Has this ever happened to you? You're dressing for a date and when
you pull on your favorite jeans, you can no longer button them. Or
you're running down the football field when you notice that your legs
rub together in a way they never did before. Maybe when you look in
the mirror it seems like your pores are taking over your face.
If you've ever felt out of step with your body, you're not alone.
Growing Up and Out (or Not)
Most of us are prepared to deal with the obvious physical changes
of growing up. Girls expect their breasts to grow and guys expect
to become more muscular. But the body often goes through other changes
before, during, and after puberty - and sometimes these changes
can be very different from the ones we expect to happen. For example,
both girls and guys may notice themselves growing in unfamiliar
places, such as the butt or belly. Or they may grow taller and skinnier.
Some people get a temporary layer of fat to prepare the body for
a growth spurt. Others fill out permanently. Some people eat healthy
foods and work out but still gain weight. Others chow down on everything
in sight and still stay skinny.
Eventually it all balances out and most people adjust to how their
"new" body moves and works. But it can take some getting
used to. What happens to people physically during puberty can influence
how they feel about their bodies and themselves for a long time
Take Nikki, for example. She was an accomplished dancer with her
heart set on following her mother's career in ballet. But at 13,
Nikki grew several inches taller and developed the kind of figure
most girls long for - unless they're dancers. Nikki's friends envied
her curves, but Nikki felt heavy and awkward. Now 19, Nikki says
it took her longer to get over the false perception of herself as
a fat girl than it did to let go of her dreams of being a dancer.
Adjusting to a New Body
We become more aware of looks right around the time our bodies begin
changing. This can make physical changes difficult to deal with
Adjusting to a changing body is about more than just looks, though.
Lots of teens base their self-image on how their bodies feel and
perform. Until a year ago, Wes, 15, was a lean, fast sprinter who
could always be relied on to win the race for his track team. Wes
has ADHD, and some days it seemed like running was the only thing
he could do well. So when he started developing a stockier, more
muscular physique and his sprint times got longer, Wes' confidence
took a serious bruising.
Changes in our bodies' appearance, performance - even such minor
details as the way they smell - are all perfectly normal parts of
growing up. So what can you do to help yourself adjust physically
and emotionally? Here are some ideas.
Beware - don't compare! It's natural to look at
our friends for comparison. But it's not a good idea. Comparing
ourselves with others is problematic because everyone develops differently
and at different times. If you go through a growth spurt early,
you may feel too tall. Yet your friend may be thinking that he or
she is too small. It's usually hardest for the people who develop
first or last.
It's also a bad idea to compare ourselves to celebrities and models.
In reality, most people don't look like the limited body types shown
in the media. (Actually, the models often don't look like that either:
Many of those "perfect" bodies got that way through photo
editing, not nature.)
Forget magazine ads - check out family snapshots instead.
Ads sell fantasy, not reality. It's easy to dream about becoming
an Abercrombie model, but allowing hopes and expectations to get
out of hand can only let a person down.
People vary in terms of size, height, and shape, and how the body
develops is in large part due to genetics. Your body is programmed
to do pretty much what your parents' (or grandparents') bodies did.
Nikki, for example, realized that, although she shared her mom's
love of dance, she'd inherited her physique from her father's side
of the family.
Before you look at your folks and freak out, consider that they're
no longer teens. People's bodies change as they grow older. Ask
to see pictures of your parents, aunts, and uncles when they were
your age. This will give you a chance to talk to them about their
Another thing to remember is that people had different lifestyles
when your parents were growing up. If you're more involved in sports
than your parents were, you're going to look fitter and more muscular.
And, of course, the reverse is true for people who are less active
than their parents were.
Treat your body well. Making educated choices
about food and exercise is part of developing a mind and life of
your own. Healthy eating and exercise can also give you some control
over how your body turns out. Plus, exercise is a mood booster.
If your changing body has you feeling sad or confused, it may help
to go for a walk, play with your dog, or throw a Frisbee with your
About three quarters of all teens quit sports around the time their
bodies develop. Often it's because the changes in their bodies influence
which sports they compete in. Although you can still do any activity
if you really are interested in it, some people prefer to switch
to another activity. Wes put his strength and running skills to
use playing football. And Nikki was able to combine her great figure
with her love of dance when she discovered belly dancing in college.
Sometimes people quit playing organized sports in high school because
schoolwork becomes more demanding, or because they have a more active
social life that fills their time. Now is definitely not the time
to stop exercising completely, though. Use this time of change to
explore how your body feels doing different activities. Taking yoga,
martial arts classes, or other activities that involve focusing
on how the body stretches and moves can help you become familiar
with your body.
Befriend your bod. Feeling like you don't know
your body any more? Just like a friendship that grows and evolves,
keeping in touch with our bodies takes time. Like friends, our bodies
can let us down at times. But with a little work and understanding,
it's possible to bounce back.
Just like we know our friends' secrets, we know stuff about our
own bodies that other people don't. For example, you may think your
stomach sticks out because you spend hours focusing on it in the
mirror. But the truth is, other people won't notice it like you
Walk tall - even if you're not! What people do
notice is how you project your feelings about yourself. If you think
you're too tall, it will be more noticeable if you slump over and
try to look smaller. If you're self-conscious about your pimples,
hiding behind your hair may cover the zit on your cheek - but you'll
look awkward and uncomfortable.
As your body changes, it can help to work on good posture and walk
with a sense of confidence. After doing this for a while, you'll
probably become more confident too.
There's not much you can do about your height or development, but
you can focus on the things that you really like about yourself.
Maybe it's your curly hair or the dimple you get when you smile.
Maybe it's that you are a really thoughtful person or you are good
at making people laugh. Ultimately, when you think of the people
in your life that you care about the most, what they look like probably
has very little to do with how much you like them.
More Curves Ahead
Just as you get used to your new shape, it will probably change
again. The later teens and early 20s are (yet again) a time when
the body and mind take another step in maturing and changing. For
both girls and guys, this means filling out a little more so that
they look more like adults and less like teens.
This is another time when it's important to summon the powers of
exercise and healthy eating: You've probably heard of the "freshman
15," when girls and guys go off to college and are in charge
of feeding themselves for the first time. Many people who are on
their own for the first time start by eating anything they want
- usually junk food and high-fat snacks. Of course, most of them
gain weight because they spend more time sitting and studying and
less time being active. If you've already started focusing on what
you eat and how you exercise, this will be less likely to happen
If our bodies had owners' manuals, they'd tell us to keep them
clean, provide them with fuel, and offer them some stimulating activity.
But our bodies are people too, and they do best when they're loved.
Learning to accept and appreciate ourselves helps build resilience.
People who are resilient are better able to deal with problems and
bounce back from disappointment than people who are not. Resilient
people usually make good decisions and choices. Accept and appreciate
your body, no matter what it looks like right now, and - just like
a good friend - it can do a lot for you in return!