How I See Me: Students battle their insecure body images


Andrew Tow

Writing positive affirmations on her mirror helps senior Megan Sherman counter the negative thoughts she sometimes has about her body.

By Steven Curto and Tanner Smith

Social pressures to ‘look pretty’ are part of the problem

With constant pressure to look a certain way from advertisers perpetuating the myth of a “perfect body”, it is no wonder that many students have dealt with body image issues. In addition, the increasing importance of social media has led many students to feel they need to edit photos to obtain “perfection” online. Despite a society of growing acceptance, It is still commonplace for someone to be mocked for their appearance. Unsurprisingly, this negative body image has led many students to deal with depression and anxiety.

For junior Addison McLaughlin, her body image has been something she has struggled with for a long time and started due to being teased about her weight.

“I’ve been struggling with my insecurities since I was probably 12,” McLaughlin said. “Halfway through elementary school, I was bullied for weight, but until that point, I never really noticed there was anything different about me I didn’t know that being bigger was a bad thing.”

During a time of poor perception of her body image, McLaughlin felt depressed and had trouble eating.

“I have not always been the happiest person,” McLaughlin. “Around the time I started having insecurities I developed a little bit of an eating disorder, and … I was really anxious and depressed all the time and I was really irritable which is normal with an eating disorder and my hair was starting to fall out.”

In addition to McLaughlin, junior Cali Rhodes’s negative body image causes her to struggle with depression and a decreased her view of herself.

“I wasn’t happy with what I looked like. I wasn’t happy with things that was going on with my life and how my body looked impacted how I felt,” Rhodes said. “I can definitely say I was not happy with a lot of stuff throughout middle school … I couldn’t sit around my family sometimes because I … focus[ed] on this more than being with my family.”

Thanks to help from her close friends and family, McLaughlin was able to get through her struggle.

“My mom noticed because she also had struggled with it so she noticed the signs. My oldest sister Kaylee also notice because she had dealt with it too. But my dad and my other sister didn’t know and a lot of my friends didn’t know,” McLaughlin said. “It was some of my guy friends that noticed more than anyone else. I’m still friends with most of them today because they helped me get through [it].”

While it may seem difficult, psychology teacher Kristen Crandall feels that any student can learn to accept their body image.

“Anyone is capable of learning to love their body. Each person’s journey to that will look slightly different. It can help to take some time to consider what your body is doing for you at any given moment,” Crandall said. “The human body is doing amazing things at all times and if we can marvel at its function and health, we won’t be so hard on small details of its aesthetic.”

According to Crandall, students can remember to appreciate who they are and their bodies rather than focus on looking perfect, which should help them feel more body positive.

“‘It is important to remember we are all insecure about something in almost all areas of our lives! It is a part of being a self-aware human,” Crandall said. “The goal should not be to manage perfection but to appreciate who we are and what we have going for us, to make peace with our insecurities and offer ourselves the same grace we typically and more naturally extend to others.”

Andrew Tow
In a study done by the National Eating Disorders Association, it was found that 70 percent of 18 to 30-year-olds don’t like their bodies.

Media and advertisements perpetuate unrealistic body images

Many of the insecurities and negative perceptions teenagers have about their body comes from false media representation of how bodies should appear. This public deception makes individuals strive to obtain a perfect body and creates a negative depiction of how people’s bodies really look

Business teacher Diana Heffernon-Myers stated that she thinks that the media creates a glorified perception of how individuals should appear; such as being pretty and stronger.

“There’s different types of marketing and the most popular type of marketing is appealing to your emotions,” Heffernon-Myers said. “Anything that as Americans makes us bigger, better, faster, stronger, prettier, more popular.”

Heffernon-Myers is convinced that marketing has a negative effect on teenagers, creating a false expectation that individuals in magazines and on television look perfect at all times and that everyone should look a certain way.

“When you look at any social media and you look and people post all these great things, and they make their life look like it’s fabulous, but when you peel away the layers, it doesn’t really look like that,” Heffernon-Myers said. “If you were to run into them into them on the street that’s not really how they look and so I think people get this expectation of what normal supposedly should look like and it’s very distorted.”

Although Heffrnon-Meyers acknowledges the negative effects that marketing has on teens, she feels it is getting better.

The most popular type of marketing is appealing to your emotions.”

— Business teacher Dianna Heffernon-Meyers

“I think that we are starting to see more and more companies that are capitalizing on more realistic [images],” Heffernon-Meyers said. “Companies are trying to capitalize on the other side of the coin now that …  people have become a little bit more verbal about body image and how it’s negatively affecting teens.”

For McLaughlin, stores like Abercrombie and American Eagle are exclusionary to people who don’t have a perfect figure.

“I can’t shop at Abercrombie or American Eagle or anything like that,” McLaughlin said. “They don’t have the sizes that’ll fit me [and]… the atmosphere there’s not very welcoming to people that are not a smaller size.”

Andrew Tow
Social media outlets like Instagram can often times create an unreachable body image for the users of the sites.

Social media also creates unattainable standards

As social media use continues to rise, teenagers are feeling increasingly frightened that their photos will be criticized by their peers. This has lead many teenagers to choose to not post due to the fear that they will be judged.

Senior Cael Duffin knows that people following him will judge anything that he posts.

“Between Snapchat and Instagram, … [you are] judged whether you like it or not,” Duffin said. “I think part of that is this criticism that people have for stuff that isn’t theirs. People worry about others more than they probably should.”

Due to this pressure to post the best versions of himself online, Duffin has not shared pictures he wanted to because of his acne.

“When I was stressed my acne would pop out more, and so I wanted to post my pictures on social media, but I decided not to because I was afraid,” Duffin said. “That annoyed me because I wanted to put out a picture that people would be able to see forever, but felt I couldn’t.”

Psychology teacher Kirsten Crandall feels that for many, social media reinforces a negative body image.

“Societal norms in 2019 reinforce some misinformation in our perceptions of ourselves and others,” Crandall said. “We are inundated with false projections of perfection. We see ‘perfect’ bodies getting to enjoy ‘perfect’ lives on social media. This exacerbates the cognitive distortions in the looking-glass self process. We fail to realize these images and scenarios are cultivated and are not standards to be compared against as we create our perception of ourselves.”

Social media has made McLaughlin feel like she needed to “fix” her body image.

We fail to realize these images and scenarios are cultivated and are not standards to be compared against as we create our perception of ourselves.”

— Psychology teacher Kirsten Crandall

“My body image has definitely been impacted by social media. On Instagram, everyone puts their best face forward; that’s all you see – their happiness. You don’t see what’s going on behind,” McLaughlin said. “So you think ‘Oh, if I’m like, look like them, I’ll be happier. I’ll have more friends. I’ll get invited to the parties. I’ll be the cool girl.’ And that was largely right. That was largely impacted by social media.”

Crandall believes social media can be used as a force for good as long as students follow what makes them happy.

“If social media and the internet offer several dangers in our body image, it equally offers opportunity for healing and treatment,” Crandall said. “Follow the accounts that make you feel good, unfollow the ones that don’t. What you see and focus on feeds your brain and your thinking … so often we fail to realize the number of resources out there … people can and want to help.”

This story was originally published on The JagWire/Jag Yearbook/MVTV on December 26, 2019.