“How do I look?”: The question that plagues teenage girls

Quek Shi Wei and Quek Shi Yun // May 23, 2022, 5:07 pm


Photo by chalis007 on Unsplash.

It was a typical day in church. I was wearing a new top that sparkled and flared about me, making me feel happy. I greeted a familiar face, one of the church ladies I had known from young.

She returned the greeting, glanced at my waist, and the corners of her mouth curled up in a smile. “So, you have a tummy too, huh?”

My heart sank, and I felt a fluster of emotions – embarrassment (“Did anyone hear what she said?”), shame (“I want to cover my tummy from her eyes right now”), guilt (“I should have done something about my tummy”) and finally, insecurity (“I shouldn’t let anyone else see me in this top”).

Almost 10 years on, I can still remember how I felt that day.

Depressed, guilty and ashamed

Teenage girls have a lot to worry about – grades, friendships, boys – but, perhaps none more than their body image. As I have discipled and counselled girls over the years, I’ve found that almost every girl has something they can’t accept about their bodies. What’s there to dislike, you may ask?

The modern teenage girl is constantly exposed to underweight, Photoshopped, and unrealistically beautiful women.


Their less-than-full chests, flabby tummies, “fat” arms, “too Asian” features, “thunder thighs”, stretch marks, having a “big bum”, height, acne marks, unibrows, single eyelids … you name it, they hate it.

The modern teenage girl is constantly exposed to underweight, Photoshopped, and unrealistically beautiful women from the TV, movies, magazines and social media. And they all serve to tell her one thing: “You are not pretty enough.”

A study in 1995 found that after just three minutes spent looking at models in a fashion magazine, 70% of women reported feeling depressed, guilty, and ashamed of their bodies.

Battling poor self image

Chances are, things have become worse.

Teen girls are even more exposed through their smartphones to images of pretty girls on Tumblr, YouTube, celebrity websites and so on. It is not uncommon to see girls display on their smartphones a picture of a well-toned model as their wallpaper to serve as motivation for them to get in shape.

They may turn to food for comfort, or seek relationships with guys to answer their innermost question: “Am I lovely?”

How does this epidemic of poor body images affect their lives? The most pretty, tall and confident-looking girls have confided that they count calories, weigh themselves daily, exercise like crazy, or even became anorexic. Those who do nothing constantly struggle with jealousy or a low self-esteem.

They may become slightly obsessed with makeup and their wardrobe, and constantly take “selfies” to garner as many “likes” as possible on Instagram. They may turn to food for comfort, or seek relationships with guys to answer their innermost question: “Am I lovely?”

It doesn’t matter how the girl actually looks, if she believes she’s too fat, too short or too ugly, she will constantly battle with poor self image.

So what’s an adult to do?

1. Speak life

Adults have a powerful role to play in shaping a girl’s confidence. If the woman from church had not commented on my teenage body, I probably wouldn’t have struggled as much with accepting my tummy.

The tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21), and adults can use their words to build up a girl’s esteem or tear it down.

Sadly, many girls still remember what a classmate, uncle or friend has said, even teasingly, about their bodies, and they are insecure about that body part for a long time after.

The tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21), and adults can use their words to build up a girl’s esteem or tear it down.

Unfortunately, many a time, a girl’s confidence is destroyed by insensitive remarks spoken by adults. Remarks like “Your thighs are too fat”, “You’ve put on weight” or “You should do something about your pimples” are more common than you might expect. This generation has often been accused of being too sensitive. Ever wondered why?

When they are constantly bombarded by images of beautiful women wherever they go, their self-consciousness is heightened and it’s hard for them not to be sensitive when anyone says anything at all about their bodies.

Parents, aunties and uncles, your words to a young teen can mean life or death to her.

Dads: You cannot underestimate how important your words are to your daughter. God has made daughters in such a way that they look to their fathers to affirm them. Girls who are starved of affirmation may take their need to other men or unhealthy places. Be encouraging, be generous, and most importantly, be active in your role as a father.

