Talking with Teens about Their Looks
If you were to start reviewing the statistics attached to the rate at which teens develop eating disorders it might frighten you – especially if you are the parent of teens. It is, however, not something to ignore. Now, the reasons behind eating disorders are often described as “unknown” or “mysterious”, but it does not require a university degree to see that many young women (and men) develop an eating related issue because of the universal favouritism towards thinness.
Pick up a magazine or flip through the television stations and you rarely see men and women who are outside of a specific “type”. Tall, thin, and in very good physical condition seems to be the anticipated norm. The problem is that so many of these people are well below the “norm” in terms of weight and the hours that they spend maintaining that weight.
Now, also consider how this sort of cultural perception applies to faces too. For example, if we look back into Ancient Egypt we see that there was a preference for specific types of “hooked” noses (the famous Cleopatra herself was the owner of the “family nose” that was distinctly hooked and not what we would consider beautiful today). This means that, if plastic surgery existed then, thousands of people might go to a physician and ask for Cleopatra’s nose.
We scoff at this, but just think of how many teens want Jennifer Aniston’s body or another celebrity’s nose, etc.
Opening a Dialogue
What all of this tells us is that parents have to consider discussing looks – body and face – with kids at a relatively early point in life. They should ensure that their children understand that there is no such thing as “perfect” or “normal”. This is one way to prevent kids from developing a dislike of their own face or body because it is unlike that of another.
It is also important for parents to let kids know that they understand the need to “fit in” and that if a particular facial feature is problematic (a severe overbite, a hooked nose, an overly prominent chin) that there are surgical solutions. The key here, however, is to discuss the need to finish growing before anything is done to the appearance.
One way that physicians suggest this is done is by showing a child a photograph of a parent or relation with a similar characteristic, and then showing them that same person when they were very young. This illustrates for the child or young adult just how much the individual appearance changes in less than a decade.
For instance, that grandmother who had an attractive face may have had overly large features of one kind or another while they were in their early teens. Showing the unhappy teen that their grandparent “grew into” their features is a good way to help them develop a strong self-image. It is also going to show them that waiting for any changes is practical.
Consider too that many physicians flatly refuse to perform any sort of cosmetic procedures before kids reach a certain age. This too has to do with development and the need to wait for growth to slow or cease altogether.
Talking about looks in an age when looks seem to be everything is challenging. Letting kids know that responsible physicians can help to amend any issues that make them unhappy is a good thing to do, but also help them to see that their looks (or their own opinion of them) should never be based on the opinions of others, or of society in general.