“Body positivity” is one of today’s biggest buzzwords. Magazines are filled with photos of impossibly beautiful women and unrealistically handsome men. Their skin, hair, eyes and smiles are perfect. The women are all whipcord thin but somehow manage to have a generous bust and a perky rear end. The men all have lean bodies with extremely defined muscles and less than five percent body fat. Photoshop has supplanted makeup and lighting as a not-so-benevolent dictator in the fashion world. “Perfection” is on display everywhere.

In response to this madness, the internet has been flooded with images of everyday men and women proclaiming that they love their imperfect bodies. Women with thick thighs post selfies with hashtags like “#LoveMyCurves” and “#NaturalBeauty,” and men share how a person who engages in a realistic workout regime can expect to look.

Unfortunately, this swarm of body positive bloggers sometimes goes too far. Many “helpful” body positivity social media pages declare that everyone everywhere should love their body exactly how it is and not want to change a thing about it! For the average person, this is great advice, but these bloggers often issue that same declaration to men and women who want to lose weight for health reasons. Being overweight, after all, is just as dangerous as being underweight.

Given the wildly contrasting extremes of social media and mass media, it is no wonder that teens everywhere are facing more body image issues than ever. Teens are developing eating disorders and engaging in dangerous diets at an alarming rate, but childhood obesity rates continue to swell. In this climate, how can a parent help their teen avoid developing a dangerous need to be skinny or disregarding the fact that they are unhealthily overweight? Here are some tips on how to teach your teen about body positivity.

Don’t Pretend Away Flaws

Children and teens are not stupid. They know that they have crooked teeth. They know that their new haircut looks really dumb. They know that their growth spurt has left them with skinny limbs that are still ungainly. They know that they put on some weight, why else do none of their pants fit? When your teen complains about how they hate their crooked teeth or how they’ve “gotten so fat,” resist the urge to reassure your baby that they are beautiful or perfect. No teen is going to be fooled by a parent’s declaration of “you have a perfect smile! What are you talking about?” when one of the teen’s front teeth came in sideways.

Trying to pretend away the real flaws in a teen’s body will convince them that you aren’t listening. You don’t see their concerns as valid, and you probably didn’t even hear what they said. Congratulations. You have become the “stupid parent” in the eyes of a now sullen teen.

Being realistic about body image does not mean you should be cruel. If your teen has gained some weight and complains about it, offer to help them alter their diet so they can lose the weight. Yes, it is true that sometimes teens complain because they are fishing for compliments or want confirmation that they really aren’t fat. As the parent, you will have to be engaged with your teen to decide whether your teen is fishing for compliments or actually feels uncomfortable with their appearance. You will also have to judge whether your teen actually needs to lose some weight or is being taken in by impossible beauty standards.

– Stephanie Hertzenberg

Read more: Teach Your Teen About Body Positivity

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