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5 Ways to Stop Scapegoating Your Body

Teen girls and women often dislike their bodies.

Key points

  • Many teenage girls feel too big.
  • There are many ways to deal effectively with this common feeling.
  • Mothers may inadvertently be modeling unhealthy body image issues.

Dear Dr. G.,

I am a 17-year-old girl. I am going into my senior year of high school. I have this nagging problem that I really have to talk about. Please help me. Up until the time that I was 12, I was skinny as a stick just like all of my other friends. After I started getting my period, my body got bigger and bigger. I loved being skinny. I do not like being curvy. My pediatrician says that I am at a perfect weight for my height. My mother says that I look good but I can tell by the way that she comments on what I am eating that she thinks that I am fat and big. My mother is thin but still looks in the mirror and says that she needs to lose 5 pounds. This is really annoying. How can I feel comfortable with my body when all of my friends and even my mother are so much smaller than me? Because I feel big, I get so self-conscious. I sometimes avoid going out with friends because I feel so much bigger than them and then I feel lonely. I feel so nervous and down about this whole problem. I am not sure what and how to think and feel about it. My mother just tells me to exercise more. I run and work out and I am not sure how much energy I have to exercise more. Do other girls feel like this? What should I do? This drives me crazy and as I explained my mother is anything but helpful. By the way, I am really starting to hate her.

Dear Frustrated Teen Girl,

First, I must say that I am so happy that you reached out to me. You are describing a very common problem that women of all ages experience — feeling that their bodies are too large even if they are strong, beautiful, and healthy. The female body does undergo a transformation during puberty and many females are both unprepared for and uncomfortable with this. I have worked with many women of all ages who are self-conscious about their bodies. I have a number of ways for you to think about this issue which may be both helpful and healthy.

  1. Bear in mind that the way that you think affects the way you feel. Challenge your thoughts that associate being thin with being good and being curvy with being bad and somehow less than desirable. All types of bodies are beautiful and unique. Think not only about the size of each part of your body but also about the strength of your body and the wonderful things it can do. This will not be easy and will take lots of practice.
  2. Try to figure out what else in your life you may be upset about. Perhaps you are struggling with other issues that you haven't yet identified and are scapegoating your body when it is not your body that is the real problem. I strongly believe that when women get distressed, they often blame their body size. This is unfair. Interpersonal issues are often the cause of anxiety and avoidant behavior like not going out with your friends.
  3. Keep in mind that it is highly unlikely that your peers are judging your body. I am aware that you are self-conscious about your body but your friends are too busy thinking about their own issues to be focusing on your body. All teenagers are highly self-conscious. I am sure about this. I see and hear about it all the time.
  4. Teenage girls often learn to dislike their bodies from mothers who devalue their own bodies. This makes me very sad. It is often the case that mothers inadvertently teach their daughters to dislike their developing and mature bodies. How can a daughter like her body if her own mother is calling herself too large? Think about this. Your mother may need to work on her own self-image. Mothers don't realize what powerful role models they are. If you have a mother who likes her own body then you are both extremely lucky. Please think about this. Your mother's issue does not have to become your issue.
  5. Think about what else you might really be afraid of. Maybe it is not your body after all. Perhaps you are afraid of getting older, becoming more independent, or even becoming like the adults around you? After identifying these concerns, you may be able to separate your body from these fears. That would be a wonderful knot to untie.