Weight loss

How parents can help teens deal with body image issues

It's not just women who are susceptible to body image issues. Men, too, are increasingly feeling the pressure to look perfect.

And social media is making it worse. "A person who subscribes too much to social media can begin to believe that every human body, particularly his own, is supposed to be reed thin, with a thigh gap and has the ability to touch the belly button going from behind the body," said Dr Lee Ee Lian, a senior consultant psychiatrist at Promises, a mental health clinic in Novena Medical Centre.

The innocuous act of following such social media posts can be detrimental to one's self-esteem, she said.

Dr Ng Kah Wee, a consultant at the department of psychiatry at the Singapore General Hospital, said: "From experience, we notice that body image issues surface when there are stressors, such as a change in the school environment, teasing or bullying in school, dieting practices within the family or even physical illness."

Vulnerable groups are children, adolescents and those with low self-esteem, poor body image, eating disorders or depression.

This is particularly so when the parents of these children and teenagers are not actively engaged in their lives, or they lack responsible adult supervision, Dr Lee said.

She said parents can play their part by:

• Talking to their children, even at an early age, about how wonderfully the human body is made.

•Emphasising healthy eating habits and physical activity for good health, rather than focusing on being slim or looking good.

•Praising their children for what they did and how their bodies helped them to achieve it, rather than commending them for looking pretty, slim or cute.

• Inspiring their children using positive role models like athletes and educationists, instead of Victoria's Secret models.

Those who struggle with insecurities about their bodies and looks or possess a poor body image can try the following tips, said Dr Lee.

GET FIT AND HEALTHY

Exercise to feel better and not just to burn calories. Focus on exercises that have an enjoyable component, involve socialising (such as tennis) and build strength, posture and balance (such as pilates).

BE WITH THE RIGHT FRIENDS

Hang out with friends with balanced attitudes about themselves; friends who do not judge each other's looks.

Minimise the time spent with people who are overly concerned with dieting, slimming and aesthetics.

GET SPIRITUAL

Find your emotional centre, which can help with perspectives in life.

FOCUS ON WHAT BODY CAN DO

Celebrate what your body can do, and not what it looks like. For example, American tennis player Serena Williams is not stick-thin, but she is a very successful athlete.

TRY THIS BODY IMAGE EXERCISE

Think of one or two positive role models in your lives who have nothing to do with the way they look. It can be anyone from your grandmother to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'How parents can help teens deal with body image issues'. Print Edition | Subscribe