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Mirror Reflections: Navigating Body Image Distress in High School in Scarsdale, NY

Updated: Sep 24, 2023

eating disorders, body image distress, eating disorder therapy, disordered eating and mental health

High school is a pivotal time in a young person's life, marked by physical, emotional, and social changes. One prominent issue during this phase is body image distress, where students often struggle with how they perceive their bodies and how they believe others perceive them. Body image distress is something very common in high school students and is a topic I speak on weekly. In this blog post, I'll dive into understanding body image distress in high school, its impact, and provide strategies to promote self-acceptance and overall well-being.

Understanding Body Image Distress

The Influence of Media and Society

High school students are exposed to social media messages and societal standards that often depict an unrealistic and narrow view of beauty. These unrealistic standards can lead to negative body image perceptions and a desire to attain an unachievable "ideal" body. Whether it is a tall, skinny and fit woman they are seeing or a tall, muscular and athletic man, many kids in high school are receiving messages of what they "should" look like and they have little evidence to support looking differently as a positive.

Peer Comparison and Social Media

Constant exposure to carefully curated images on social media platforms can create a harmful cycle of comparison. Students may feel inadequate or less attractive compared to their peers, leading to body dissatisfaction and self-esteem issues. There are many accounts online that perpetuate the idea of the "ideal" body and social media influencers capitalize on the vulnerability of teenagers for their own business. It's very hard to not follow the "cool trends" in high school out of fear of embarrassment.

Physical Changes and Puberty

The physical changes that come with adolescence and puberty can cause body image distress. Adolescents often struggle to adjust to their changing bodies and may feel self-conscious about these changes. They are typically on high alert in school during this time because they are wondering how many people are noticing changes like they are and what their peers might be thinking about.

The Impact on Mental Health

Increased Stress and Anxiety

Body image distress can result in heightened stress and anxiety levels, affecting academic performance and overall mental well-being. Students may struggle with concentration, engagement in activities, and forming meaningful relationships. When speaking with clients about body image distress, it is typically the only thing they can think about at school because it can be overwhelming. It becomes difficult for them to see other things in their life that are positive when this feels so impactful to them.

Development of Eating Disorders

Severe body image distress can potentially contribute to the development of eating disorders, as students may resort to extreme dieting or unhealthy eating habits in an attempt to achieve an "ideal" body shape. High school is a time where kids are starting to find ways to manage their problems on their own and they sometimes don't make the best choices. A common issue I hear about is kids not eating lunch at school due to body image distress and social anxiety which can become triggering to their peers.

Lower Self-Esteem and Self-Worth

Persistent negative body image perceptions can effect self-esteem and self-worth, leading to a lack of confidence and a diminished sense of self. It can be really difficult for kids to see their positives when they are not happy with their body as it tends to be the main thing they focus on. They feel their body is their first impression in school (what they look like, what they're wearing) and that they are being judged by peers based on what they look like so other traits don't matter as much.

Fostering a Positive Body Image

Education and Media Literacy

Evaluating the legitimacy of social media posts can be extremely tough as photoshopping and image editing apps become more high-tech and undetectable to the naked eye. Reminding your children that social media isn't reality is a great first step. Encouraging them to unfollow most beauty influencers is a great start as well.

Encourage Healthy Habits

Promote a focus on a healthy lifestyle rather than on achieving a certain body type. Emphasize regular movement, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep for overall well-being. Finding their own balance can be tough but guiding your child in the right direction is helpful. Challenging your own thoughts about food, weight and exercise is a big piece of this as well, as kids pick up on things at home too. Education in these areas is a must for most family units.

Open Dialogue and Support Systems

Create a safe and open space for students to discuss their body image concerns without judgment. School counselors, teachers, and therapy can play a vital role in providing emotional support and guidance. Therapy can be a big help in body image distress in order to prevent any disordered eating/other behaviors before they even have a chance to begin.

Celebrate Diversity and Individuality

Celebrate and appreciate diversity in body shapes, sizes, and appearances. Encourage an inclusive environment where differences are respected and valued. There are many books and resources that help foster the need of education about body diversity in your home.

Addressing body image distress in high school is crucial for nurturing confident, well-rounded individuals. By fostering a positive body image and providing the necessary support and education, we can help students embrace their uniqueness and value themselves beyond physical appearances, promoting mental health and self-acceptance. If you notice your child struggling with body image distress, please reinforce that it is a normal experience for kids and reach out for support. We are here to help!


eating disorders, eating disorder therapist, emdr therapy, body image and mental health

Stephanie Polizzi is a licensed psychotherapist (LMHC) in Scarsdale, NY at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling, serving clients living in NY, NJ and FL.

Stephanie specializes in working with children, teens and adults struggling with anxiety,eating disorders, behavioral challenges, life transitions and trauma.


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