Helping Teen Girls Improve Their Body Image

This piece is by Margarita Tartakovsky, MS and she interviews Barb Steinberg, it was originally posted on PsychCentral.

Building a positive body image and secure sense of self is a process that I think we undergo our entire lives. I feel like I’m just starting to explore and discover myself. To get to the meat and potatoes of my personality, my likes and dislikes, my passions and quirks.

It’s of course even tougher for teens, who are just forming their identities and figuring out the world. Who are in the midst of trying to make friends, worrying about being popular, getting used to a changing body,  dealing with academic and other social pressures and attempting to make sense of an often contradictory and damaging media.

As a teen, you might feel very confused. As a parent, you might feel even more so.

So I hope today’s interview will shed some light on helping your teen girl build a healthy image, and if you’re a teen, I hope you walk away with some insight, too.

Without further ado, I’m pleased to present my interview with Barb Steinberg, a licensed clinical social worker who coaches teen girls and their parents on how to help girls build a healthy and confident self-image and body image.

Below, she talks about the unique concerns facing teens today and how they can improve their body image.

Q: Your mission is “To connect with girls and women in such a way that by being seen and heard they are more true to themselves.” I think feeling like you aren’t being seen or heard also shapes one’s body image – as does not knowing who you are. What are some practical strategies for readers to be true to themselves and to be seen and heard?

A: Because I work with teen girls, I naturally work with the adults in their lives as well on how to assist girls in developing a healthy self-image. Teen girls are in the process of creating their image of themselves. They look outside of themselves, more than within for the most part, to decide who they are, and how they view themselves and their bodies.

It is inherent in all of us to have the desire to be seen and heard. If we know this about ourselves, we can seek out people in our lives that will offer this kind of connection to us. When I say that we all have the desire to be seen and heard, I mean on a much deeper level than just how our body looks, the clothes we wear, the makeup we use, etc. Although those things are fun to look at and fun expressions of our personalities, they are not who we are.

On a deeper level, we all want to be really seen. We want to be witnessed. We want to know that we are important enough for someone to stop what they are doing, to focus their eyes on ours and that the words coming out of our mouths are interesting and profound enough to be listened to just because we spoke them, nothing more.

When we feel that we have been seen and heard, that our soul has been acknowledged, there is less of a need to create a false sense of self – through the use of our bodies – to get attention, to get validation, to be desired.

Q: You’ve worked with adolescents for over 20 years. Have the issues facing teens today changed throughout the years? If so, what do you think has caused the shift?

A: I think the needs of adolescents have remained the same – to put it simply, the need for connection. However the issues facing teens today, although similar to the issues of teens for generations, have intensified and the main culprit for that, in my opinion, is technology.

Technology certainly has many positives but the downside is the intensity with which our teen girls have access to information and images that may be beyond their level of comprehension and may be filling their heads with unrealistic expectations about who they should be.

Technology has also caused a shift in the type and level of connection among humans. So in many cases our teens and parents are lacking in intimate communication and connection because there is a TV or computer on or a cell phone in hand. This lack of connection most certainly impacts our teens in a negative way.

Q: How do you help teens improve their body image issues?

A: The first thing is to introduce them to the idea that they are not their bodies. They have a body, but they are not their bodies. They are much more than that.

I help them acknowledge and name all the different aspects of themselves that make up the very special and unique person they are. This is done repeatedly in one form or another because we are changing beliefs and beliefs are entrenched – beliefs are just thoughts that we have thought repeatedly. So we need to help teens think new thoughts enough times they that begin to believe them.

I use a variety of tools/processes in my workshops and coaching practice to help teen girls be kinder to themselves and their bodies.

  1. We make goals of having “fat talk” free days. I challenge them to go one day without saying one negative thing about their bodies and then we set goals to increase the number of days. I encourage them to extend the challenge to their peer group so they get support and in turn we change the lives of many girls, rather than just one.
  2. I encourage mirror-free days – to give them a break from the incessant looking in the mirror to see if they are good enough. The message to be sent with this is – you are good enough even with a crappy hair day, or smudged eye shadow or a hole in your shirt. Why continue to put yourself in front of the mirror if the result is feeling badly? Be kind to yourself – take a break from the mirror if it helps you to feel better.
  3. Similarly, I encourage being scale free – removing the scale, the daily weighing of oneself. If you start your day by weighing yourself and you instantly feel badly because of the number you see, why are you torturing yourself? How your clothes fit give you all the information that you need. There is no need to continue to do things (i.e., scale usage) if it makes you feel worse about yourself. That is being repeatedly unkind to yourself and your body.
  4. When girls say something negative about themselves, I ask them if they would make that comment to their best girl friend. Of course, they say “no.” I encourage girls to speak to themselves like they would speak to someone they liked – to learn to be a friend to themselves. This is a skill to be practiced for a lifetime.
  5. I have girls make a list of all the things they are grateful for about their bodies – my legs can walk, my hands can write or carry things, my mouth can taste, my eyes can see, etc. Giving them a different viewpoint about what is right about their bodies, rather than what is wrong.
  6. I encourage girls to have a get together and have them sit in a circle. They will go around with each girl sharing one thing she likes about her body. They will keep going until they run out of things to say. They will be surprised at how long they can do this and how great they feel when they are done. Variations: They can also keep going around and say things they like about themselves on the inside. They can have one girl in the “hot seat” and each girl in the circle will say one thing they like about her on the outside and on the inside. This is to lessen the feelings of competition among girls and give them practice in both giving sincere compliments and receiving them.

Copyright (C) 2010 Psych Central. All rights reserved. Reprinted here with permission from and

About isabelrasmussen

Three generations of women in my family raised me until first grade, amongst them I was taught how wonderful it was to be a girl. In my tween years I was confronted with many of the social challenges other girls face and my self confidence dwindled. I think it was going from being so proud of being a girl to struggling so much as a girl and reading of all the struggles that women faced that motivated me throughout my life. I received her undergraduate degree in Women’s Studies at UW and then worked in domestic violence and as a community organizer in San Francisco. At 26 I took the opportunity to live in Guatemala for a year and West Africa for a summer. I returned to the US and in 2008 obtained a Green MBA at Dominican University in San Rafael.
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