I’m not overweight. I am just healthy.

Statements like this are far too often used to try to explain away a young person’s problems with image dissatisfaction. The simple fact is that being overweight is a major contributor when someone gets bullied.

The issues associated with this condition are being teased, disparaging nicknames, lower self-esteem, and even bulimia. This can also include a higher level of loneliness, poor self perception, and poor self image. There has also been a tendency reported that being overweight is associated with being less competent, although there is currently no scientific evidence to substantiate this claim.

A recent study shows that 23% of students report having been teased about their appearance by a parent. 12% report it was about their weight. 19% of girls report being teased about their appearance by their father. 13% by their mother, and 29% by a sibling.

National surveys have found among overweight middle-school aged children that 30 percent of girls and 24 percent of boys experienced daily bullying, teasing, and/or rejection because of their size. These numbers doubled for overweight high school students, with 63 percent of girls and 58 percent of boys experiencing some form of bullying due to their weight and size.

Another study of bullying behaviors in 11-16 year old boys and girls found that overweight and obese school-aged children were more likely to become victims of bullying behaviors than their normal-weight peers [2]. Bullying that is directly related to body size and weight can contribute to increased depression, anxiety, and risk of mental illnesses, such as eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating.

Here are some ways that you as the parent can help your child to deal with their body image issue.

Promote healthy eating and exercise habits.

  • Encourage adolescents not to compare themselves to their peers.

  • Set a good example by not criticizing your own body or the bodies of others.

  • Help victims of bullying boost self-esteem by focusing on their positive attributes.

  • Encourage them to do the things they love. This boosts True self-confidence and builds healthy friendships.

There is one other issue when it comes to discussing the issue of body image. It is called Body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphia is a far more serous issue that needs to be dealt with by a professional. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that appears minor or can’t be seen by others. But you may feel so embarrassed, ashamed and anxious that you may avoid many social situations. The causes of BDD are unclear, but certain biological and environmental factors may contribute to its development, including genetic predisposition, neurobiological factors such as malfunctioning of serotonin in the brain, personality traits, and life experiences (e.g. child maltreatment, sexual trauma, peer-abuse).

Unfortunately, there is no cure for BDD at the present time. People who suffer from body dysmorphia can and do heal from the obsessive thoughts and worries, but there’s no magic fix. Although there is no cure yet, the symptoms can be helped with treatment by a professional.