Do weight loss resolutions fuel body image issues? A Q&A with Counsellor Sarah

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With the New Year almost upon us, it can be tempting to line up resolutions to guide us as we set off into another exciting year. But are they ultimately helpful, or harmful?

Many New Year’s Resolutions relate to weight and body image, so we’ve sat down with Kids Help Phone Counsellor Sarah to talk through just exactly what body image is, how it impacts kids, and what kids and adults alike can do to promote self-esteem and confidence in 2016.

What is body image?

Body image is the way people view their physical appearance.

Many kids (and adults) believe that their physical appearance is a representation of their self-worth, and believe others appraise them based on looks.

Body image is not brought up as often as many other issues, but it is often tied into other issues such as bullying and self-harm.

What are some of the negative impacts of body image issues on young people?

Because kids tie their body image to their ‘social worthiness’, the negative impacts of body image issues can be great – it can cause them to withdraw from social activities, and cause them to feel social anxiety and depression.

Many young girls are bullied about their weight, and they may come to believe that it is their body’s fault they are being tormented. Sometimes, they may then take it out on their bodies by means of an eating disorder, or by self-harming.

Kids may become fixated on changing their appearance, because they believe that is what will make them happy, and ‘fix’ everything that is wrong.

Are there differences between how young girls and young guys talk about, and think about body image?

Girls tend to talk about it more in terms of losing weight, being pretty not fitting in with the popular crowd or being bullied. Girls tend to be ‘sexualized’ at an early age, and might use their body as a way to gain acceptance or validation from boys.

Boys tend to talk about not being muscular enough, or tall enough, and the issues they have are very often tied to ideas about ‘being manly’ and masculine. They don’t tend to talk about dieting or eating as much.

What issues do you explore in a counselling session with a young person about body image?

First, I listen to hear what is going on specifically for that young person – I put a lot of emphasis on validation.

I stay away from ‘markers’ such as weight, or body mass index – they aren’t helpful and they can cause fixation, such as saying “If I weighed x kilograms, then I wouldn’t be fat.”

If appropriate, I might ask about some things about their body that they like, and about ways they can focus appreciation on to those area and practice having positive feelings towards their body and appearance.

How do you promote self-esteem and confidence in body image in youth? What are a few things people can do each day or week to achieve this?

Often when I counsel kids, I tell them that activities that strengthen a positive connection with the body – meditation, yoga, even walking with friends – promote confidence in their personal body image.

Another great thing to do is be aware, and in turn raise awareness, of the narrow view of beauty portrayed in the media and question the dominant body image presented in many advertisements, music videos and television shows.

In your opinion, should people make New Year’s Resolutions around body image? If not, what should they do instead?

Absolutely not! New Year’s Resolutions just set people up to feel bad.

If there is truly something you want to change about your appearance, start right now, today, by making small, easy to incorporate changes.

For example, if increasing your health is something you want to achieve, try other types of health-related goals that don’t simply focus on a number on the scale, like:

  • Training to walk or run a 5k event in the spring or summer
  • Start walking with a group of friends
  • Commit to trying a new vegetable or healthy recipe every few weeks
  • Joining a sports team