“You have an athletic build,” is the phrase I have heard since my body began developing and puberty occurred. Prior to that point, I was a tiny, petite girl, always low in the charts in both height and weight. I suppose it was because I was too active to sit down and eat, or I was blessed with great genes. Whichever the reason, I never had to worry about my weight during my early childhood.
It seemed my body began maturing and changing at the same time my social life became more elaborate and glamorous. It was the start of high school when I began to notice my body was shaping differently than most of my friends. I was always the shortest in height, loudest in voice, and strongest in build. “But, you are all muscle,” is the other famous line I heard from anyone referring to my body. I never knew whether that was complimentary or a nicer way of saying, “You are thick, and it’s ok because you play sports.”
There was one major conflict within these statements, and that was what society was portraying as attractive and enticing as far as body types were concerned. After all, a girl wants to be beautiful, accepted, and desired. There was not an athletic built girl on the cover of Teen People Magazine or Seventeen Magazine. In fact, not only were the models always displayed as slender, tall, and as sexy as a teenager could be, but without doubt there were cover titles highlighted, “20 Best Diet Secrets.” What teenage girl couldn’t resist comparing, contrasting, and wanting what was published as “the perfect body” by all forms of media?
Even though I was achieving great success as an athlete during my teenage years and was blessed with a sense of confidence through soccer, I could not help comparing my body and build to others. Between television, magazines, and other media images, teenagers are exposed to many outside influences that naturally cause girls to constantly critique their body. Author Louise O’Neill, who details the stresses and pressures of young girls and body image, is quoted in an article saying, “Of the women I know, only three or four aren’t affected in some way by the idea they should look a certain way.” And, now, with the accessibility of the internet, Dr. Gail Gross states in a different article, “Social media—twitter, facebook, instagram, and SnapChat— and celebrities have created a highly-charged 24/7 cycle of unrealistic body images that your teen may aspire to.”
Social acceptance is a worry for many teenagers, and unfortunately, some will explore different avenues to feel more a part of their social network. Many girls who have a negative body image will experiment with different diets and fads, while many misuse food to obtain the “perfect” body. Therefore, teens with a negative body image are much more likely to develop eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem.
Though soccer provided many positive psychological advantages, it posed its challenges, too. And, as a teenager who naturally placed high value on peer acceptance and approval, I was constantly evaluating myself physically. The ongoing dilemma to be strong and fit on the field contradicted my desire to be thin and feminine in my social setting – the perceived appearance that equated to overall attractiveness.
Therefore, the internal struggle teenage girls experience can eventually lead them to disordered eating or other behaviors that effect their overall health. The societal standard of beauty was and continues to be represented through tall and skinny girls and women. When a teenager cannot control her height, she has the ability to influence her body weight. Depending on various factors, including personality, importance, and determination, one’s aspiration to be thin has the potential to lead to many psychological disorders.