Short Shorts, Belly Shirts and Building Self-Esteem by Ron Powell

I was so happy when the trend that tortured teen girls with tummies went to the recycle bin. But this week, walking with my daughter in the largest mall in North America, I saw many navels. This can only mean one thing, that youprobably already knew… –They’re Back

The pressure on teen boys to be ripped and teen girls to be thin, or else remain date-less, damages self-worth and leaves very few unharmed. Too many youth have grown up with exposure to pornography, over-sexualized sitcoms, and scandalous ads, producing students who rate each each other on their sexual attractiveness or hotness.

Teens are looking for the ideal shape but as Anita Roddick, Body Shop Founder, has said — ‘There are 3 billion women in the world who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 that do.’

If a teen’s identity and self-worth is based mostly on what is hot, how can we help them develop a healthier self-image?

Consider this. Researchers have proof for what we know by experience, “Physical appearance is an especially powerful contributor to self-esteem in adolescence.” In one study, adolescents’ concept of their physical attractiveness was the strongest predictor of their overall self-esteem. Teens hold a strong association between perceived appearance and general self-worth  (John W. Santrock, Adolescence p.141)

Adolescence expert, Dr. John Santrock suggests 4 ways that we can come alongside teens who may have a negative body image and suffer from poor self-esteem.

1. Identify the Cause of Low Self Esteem

Identify the causes of low self-esteem and the domains of competence important to self. Researcher Susan Harter has discovered that simply encouraging students to feel good about themselves doesn’t work. It is important to find out what areas matter to a student and to help them in those areas. They should also be able to identify what they are good at and excel in those areas.

2. Provide Emotional Support and Social Approval.

Edwin was a college student I couldn’t figure out. Short and overweight, he didn’t seem to have what most young adults base their self-esteem upon. And yet he had excellent confidence and social skills.

What I couldn’t see was the small family church that adored him and made him a star. In his little rural town, Edwin was the pride and joy. That social network gave him the courage to do stand-up comedy and gave him a boat-load of personal confidence when speaking with emerging men and women his own age.

3. Foster Achievement and Self-Efficacy

Albert Bandura’s, 20 years of research published in Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control shows that believing one can achieve what one sets out to do results in a healthier, more effective, and generally more successful life.

When a student knows that they are good at something and they believe it is something of value, it adds to a positive self-image. For example:

  • Marik cannot throw a football. He can however tear apart an engine and rebuild it.
  • Hiro is 4’11 and weighs 100 pounds. He is on no sport teams but he is an elite video gamer who has competed in national championships. He has 1000′s of fans online.
  • Gayle has not been on a date but she did walk away with the Math and Physics awards at her high school last year.

Each of these young people has found an anchor for their self-esteem in something other than their athletic prowess or physical attractiveness.

What can be disappointing however is when teen girls excel at academics, are leaders on campus and yet feel so miserable about their appearance that none of these areas of achievement are able to boost their overall sense of worth. Some play dumb (pseudo-stupidity) to appear more attractive to males who may feel threatened by their intellectual achievements.

 4. Help Students  Cope with Challenges

Coping or overcoming produces self-esteem. Avoidance or denial can have an opposite effect. Denying problems doesn’t help. If a student has a weight problem they can increase activity focusing on health rather than dangerous fad diets and weight loss. Gaining small victories and having a sense of taking charge of their health can promote healthy self-esteem. Where height is a factor students can pursue sports that are not dependent on it. Dressing for body type is another way that adolescents cope with societal views of physical attractiveness.


Fashion trends are not fair to a teen’s self-image. They favor only the minority with that special look. The majority feel they fall short of that ideal. They need emotional support, a sense of achievement in other areas and to work on some areas that can be approved. Hoping for the best, or waiting for teens to grow out of it, is not going to help. Coming alongside and loving teens for who they are, not what they look like, will go a long way toward helping them feel good about themselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.