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Self esteem and body image, for teens and younger girls

Source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Body image is very important to young people but thinking about it too much can really hurt.

People come in all shapes and sizes and many different body types can be very healthy. Too often we feel bad about ourselves if we try to look like the media ideal when our body does not have that genetic structure.

Self Esteem and Body Image

Girl jumping

Today is a great time to be a girl. In the past, girls did not have as many choices as they do today. Girls were not encouraged to do the kinds of things boys did or have the same freedom to plan their lives. You are so lucky!

You have many possibilities and choices. You can follow your heart and plan your future. You can make goals for yourself and develop your talents. All these choices are exciting, but they can also be a little confusing. How do you make the choices that are right for you? How do you get the life you want? Use yourGirl Power!

Deep inside of you is something called self-esteem. Self-esteem is the confidence or satisfaction you have in yourself. It is self-respect. Self-esteem is that voice inside of you that tells you you are special and can achieve your goals. Self-esteem does come from the inside, but there are outside things that can affect your self-esteem too.

Here are some examples: 


Your Peers 

Everyone wants to have friends and feel part of a group. This is normal and part of growing up. It's good and healthy to have friends. But it's not healthy when it means giving into pressure just to fit in. Only you know what is best for you. Don't let your friends make decisions for you or tell you to do things that are unsafe, unhealthy, or unkind, and that you will later wish you hadn't done. Part of self-esteem is having the power to be yourself because you are such a special person.

Girl with her big sister

Your Parents and Other Adults

Sometimes adults can get so busy that you may feel they don't even notice you exist. This is not how they really intend for you to feel. Sometimes the pressures of being an adult make it hard for parents to take the time that they would like to spend listening to and helping you. Sometimes they are so used to working and being with adults that they forget that talking to young people is different from talking to adults.

When you start to feel that your parents are too busy, remember that the situation is temporary. In the meantime, talk to an older brother or sister, teacher, or another older person that you respect and trust. Ask your parents when a good time would be to talk and make a list of things you would like to talk about. Maybe you and your parents could choose a regular time to set aside just for you—a special time each day or week. Practice what you want to say to them and speak up!

Future Goals

What do you want to be when you grow up? What would you like to become really good at? What are some hobbies you would like to learn? If you put your mind to it you can reach your goals. By setting goals for yourself and trying to meet them, you can feel great about yourself. Try a new sport, audition for the school play, or learn about careers in which you may be interested. Your self-esteem will improve when you have a goal to work toward. So go ahead, dream and plan. Reach for the stars!

Positive Body Image

Think about all the things your body can do. Have you ever thought about just how amazing your body really is? Take a moment and appreciate all that your body does for you—running, dancing, breathing, laughing, thinking, smiling, etc. Every day your body carries you one step closer to your goals.

Bodies come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Your body type is uniquely yours, but your family genes may help to determine how it will be shaped. As you grow and develop, your body will begin to take on its genetically programmed shape. This basic shape can't be changed. It's all in your genes. Wear clothes that are comfortable and make you feel good about your body. Work with your body, not against it.


different body shapes

Some people are shaped like a spoon. Their upper body is smaller than their lower body. Other people are shaped like an hourglass. This shape is curvy with a larger upper and lower body, but smaller waist. Another shape is a ruler. This shape is straight with not much difference between the upper and lower body. The upper body of someone that is cone shaped is larger than their lower body. No category is better or worse than any other, only different. Learn to like and respect your body the way it is built, and make the most of what you've got.

Isn't it amazing what a computer can do?
Normal photo of woman  Computer-enhanced photo of woman

The Media

You are beautiful and unique. It's wonderful living in a world where there are so many different types of people. Sometimes the media doesn't represent these differences. Don't let the images of girls and women in the media be your standard of what is "normal." The truth is that most of the runway models you see are actually underweight, which isn't healthy. You also need to remember that computers can do amazing things to pictures. The pictures of models you see have been airbrushed and touched up. Things like wrinkles, blemishes, uneven skin tones, sags, bulges, or out of place hairs, can be fixed by a computer before going to print. For TV and movie stars, looking the way they do is a full-time job, and they get a lot of help too. They have makeup artists, hairstylists, clothing consultants, and lighting experts to help make them look so good. How many girls do you know have personal and physical trainers? And besides, you have better things to do, like making friends, studying to accomplish your goals, playing sports, and having fun.

