low self-esteem will find more flaws with their body. Additionally, focusing heavily on things teens don't like about their body can also affect their self-esteem negatively.

Peers and Body Image

Peer pressure is another factor in teenager body image. Kids can be cruel and taunting, particularly in the locker room. Many teenagers will avoid participating in gym class because they don't want to change in front of others. This happens often for a girl who might develop breasts more quickly than her same-age peers. It can also be a problem for boys that aren't developing as fast as their peers might be. One negative comment can set your teen up for years of hiding under baggy clothes or even worse - eating disorders or excessive exercise.

How Media Affects Body Image

Media images bombard your teenager on a daily basis. Celebrities are idealized and touted as perfect on television. Many teenagers do not realize the magic of Hollywood editing and how easily flaws and imperfections can be erased. Sports heroes may not reveal (until they are caught) the use of performance-enhancing drugs to gain muscle mass and more physical agility. Your teenager may look in the mirror after watching the Kids' Choice Awards and wonder why she doesn't look like Demi Lovato. What she doesn't realize is that Demi had a stylist, make-up artist and hairdresser help her get ready for three hours before her five-minute camera appearance.

Dangers of Focusing on Body Image

Many times teens might focus a lot of energy on their ideal body image. This can be because they don't fall into what their peers or media consider ideal or can be due to self-esteem issues. Focusing too much energy on ideal body weight or trying to attain an unattainable or even unhealthy body weight can lead to:

  • Extreme dieting
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Excessive exercise
  • Drug use (diet pills, laxatives, etc.)
  • Mood changes

Tips for Developing Healthy Body Image

Whether you are a boy, girl or parent, there are several things that you can do to improve your body image.


Teen boy working out

While typically people think of body image issues as relating to girls, this just isn't true. A study showed that 40 percent of boys exercise regularly with the purpose of bulking up.

  • Focus on your nonphysical strengths like intellect or artistic talents.
  • But your focus on what your body can do rather than how it looks. For example, explore how good you are at kicking a soccer ball or throwing a baseball. Examine the strength you use to climb a tree or use a bow.
  • Be active in your day. Have fun with activities like running or playing ball with friends, don't let it turn into an obsession. Getting active can improve your self-esteem which can be beneficial to a healthy body image.
  • Get the right fuel. Don't worry about what your body looks like instead focus on how healthy you are by getting the right foods and enough sleep. The better you feel, the easier it is to feel good about yourself and your own skin.


It is no secret that girls have issues with ideal body image. According to research, 30 percent of girls have body image problems that become obsessive in nature. Combatting these feelings is important in making you feel comfortable in your own skin.

  • Choose clothing that makes you feel beautiful and good about your body. Don't just wear what your friends wear but what makes you feel good.
  • Eat with a purpose. Rather than worrying about how much you should eat, make healthy choices that are beneficial for your body.
  • Give praise where praise is due. Whether you are praising your friends or praising yourself for a job well done, make sure to be positive about your accomplishments.
  • Find friends that complement and support you. Surrounding yourself with positivity can help to increase your positivity and make you feel better.
  • Do activities that are fun and you enjoy. Don't just exercise to lose weight find activities that you can do with friends or that make you feel good about yourself. Exercise has the bonus of releasing endorphins, which help you to feel better about yourself.


As a parent, it's your job to promote positivity. Not only with your actions but within your family. There are several things that you can do to promote a positive body image.

  • Talk about media messages and body images and how they might be skewed. Point out how many stars use Photoshop or filters to get that look.
  • Encourage questions and talk openly with your teens about their feelings about their bodies.
  • Point out who your child is and their personality rather than how they look.
  • Check your own attitudes about yourself and your physical appearance as your perceptions can be a huge influence on your teen.
  • Use positive language with teens and family focusing on health rather than looks. For example, rather than saying thin or fat talk about how a body looks healthy or fit. You might point out how radiant their skin looks or lean their body is becoming.
  • Discourage others from using negative language or nicknames that might hurt your child's body image or self-esteem.

Putting It Into Perspective

Thankfully, more celebrities are admitting to just how much work and makeup go into their media images. US Weekly ran a piece called Stars Without Makeup which showed celebrities au natural and all done up. Sites like this can help your teenager see that celebrities are normal and don't look all that different from real people without all the hype and styling. Watching television with your teenager and talking about what he or she sees can help you gauge their opinion of themselves. You can then talk to your teen about any misconceptions she has about body image, opening up a dialogue that will hopefully continue throughout the teen years.

There Is No Perfect Body for a Teen

Remaining positive and helping your teenager through body image struggles can be difficult for any parent, especially when you see them as a handsome or beautiful. Encourage your teenager to try an exercise program and even offer to work out with them. Try to be patient if your teenager decides to try a diet or wants to become vegetarian - experimentation is how teenagers learn about life. However, if you suspect an eating disorder or diet pill abuse, you need to talk with her immediately about the danger of these decisions. Every teenager wants to look good, but a positive body image should not come at the price of a life.

Teenagers' Ideal Body Image