What is a typical body image?

Some children and nearly all adolescents worry about their physical appearance in some way. Body consciousness and its perception is significantly affected by physical changes that occur during adolescence, by peer relationships and acceptance, as well as by messages on social media about the ideal and preferred body. It is expected that sometimes, teenagers attempt to change their appearance through hair styling, makeup, clothing, and accessories quickly and with relative ease. Because of the many changes and influences on the perception of one's body, some level of body dissatisfaction is typical. However, extreme focus on physical appearance and excessive attempts to change it should be given attention to.

When should I be concerned about a student’s body image?

Some students have very unrealistic ideas about how they look. Those with negative body image perceptions may keep their thoughts about their appearance, and any attempts to make changes, a closely guarded secret. Others may talk about many things they do not like about themselves openly. Both are usually unhealthy.

Teachers may observe that a student seems to be overly fixated on their appearance. These children and adolescents may have an unrealistic body image, meaning that while others see a healthy person, the student sees themselves as an entirely different person when they look in the mirror. Additionally, reassurance from family or friends that there is nothing wrong with their appearance may do little to change their thinking or what they see in the mirror.


Other concerning behaviors include:

  • Use of nutritional supplements and anabolics.
  • Excessive exercising (e.g., weight lifting).
  • Persistent occupation with skin scars, hair and face features (e.g., excessive use of make-up, solarium).
  • A feeling of unattractiveness.
  • Repeatedly check perceived defects in mirrors or cell photos of self.
  • Low self-esteem, emotional instability, and problems in social interaction.
  • Frequent request to leave the classroom.
  • Discomfort with or refusal to stand in front of the class (e.g., for presentations).


What can I do to help a student with body image problems?

If a teacher has any concerns about a student with a negative body image there are a few things they may attempt:

  • Be supportive. It is important for teachers to let the student know what they have noticed and that they are there to help. Engaging in a supportive conversation may help children to see that their thoughts and perceptions have value.
  • Talk about it. Teachers may attempt to gain more information from the student. It is important to ask simple questions to understand what they are experiencing.. Listen to how they feel about their body image taking their perspective into account, even if you don't agree with what they are saying.
  • Without disregarding worries about appearance, help the student think about the fact that a healthy and functioning body is more important than anything. Even though looks are important and count for something, our bodies allow us to experience life regardless of their form or looks. Our legs allow us to walk and go to new places or have new adventures. Our arms allow us to hug the people we love. Our core helps us stand and stay up to do the things we like.
  • Call the student's attention to other qualities they value they may have, such as their witty personality or achievements.
  • Bring the concerns to a caregiver’s attention. A student’s caregivers need to know of anything concerning occurring in school. Caregivers may also be able to identify if concerns are present outside of school.
  • Seek help from a school mental health professional. Because body image difficulties have the potential for more widespread emotional and physical issues, support from a school mental health professional is recommended.
  • Seek support. With a caregiver’s permission, teachers may consult other professionals who specialize in helping children with emotional difficulties.

Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.

The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).

Body image problems that are too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, discrepant from those experienced by children the same age, and that negatively interfere with classroom daily activities, may indicate the possibility of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.


Where to find more information

Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Body Dysmorphic Disorder can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].

If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.

You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.



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