2. Like yourself

There’s nothing more attractive than a confident person. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find confident people.

Women are great weapons in the kingdom of God. The devil knows to attack them from a young age.

Teenage girls need role models who can show them what it means to be comfortable with their bodies (despite flaws). When parents, especially mothers, complain about their body, they need to know that their daughters are thinking: “That’s my body too.”

If my mum doesn’t like the shape of her nose, and I inherited the same nose shape, it doesn’t do much for my confidence when she openly puts herself down. But if my mum accepts her natural born features, I am more inclined to be confident too and exude the beauty of godly confidence.

Parents and adults: Show teen girls how you treasure your body, and they will pick it up, fast.

Women are great weapons in the kingdom of God. The devil knows to attack them from a young age. But if parents and concerned adults do their part to encourage and model godly confidence for the next generation, we will see an army of young women standing strong and doing great things for God. 

Ten things not to say to a teen girl 

  1. Have you considered exercising lately? (Right after glancing at her tummy.)
  2. Your sister is so pretty! (Meaning, she’s prettier than you.)
  3. Have you put on weight? Have you lost weight? (Suggesting she was too heavy before.)
  4. Your hips are so big/small! That’s very good/bad for giving birth in future …
  5. What did you do to your hair?
  6. Are you doing anything about your pimples?
  7. Why does your ____ (fill in body part) look like that?
  8. You haven’t lost your baby fat yet, huh? (as you squeeze her cheeks/arms – remember she’s a teen, no longer a child!)
  9. (From a lady) Your bust is still quite small for your age!
  10. You looked better when you had … (no braces, longer hair, etc)

The article was first published in Vol 38 No 3 of Impact Magazine. Adapted and reprinted with permission.


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Broken, but not forsaken: Kallos publishes A Daughter’s Faith, a devotional journal for women

Letter from a teenage girl

Dear Parent,

Being a teen girl can be very confusing. Without warning, our bodies have started to change. Our hips, chest, and thighs are growing, and we’re not sure if we’ll like how we look when these changes end. Some of our friends have developed faster, and it’s difficult not to compare. We’ve discovered the horrors of stretch marks and pimples, and it doesn’t do much for our self-esteem.

We don’t know it yet, but we need your assurance.

At this age, we are more conscious of our appearance than ever before. How we look and what people think of us has never been this important. Please understand that we don’t choose to be this way. In a world that tells us that image is everything, that is what we have come to believe. We don’t yet know that the picture of the girl that gets 100 “Likes” on Instagram is not a true representation of her life. We don’t understand that the girl with the beautiful face and slim body doesn’t have the perfect life. All we know is that we want to be that girl, and even though we know it is unattainable, we will try. 

We also don’t know it yet, but we need your assurance. We need you to tell us that we are beautiful even if we don’t feel that way. We need you to encourage us to be beautiful not just on the outside, but on the inside as well. We need you to destroy the lies that we are not good enough. We need you to speak truth into our lives. We probably won’t believe you now (I mean, you’re our parent. You have to think we are beautiful), but someday it will sink in, and we will thank you for lovingly building us up.

So, the next time you catch us trying on multiple outfits before going out, or wanting to try on makeup, basically spending more time than you think we should on our appearance, be patient.

We don’t have the retrospect and security that you have in your looks or achievements; it will take time for us to get it. Affirm us for our efforts, but never make our looks the main point. If you will tell us we are beautiful, and treat us like we are, one day we will feel like it’s true, and act like it. Then when we have our own daughters, we will teach her to love herself the way you taught me to love me.

Love, Your Teen Girl

About the author

Quek Shi Wei and Quek Shi Yun

Quek Shi Yun is the editor of Kallos, a Christian magazine for teen girls. She is passionate about youth and their potential to change their generation for Christ. Quek Shi Wei serves as the editorial consultant of Kallos, while completing her Masters in Divinity at Singapore Bible College.