How Body Image Is Formed in Your Youth - dummies

How Body Image Is Formed in Your Youth

By S. Renee Smith, Vivian Harte

Generally, what you experienced with your family when you were growing up had a direct effect on the thoughts and feelings you had about your body. Think back to your younger years. How closely do the following statements describe your family?

  • No one exercised.

  • The car was used even for short trips.

  • Heavy, fattening food was the usual fare.

  • No one drank water.

  • Dessert was served at the end of every dinner.

  • You were told that something was wrong with your body.

  • Most activities revolved around food.

  • Celebrations were based on having sweet foods.

  • Your family went to restaurants with unlimited buffets.

  • Your parents complained about not being the right size.

  • Your siblings and/or parents made fun of your body.

  • Everyone watched television or was on the computer during most of his free time.

If your family members had poor health habits, and were obsessed with their bodies and felt disgust toward them, you probably disliked your body too. And if you had positive role models and the people in your family were happy about their bodies, you most likely grew up liking yours as well.

Especially for a girl, body image is influenced heavily by watching her mother. Seeing her mother in front of the mirror or going through the hardship of dieting and making critical comments about herself influences young girls to do the same things. One study found that girls as young as 7 years old mimic their mother when she says how fat she is, how old she is, or how bad she looks.

Keep in mind, however, that the messages you received from your childhood family do not necessarily transfer into later life. Some people who grew up in homes where they got strong negative messages about body image do not carry these same messages into adulthood. They’re happy with their body no matter what it looks like.

Conversely, some people whose family didn’t address body image at all are obsessed with what their body looks like as they grow older.

Here’s an exercise to help you identify the body messages you received in your youth. In your notebook, answer the following questions. After you finish answering these questions, write a summary of what messages you got about your body and what it should look like when you were younger and also how these messages affect you today.

  • When you were growing up, how did you feel about your body?

  • How did this change or stay the same when you entered school?

  • How did you feel about your body when you were a teenager?

  • What did your parents say about their own bodies?

  • What did your parents say about your body?

  • When you were a teenager, did you subscribe to magazines? If so, what images did you see in them? What stories were about body image, dieting, cosmetics, and fashion?

  • Did you diet when you were younger? If so, what was the outcome?

  • Did you go swimming in the summers? How did you feel about getting in a bathing suit?