Teens and Body Image

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teens and body image

Isn’t body image at its core a Gospel issue? Doesn’t this mean teens’ struggle with body image is NOT hopeless? Biblical counselor Ellen Castillo gives help and hope to teens, their parents, and the church in her article that first appeared here on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.

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It Is a Gospel Issue

As I approached writing this blog post, I asked my 18-year-old daughter for input. I asked her what she would like counselors, youth workers, and parents to consider on this topic. She said this: “Body image issues are common, all girls struggle with it. Some of the prettiest, thinnest, and most attractive are the ones who have the most discontent with their bodies.”

Then she made this important point: “A girl will never achieve what she feels is a perfect body now, but she needs to realize that her body is made for greater purposes than just looks or sex. It is made for childbearing, and for taking the gospel forward.”

My daughter hits a key point—a body image struggle is a gospel issue.

It Is a Matter of the Heart

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well (Psalm 139:14).

The conventional thinking about body image struggles is to blame “self-esteem,” the fashion industry, culture, social media, poor parental examples, etc. Although some of these things are external influencing factors, they are not the real culprit of our teen’s body image issues. The real culprit is: the heart of the teen.

The heart of body image issues in teens reveals the FEAR OF MAN (Proverbs 29:25). That fear manifests as perfectionism, insecurity, and peer pressure. Teens will strive hard to achieve the impossible, and they are dissatisfied because they never reach the perfection that they think will make them more popular, more acceptable, or more worthy.

People will struggle with being satisfied or content with their body if they are not completely satisfied in Christ. Our souls thirst for satisfaction, and as sinners, we are prone to search for it in idols rather than in the gospel. Both believing teens and those who do not know Christ struggle with this dissatisfaction—as do adults!

For believers, though, the satisfaction they long for is already in their possession because they are in Christ. It boils down to the sin of unbelief. Does the teen truly believe that her identity in Christ is enough, or does she believe that she needs to strive to earn approval? Unbelief must be repented of regularly. This is where a teen will find victory over the idol of perfectionism and be truly satisfied in Christ.

It Is Not a Hopeless Struggle

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21).

There is hope and help in the gospel for teens with body image struggles. As we disciple teenagers, we must focus on identity in Christ rather than focus on human standards. The goal is not body-change. The goal is heart-change.

Hope for all people is found in God’s Word—regularly reading it, meditating on it, memorizing it, and studying it deeply in order to go to the root of heart issues. This is the only way to renew the mind to bring about true heart change.

Teens must also be encouraged to grow spiritually by being involved in a local church, engaging with strong adult influences (mentors, youth workers, parents, teachers, counselors, and others). They must be taught how to choose their friends wisely. They must become good stewards of their bodies and engage in healthy habits rather than obsessing over appearances. They need help to minimize (and sometimes completely disengage from) the most negative influences that have tempted them towards an improper view of their bodies (social media, entertainment, unhealthy peer relationships, etc.)

It Is Your Titus 2 Challenge

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).

We are all called to teach the younger generation, according to the second chapter of Titus. Counselors, parents, mentors, youth workers, and teachers: reach out to struggling teens. Be intentional about getting past the surface behaviors and go deep into the heart of a teen.

Begin with evangelism if needed, and then disciple youth for the sake of the gospel. In discipleship with teens, adults are tempted to focus on externals rather than the heart. It can be helpful to utilize gospel-rich resources to keep your discussions more than surface-level so that the teen might be changed at the heart-level.

This topic is far bigger than a limited blog post, so I share here with you some resources to get your conversations with teens started:

Recommended Scripture to Unpack with a Struggling Christian Teen:

  • Psalm 139:14, to understand that God made us without mistake
  • 1 Samuel 16:7, to understand that God looks at the heart, not outward appearance
  • Luke 16:15, another look at God’s view of the heart
  • 2 Corinthians 4:16, to understand that our spirit can be renewed even while our body is wasting away
  • 1 Peter 3:3-4, to understand that no matter what is achieved physically, it is the heart that is precious to God
  • 1 Tim 4:8, to understand stewardship of the body in proper perspective
  • Proverbs 31:30, to understand what God values in a woman

Recommended Resources:

Ed Welch, What Do You Think of Me, Why Do I Care (New Growth Press, 2011).

Keith R Miller and Patricia A. Miller, Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling Youth, chapter on “Eating Struggles” (Baker Books, 2014).

Marie Notcheva, Redeemed From the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders (Calvary Press, 2011).

Additionally, be sure to seek a Biblical Counselor for a teen or parent who needs further help with this or any other struggles they are facing.

Join the Conversation

What challenges do you have in your interactions with teens who struggle with body image? What other resources have you found helpful?

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