A lot of women celebrities work out really hard with their own personal trainers to get their bodies in shape. Working out is good for your body, but many celebrities will train for several hours a day to get the muscular look you see. Most people don't have this much time, and working out this much can be damaging to your body anyway. As you can tell, these standards of beauty set by the media aren't real and can be dangerous.

Activity Logo

With a group of other girls, find at least 10 photographs of women in advertisements in fashion magazines and use these pictures to talk about the images of women presented by the media. How much do the models in the pictures look like people you know? How are these images different from what you see in real life?

Feeling Beautiful

Everyone wants to beGirl looking in the mirror beautiful, but what is it about a person that really makes her beautiful? The truth is that it's not any one thing. Beauty is a combination of many qualities that give pleasure to the senses or mind. Your personality, sense of humor, and compassion for others are a large part of what makes you beautiful. The secret to being beautiful is feeling beautiful. It is more about inner qualities than physical appearance. You may not love all of your qualities, but if you see yourself as a strong person with many goals and talents, you will begin to feel more comfortable with yourself. Feel good about yourself and let your positive attitude shine.

Sometimes it can be a challenge to remember that beauty is about what's on the inside. Don't measure yourself against the media's unrealistic ideals and don't compare yourself to other girls either. You are a unique person. You'll never be someone else and no one else will ever be you. That's what makes our world so great. We live on a diverse planet and have many different gifts to share. Instead of trying to be like someone else, just try being you. Celebrate your differences. What is it that makes you special? Is it your great laugh? Your listening ear? Your sense of humor? Your athletic ability? Your concern for others? As you discover your own strengths you will begin to feel more comfortable with yourself. You will see that you are a beautiful person with the power to make your goals a reality.

Activity Logo

Think about what your best features are. Make a list of them and keep the list in a safe place. Whenever you start to feel down about yourself, get out your list to remind yourself how special you truly are.


Stresed out girl

Knowing how to keep healthy and fit and develop your own personal sense of style can be challenging, but they're only a small part of growing up. Growing up brings more opportunities and responsibilities that can lead to stress such as trying to do well in class, fitting in with a group of friends, or making a sports team. You may feel some extra stress at home. You may feel your parents don't understand you. Your family may be experiencing serious problems, such as divorce, money troubles, loss of a job, or sickness. Even your friends, who have sworn to be true through thick and thin, may let you down at times. If you think your problems are serious, don't hesitate to go to your school counselor for help. Knowing when to ask for help is a strength, not a weakness.

Stress—it's a part of growing up, but you can deal with it. How? In the GirlPower way:

  • Talk that stress out! Discuss your worries and concerns with somebody you trust. Don't keep it all bottled up inside.
  • Play sports. Exercise releases natural chemicals in your body called endorphins that actually make you feel good.
  • Read the comics or watch a funny TV show or movie.
  • Go for a walk. Pay attention to what you see.
  • Plan a party with friends.
  • Make a list of five things you can do well and five things you really like about yourself.
  • Write down your goals for next week, next month, or next summer. Write down three things you can do that will help you reach each of your future plans.
  • Try something new. This can be simple, such as reading a type of book that is different from your usual choice or rearranging your desk. Or, you can really go for the gold and sign up for a new club or sport at school. Taking on a new challenge can make you feel great!
  • Release your creativity. Write in a journal. Make up a song. Create a dance. Do some crafts.
  • One of the best ways to deal with stress is by helping somebody else. Take care of a neighbor's garden, volunteer at a nursing home, or help out at an abandoned animal shelter.
  • Laugh at yourself. It's hard to do, but it will release your tension and improve your outlook.
  • Relax! Make some time for yourself to just kick back and rest.

Posted June 2005
Updated June 2012


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