I know this is a tall order. Trying to instill a positive body image in teens, especially girls, can seem daunting in a culture that chips away at their self-worth. But just like David beat Goliath, we can beat this enemy at its game by applying simple truths from the Bible and a little bit of common sense.
1. Tell them they were created in His image.
How a girl views her body is rooted in her identity. If that identity is built on sand, her world will crumble when she hits her teen years. From an early age, it is important to tell girls over and over that they are created in God’s image. Many times in our Christianese, we disassociate God’s image with our physical bodies, but that is a big mistake.
With good intentions we overemphasize the things we must do to bear His image. Don’t get me wrong, the Bible does teach that our behavior and bearing God’s image are closely related (See God’s Masterpiece May Not be What You Think for more). But God’s image is also reflected in our bodies. (For a detailed explanation see, In His Image: A Defining Truth for Women).
That is a key truth for girls and young women to hold deep in their hearts. When a girl looks in the mirror and knows that in some way, some how her body reflects God’s image, it makes a a lot harder to criticize what she sees. When her identity is rooted in truth, instead of the world’s lies, she is more likely to develop a positive image of her own body.
In today’s age, the biggest threat to a positive body image in teens is social media. Personally, I am not completely against allowing teens access to use social media as long as it is on a limited basis. What better place than in the safety of a Christian home to help teach and guides our teens through the ups and downs of social media.
On the other hand, unrestricted access or exposure when they are too young will have a negative effect on body image.
There is no debate on this one. It is a fact and the research shows the resounding correlation between negative body image and social media. The perfectly edited images that pop up on their screens, the “like” structures, the filters — all of it — work against our children’s best interests.
So if you are not using parental controls to limit time on social media accounts, it is time to start.
3. Modesty matters in promoting positive body image in teens.
Short shorts and low-cut tops are popular among young adolescent girls today. We may be tempted to let our teen girls go with the flow, but if we do, we are inadvertently sending them the wrong message — that their worth is in their sex appeal. It is a horrible message.
Making rules about what is appropriate clothing teaches girls that their bodies are worth protecting. Yes, they might be mad at you because they can’t wear that cute halter top the rest of their friends are wearing. But if the rules are coupled with biblical explanations of how God wants men to value them for their love of Him rather than their looks–they will appreciate the security they feel in your protection.
4. Do not associate gain weight or weight loss with looks.
I struggled with body image as a child. I won’t lie. I still do but to a much lesser extent. But the most damaging words that left deep scars were the comments about my weight. And I see the pain in kids’ eyes when well-intentioned parents do the same to them.
Being overweight is not good, but it has nothing to do with beauty. It has everything to do with health. When I limit my girls’ consumption of sugar it is because it compromises their immune system. And that is what I tell them. If we talk about the negative effects of weight gain, we talk about how it puts extra stress on their heart and their joints. When they complain about me limiting their carb consumption, I tell them excess carbs will make them feel tired or sluggish. It never is about looks. It is about their bodies being the temple of God and how they are responsible for stewarding it well (See I Corinthians 6:19-20).
5. Teach her the vanity of beauty.
Proverbs 31:30 is a simple, but powerful verse.
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
We often think that kids know simple truths like this, but they don’t. If we struggle to put this verse into practice (and I sure do!), then our kids will have a harder time putting it into practice.
It takes intentional work on our part to teach and remind our kids of God’s truth. But we also have to make sure to not sabotage our efforts by sending subliminal messages to the contrary. Are we over-obsessed with our own beauty? About our likes on Instagram? Do they see us spending more time on our makeup than in prayer or reading God’s word?
Our teen girls will absorb what they see. Let’s work to make sure they see Proverbs 31:30 in us.
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