Health and weight

Body image

Body image is a person’s idea of what they look like. It’s like a picture we have in our mind of what we think other people see when they look at us. The picture we have of ourselves may be different to what other people see and we may like or dislike the way we look. Teenagers tend to be particularly conscious of the way they look, so their body image can be closely linked to how they feel about themselves as a person (their self-esteem).
 
The teenagers we spoke to felt the most unhappy with their appearance if they could not wear clothes they liked or when they thought that no one liked them (see Clothes and shopping and Friends, relationships and weight).
 
Parents said they found it hard to see their children feeling bad about their bodies and worrying about how others see them. It is most upsetting for parents to hear their children saying negative things about themselves because of their weight and size. Parents wanted to help their children accept themselves as they were, while encouraging and supporting them to have a healthier lifestyle.
Impact of other people
Many people talked about constantly comparing their own appearance, shape and weight to others their own age. This was something that often left them feeling more insecure and embarrassed. Steevie began to notice her fingers were bigger and that her feet and ankles were wider than those of other people. She said that she became ‘obsessive’ about her body. It can also be difficult to hear friends who do not have a weight problem complain that they are ‘fat’.  
The young people we spoke to were also worried about what other people thought of them. Some felt that they were left out of friendship groups just because of their size. They felt that others did not like them and put them down because of the way they look. This made them feel bad about themselves. Even a passing comment made by a relative or a friend about body size could be very distressing. The feeling of being judged prevented young people from doing what they wanted to do, like exercising in the park. They worried about being laughed at.
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Pressure from society 
Young people said that they feel a lot of pressure to look a certain way. Those in their early teens felt the most pressure from other young people and the media to be skinnier. Some said that growing up would have been much easier if they had been a smaller size. At the age of thirteen Becca thought that the only way for her to lose the weight and solve her problems was to have surgery. Some thought that other issues to do with appearance like problem hair or acne would have been easier to deal with if ‘only’ their weight had not been such a problem. 
Several parents think that there is a lot of pressure on young people in this country, over their appearance. Young people who have recently moved to the UK from other countries noticed this too. 

The pressure to be thin is not the same in all countries; in some countries women are expected to carry more weight. Anaan and Naz talked about how this preference in their communities could make it difficult when they were trying to lose weight.

Last reviewed February 2015.

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