Teens and Body Image- Why we Don’t Always Like What we see in the Mirror

Body dysmorphic disorder is defined by the Mayo Clinic as a type of chronic mental illness where you can’t stop thinking about a flaw in your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don’t want to be seen by anyone. So, let me say that again in teen language. You think some part of your body is so hideous that you need to hide it constantly, obsess about it, and stare at it all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, all teens are concerned with the way they look. That’s just part of being a teen. Now, don’t confuse being a “typical” teen with having body dysmorphia. When a teen struggles with body dysmorphia, s/he focuses in on one or two particular parts of their body and obsesses over that area specifically on a constant basis. Like, “My nose is so crooked, I can’t go out in public!” Or, “My feet are huge, I could never wear those shoes!”  Usually, in these cases your friends will not understand what you are talking about because they don’t see it.  This can cause you to feel even more alone because no one sees what you see when they look in the mirror.

I’ve encountered many teens who have shared with me stories of their own body dysmorphia. For example, some can rationally identify that their present weight isn’t considered clinically overweight; however, their brains still tell them that they are obese. Some will honestly look in the mirror and still see that young girl who was overweight, or had braces, bad acne or glasses (usually in 4th, 5th or sixth-grade.)

One factor that always seems to go along with body dysmorphia is name-calling or teasing.  You were probably sensitive to your weight, the braces or being taller than the rest of the class and a bullied honed in on that.  The experience was traumatizing and you were never able to let it go. Being so young, you wouldn’t have the tools to deal with those feelings and most kids don’t tell their parents either, which is a huge mistake. Parents can help you process the experience and give you advice or tools to deal with the teasing and to let it go. Unfortunately, many teens carry the painful scars from being teased into high school.  Although in present-day, they know that they are not overweight, those nicknames still stick in their heads. The trauma from being teased doesn’t just go away and when they look in the mirror they still see their overweight self from a painful time.

I’ve never agreed with the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” I’ve seen the opposite. Damaging name-calling that carries over to the teenage years.  Names that teens can’t get out of their heads and hear over and over like a broken record.  Some start to believe the name-calling and see themselves in a negative light.  Many teens have told me, that although they’ve lost the weight and the name-calling was years ago, they are still waiting for it to happen again. They walk down the halls in high school feeling like a fraud.  Scared that those names will come back to haunt them because maybe they deserve it. To me, that’s much more painful than breaking a bone because when you break a bone, you set it and it heals. For some of these teens, since the scars aren’t visible, no one else sees the pain, and they didn’t know how to release it to heal.  One thing is clear, if they don’t deal with the root of the problem the pain will remain and they will continue to be challenged every time they look in the mirror.

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The Importance of Inner Confidence for Healthy Living and Self-Esteem

Guest blog by Domonique Chardon

Confidence (n.) a : a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances. b: faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way.

I grew up in a tough environment, where just “being positive” about anything was not an easy task. My family life was unstable, both of my parents struggled with drug and alcohol addictions and I was extremely poor.  On top of that, I suffered from social anxiety which made me feel awkward and uncomfortable most of the time, like I didn’t fit in or belong. Sometimes I would just lay in bed and cry; cry about my life and why things were the way they were; dreading going to school for fear of running into the wrong person, who might say or do something to me that would ruin my day.  I was sad and depressed and it seemed like no one cared or noticed.

I’m not sure when a change happened, but I started to become very angry at my situation. Mad at the world and everyone around me. I wanted others to hurt like I did. I was looking for anyone to upset me, say something or challenge me; so that I could fight them and take out all the hurt I felt on them. But the anger I felt, had another unintended effect of me: out of anger, I found personal strength to march to my own beat. My angry protest became a battle-cry: I was not going to let the opinions of others bring me down; and if someone tried, I dared them to see what was going to happen if they tried to embarrass or pick on me.  And believe me I had my fair share of bullies and people who seemed to get a kick out of seeing me miserable.

What I didn’t realize is that I was relying on inner confidence.  Having this has allowed me to rise above even the worst of labels and stigmas placed on me by others. Words hurt, I cannot deny that. And unfortunately, there will always be people who will try to hurt you with their words; but I have found that you can destroy them silently with a powerful surety and inner confidence. A mental determination in which you declare that YOU ARE the master of your destiny, YOU ARE NOT what others deem you to be. Knowing this has given me not only the strength to get through difficult times, but also a personal satisfaction.

It wasn’t easy – it took a great deal of mental conditioning to get to a point where I didn’t respond with my emotions or my fists. What I realized is that life wouldn’t always be difficult, that happiness started with me. As long as I was content with the decisions I made, I didn’t owe anyone anything.  Without even knowing I was developing my inner confidence.  Although some tend may think being confident means being arrogant, boastful or conceited; I believe inner confidence means being brave and strong. It means having the ability to make my own decisions, and to test my boundaries and limits when I chose to.

Having inner confidence has been a great help to me on my personal journey and I hope it can be to you as well.

Domonique Chardon is a Bay Area Area native, young professional, aspiring writer, and spiritual being having a human experience.  Follow Domonique @domonique_007. 

Megan’s Story: Finding Self-Esteem after Anorexia and Depression

Megan is a 17 years old teen girl who sees her self-esteem as moderate to low.  She was an obese child in grammar school and lost 40 pounds by eating healthy and swimming regularly. She was bullied and teased relentlessly because of the weight. That had a very damaging effect on her. She then swung the pendulum in the complete opposite direction and between eighth-grade and freshman year of high school she became anorexic.  As an anorexic, she counted calories and every chew. To this day she needs someone to distract her when she’s eating or she will count the calories and not eat enough. She also suffers from depression, which was obvious to me from the start of the interview. I’d say Megan was the saddest girl I interviewed for this book. She smiled once during the whole interview, and that was when I asked her what made her happy. Her response to me was “food” with a dreamy smile on her face.She has an unhealthy love affair with food. Her family situation is far from ideal, like many girls her deal with eating disorders. She has no relationship with her father, literally. Her parents are still married, although it seems they shouldn’t be based on her story. They all live in the same house, which seems to act like a prison for her mother.  It seems to be a very depressing environment.  She said that she learned a long time ago that it’s not worth trying to please her dad because it’s impossible. For years she tried and only failed over and over again in her father’s eyes. She clearly identifies the eating disorder and depression as directly related to her father.  Or rather, the lack of relationship with her father. She talked about how cruel kids can be and how she would never bully anyone because she knows what it feels like firsthand. She identifies and hangs out with a group of girls who “could be” considered bullies at her school. I’m assuming this is a strategy or defense so that she herself would never be bullied by them. She still struggles with her relationship with food and has very poor body image. When she looks in the mirror she still sees that obese child. She sees a therapist weekly and takes antidepressants. She still laments for the time when she was anorexic.