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6 Ways to Help Your Middle Schooler Build a Positive Body Image

I remember the first time I became super aware of the way I looked. It was my first middle school dance, and, as an eighth grader, this was a pretty big deal. I had waited my entire middle school career to be allowed to attend a school dance (my parents had rules). A DJ (playin’ “Ghetto Superstar and The Boy is Mine”), tons of snacks and sodas, a pretty dress, my best friends on the dance floor—this was the stuff my 8th grade dreams were made of! And you guys, I was having the best time.

That is, until the lights dimmed and music slowed, and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing” began playing. Suddenly, everyone was pairing off to sway to the music in that awkward, middle-school-slow-dance kind of way. Everyone, that is, except me.

I guess this would be a good time to mention that I was a total “tom-boy” who sported a short hair-cut, was built like an athlete, and up until this point I only wore athletic clothing. Chicago Bulls clothing (or colors) to be exact. I was determined to be the first girl who made it to the NBA (female professional athletes weren’t super respected back then, which meant I mostly looked up to male athletes). I wasn’t super girly, and this was definitely the first time my classmates had seen me in a dress. That is why, according to a girl who saw me standing solo on the wall during slow dance after slow dance that night, nobody wanted to dance with me.

“You kind of look like and act like a boy,” she said.

Thanks to this classic middle-school mean girl, my eyes were opened up for the first time that the way I looked was something I needed to think about negatively. She gave me my first sense of body image, and it wasn’t a good one.

What is Body Image?
While it may not happen just like it did for me, the reality is that body image is something that most middle schoolers are becoming aware of and beginning to struggle with. When I use that term body image, I simply mean how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror or picture ourselves in our minds.

Sometimes, that image is positive. It’s a clear, true perception of your body as it really is. It’s being confident and comfortable, accepting your natural shape and size, and recognizing that physical appearance says little about your actual character and value as a person.

But others times, that image is negative. It’s more of distorted perception of how you look, and it brings with it feelings of shame, anxiety, and self-consciousness.