Some simple skills may help teenagers to help each other.
Usually a girl, looks at a photo found on social media or in a fashion magazine and compares the model’s figure to her own. She thinks, “I am so fat. I hate my body.” But what if, instead of playing along as usual, the friend flips the script and compliments her on something other than her looks? Could changing the conversation by a peer be a first step toward healthier behavior?
It’s easy to feel bewildered about how to respond when someone confides in you about how they feel about their body. Some helpful strategies are being encouraged by various sources and organisations. For example, empowering students to speak up when they see their friends getting into unhealthy situations or behaving inappropriately is being promoted in US colleges.
Time Magazine, ran a campaign ‘Fat Talk Free Week’ a fun, national, seven-day public awareness effort to draw attention to body image issues and change the focus from size to health. Any talk about fatness was banned for one week, with the aim of eliminating language that is damaging to students’ body image.
In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researcher Eric Stice, clinical psychologist at Oregon Research Institute, reported a 60% reduction in the risk of developing eating disorders for female high school and college students who spent just three hours critiquing the thin ideal. The benefit lasted over a three-year follow-up.
The Reflections Body Image Program is based on Stice’s research, and was developed and piloted by Carolyn Becker, associate professor of psychology at San Antonio’s Trinity University. It has since been introduced to more than 50 campuses.
Examples of unhelpful pessimism:
• Awfulising – assuming the worst
• Personalising – when a friend is abrupt, assuming he or she is angry with you. It may have nothing to do with you at all.
• Perfectionism – being impatient with yourself and others when inconveniences and mistakes occur.
• Worrying about the past – beating yourself up about past mistakes
• Focusing on the negative – searching for what is wrong instead of noticing what is right.
With practice, negative thinking can diminish.:
• Make a list of past experiences that have seemed overwhelming and remember how you resolved them – and remind yourself that you did resolve them.
• Avoid negativity – steer clear of people who upset you
• Use thought-stopping techniques when for a load of negative thoughts, by visualising a red STOP sign, or simply say “stop.” Distract yourself and go for a walk. Some people say: “There aren’t many problems that a good long walk won’t help.”
Asking this question helps to cut a problem down to size: “Will this negative situation make a difference tomorrow, next week, next month or next year?”
• Find joy in small things – do something you enjoy, like listening to music.
The Butterfly Foundation is dedicated to helping people become free from eating disorders.