Of course, when we approach adolescence, many of us become consumed by our looks. It is absolutely natural for adolescents to become more interested in their bodies in light of the changes that are taking place, as well as to become more interested in other peoples' bodies as they reach sexual maturity. In the mating game, you want to be as attractive as possible to the opposite sex. Belonging to the group is never more important than in early adolescence and conformity is one way to belong, until you get a better sense of who you are and where you belong.
This is where self-esteem is so important. If you feel comfortable in your own skin, you are automatically more attractive and self-assured. How we begin to feel about these changes and whether or not we are able to accept our unique shape and size depends greatly on our experiences, the opinions and feedback of others and by cultural messages we receive.
Negative comparisons of people who don't fit the stereotype of male and female beauty can have a serious impact. Pre-teens and teens, especially girls, often begin to compare their appearance with their friends as well as media images. As they mature, their idea of their body image becomes more complex.
Over and above body image, self-image becomes less about simply what can be seen in the mirror and also begins to include our talents, values, unique characteristics as well as relationships. Being part of the cool group, in the A team or achieving academically puts a huge amount of pressure on young people, just at the time we're are figuring out who we are and what we like.
These social pressures can result in negative expression such as depression, eating disorders and self-harm, not to mention escapism into substance abuse. And it's not just girls... Boys are affected just as much as girls, although they tend to be less vocal about it!
Happily, in most cases, most of us are able to negotiate this difficult time and emerge with a reasonable body image - but there are many who don't. Parents and older sibs need huge amounts of empathy (they were there once!), patience, support, and perspective.