Mixed Messages About Teens, Bodies and Weight Stigma

Liza Casella is a homeschooled 10th grader living in Iowa. She enjoys music, physics, and writing, and she plans to move to New York someday.

Liza Casella is a homeschooled 10th grader living in Iowa. She enjoys music, physics, and writing, and she plans to move to New York someday.

BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change.  The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.

Researchers at NYU found that we make eleven major decisions about someone in the first seven seconds of meeting them[1] so it’s established that you’re going to judge someone no matter what. There’s no way around that. It is hard wired into our brains.

What is the point of knowing this? It’s that you won’t be able to stop people from judging you. It’s useless to try.  It’s like trying to stop someone from looking at furniture and telling if it’s a chair or a couch or a table. You can’t do it.

Unfortunately, judging in today’s environment isn’t about identifying friend and foe, it’s often about picking on size and shape.

There is a huge amount of stigma associated with being any weight other than “normal”. As humans, we make assumptions that overweight people are lazy, very thin people are anorexic, and people in the middle are healthy.  We are constantly applying these stereotypes onto other people and judging ourselves by the same criteria, no matter how inaccurate the criteria may be and that’s internalized stigma.

The only thing you can do to make a difference in how you feel is to stop judging yourself.

“I’m too fat, I’m too thin, my hips are too wide, my collar bones don’t show enough…”   It’s hard to stop judging yourself when negative self talk has become something so embedded in our society that if you can’t complain about yourself you are considered vain.  Internalized weight and body stigma are EXPECTED from us.

Truthfully though, most of us are much more concerned about more important things. Our futures, our hobbies, our friends and families.  Now might be a good time to mention that I am a 15 year old girl.

I don’t like when someone is so set on me having a positive body image that they fail to recognize there are things I care about more. If you are concerned about the way I feel about my body, help me keep it from being the only thing I fixate on by expanding my world.

I’m here to say that society might be over-hyping the focus on “feeling good about our bodies” a little. I think the media often forgets that teenage girls have other concerns besides how they look. It’s the word “teenage” that many people associate with silly, overly vain girls wearing ten layers of makeup and shorts that are so short the pocket linings hang out.

What they are doing is sending the message that how you look and how you think you look is very important, possibly more important than anything else. I can’t see how this is healthy. Perhaps girls would feel better about their bodies if we didn’t make such a big deal about how these girls “should” feel about how they look, and instead sent the message that being passionate about the things you care about is far more important than how you feel about how you look.  Being 15, that is my perspective.

Humans, especially during adolescence, rebel against being told what to think and what to do. Maybe by telling girls that they need to feel good about themselves constantly, the message being reinforced  is that there is something wrong if they DON’T always feel good about themselves, that they don’t have the choice to feel  they don’t look good and still live through it. This could be similar to the problem teens have with being told what and how to eat. Researchers from the Journal of Pediatrics report that too much parent control over what teenagers are eating is leading to worse eating habits.[2]

There’s no way to stop someone else from judging you, and there’s no way to stop judging other people, the only person you can stop yourself from judging is you. And why shouldn’t you do that?