Most teens worry about their bodies. It seems to be a natural result of undergoing rapid and major physical changes that go hand-in-hand with a budding interest in the opposite sex. But when teens worry excessively about their bodies, it can indicate something about their state-of-mind, according to Michael Lewis, PhD, University Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.
Lewis conducted a survey in which 114 13-year-olds half boys and half girls were asked to score their level of satisfaction with a list of 24 body parts and other physical characteristics. The same group was asked to do the identical self-test at ages 15 and 18.
The psychologist found that teens who were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with five or fewer items were a relatively happy group, with less than 10 percent reporting emotional problems. But 50 percent of those who were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with six or more of the 24 items reported emotional problems.
"What this indicates," says Lewis, "is that expressions of body dissatisfaction can give a parent a glimpse into how a teenager is feeling about himself. There is a definite correlation between a high level of dissatisfaction with one's body and a negative state-of-mind. If your teenager often talks about her fat legs and big hips, she may be expressing more than a desire to lose weight."
The top "dislikes" of teenagers at various points in their development show how boys and girls differ in their concerns, and also how those worries change as they get older.
Girls at 13 worry most about their teeth, thighs, chest, nose, weight and body build. Boys at 13 worry about their teeth, height, waist, weight and legs. Far more girls are dissatisfied with various parts of their bodies at age 15 than at 13. They are particularly concerned about their thighs, weight, legs and hips. The boys at 15 are most dissatisfied with their weight and body build. Girls at 18 are most unhappy with their thighs, hips, waist, nose, weight and chest. The boys were generally satisfied with their physical characteristics weight was the only factor to get any significant scoring.
Winter 1998 Table of Contents