Charlotte Markey, Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology and Health Sciences at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey. She has researched body image and eating behaviors for nearly 25 years, and is the author of The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless.
Charlotte joins us in this episode of Peace Meal to discuss adolescent body image. Offering research and practical insight into the multifaceted topic, she notes that body image encompasses far more than whether we like our bodies. She touches on its various dimensions and implications in the everyday lives of adolescents and teens.
Body image has long been considered a women’s issue, and our understanding of the unique experiences of boys and men is still evolving. Research on body image in trans and nonbinary youth lags even further behind, Charlotte notes, but it is clear that adolescents of all genders are suffering from body image concerns.
Tools for helping this population develop a strong body image are particularly important, especially given that disordered eating and eating disorders often manifest during adolescence and young adulthood. One strategy Charlotte offers is to think of our bodies not in terms of how they look but instead of what they allow us to do.
“[Our bodies] allow us to experience the world, and so many people grow up feeling like their body is the problem. Instead, I think it’s just so much healthier to think about… no, your body actually allows this all to happen,” she says.
To help children value body functionality over appearance, Charlotte stresses that adults must model the lesson themselves. They can avoid commenting on their own and others’ physical appearance and shift the focus to internal traits, teaching adolescents that they are valued for who they are instead of how they look.
Charlotte acknowledges the difficulty of promoting positive body image in an image-conscious, diet-obsessed world. Countering society’s messages about appearance and diets requires careful thought and continual practice.
But it can be done, she maintains.
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