Teen body image Q&A
- Credit: Hannah Stone
Norfolk 16-year-old Hannah Stone speaks speaks frankly about teens, social media and body image
How can parents help teenagers have a healthy attitude to the way they look?
Hannah: By encouraging health, not image. 'You look pretty,' is a positive comment, but these types of comments can sometimes subtly imply that worth is measured by image. Consequently, young people feel pressured to present the best physical version of themselves all the time.
And how can friends help?
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Hannah: To have others to talk to about how you are feeling is very important. To give and receive compliments from people around you makes you feel better about yourself. Friends don't just help you to have a positive viewpoint about your own body image, they are brilliant to 'rant' to and listen to.
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What are some of the most helpful things people have said to you, or you've seen on social media, on the subject?
Hannah: Having suffered with anorexia in the past, I often over analyse what I see on social media, and what others say to me. Instagram has been both poisonous and life-saving. On one hand, the media platform is centred on one's image, and on the other, it allows me to connect with people in a similar position to myself. It is encouraging my own recovery to follow people who have also overcome the disorder with an increasing amount of people presenting themselves (and their image) openly and honestly. No filters!
And the least helpful?
Hannah: The pressure to present perfection in every way, shape, and form. Before I post a photo on Instagram or Facebook I over-think it. I think about: who will see it? When should I post it? How do I look in the photo (focusing on any imperfections)? Should I tag that person? Should I caption it? What should I caption?
These questions cause me anxiety, to the extent I often do not post the images I would like to. I know it is irrational to think in such depth, but I do. I think the worry is mainly caused by other people's judgement, and the pressure from society to conform to an 'acceptable' image.
Have you seen such anxiety have a damaging effect on people?
Hannah: Unfortunately so. I know a number of people who are in recovery from eating disorders. Negative thoughts about their own body image will have likely been a contributing factor to their illness. I am also sensitive myself to how other people talk about themselves. Many use 'fat' negatively, as a synonym for ugly to describe themselves. However the word shouldn't carry such negative connotations.
And on you?
Hannah: The negative view I have of my own body image contributed to me becoming quite unwell with an eating disorder last year. I often wear oversized clothing, as it is just what I am comfortable in. I admire those with more confidence.
What kind of advice might you give younger teenagers about using social media responsibly?
Hannah: Don't believe everything you see. Don't compare yourself to something that is unachievable and worse still, unhealthy. Be mindful that the majority of images you see have been edited. Use it to connect with your friends, but don't fall into an obsessive trap.
How do you think young people can protect themselves?
Hannah: Everyone deals with worry differently. National Citizen Service (NCS) is a great way to conquer your fears and overcome anxieties – I was able to surround myself with positive people and have exciting new experiences.
What can make teenagers feel more positive about themselves?
Hannah: For teens, having a strong sense of self-worth and being able to articulate your ideas on issues that affect you can help you feel more positive. For me, NCS had a big impact on how positively I see myself – the friends I made, the skills I learned – it all added up to a life-changing summer that helped me to discover my new-found confidence.