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How to Overcome Body Image and be a Better Runner

How to Overcome Body Image and Be a Better Runner

You don’t know me, but I’m writing so that your teenage daughter won’t fall victim to a running injury. You will get information that will help her understand  how to overcome body image and be a better runner.

Tips on good running form
Good Running form

Want to Learn More?

Well, let’s take a step back first. Remember when your princess was an adorable little thing that always ran to you for a hug?  You held so close that you could still smell the milk and Cheerious that she had that  morning for breakfast.

Tips on mother and daughter hug
Mother and daughter hug


She could move fast and agile enough to keep up with the “greatest dog in the universe’’.

Tips on kid playing with dog
Kid playing with dog

And maybe like most little girls she did her own dance. Maybe it was not  smooth like silk blowing in the wind. But hey, she was your ballerina and you were proud of her. Once more, she did all that  oblivious  to her Baby Fat.

Tips on kid having fun
Kid having fun

“Munchies, munchies, munchies, want some . I’m hungry”, she might say.

You gladly gave her some milk and animal crackers. She chewed them up with gusto, Yap even the dinosaur  was crunched and swallowed.

came  in all kinds of shape. Tony was  big and strong, Captain a little on the chubby side. How did she relate to them? Well, like I said, they were probably  her friends and they made her feel good about herself.

When She Got Older, Things Started to Change

For one thing,  she started paying more attention to her baby fat. Well, maybe not so much her. Maybe the world she was growing up in was too obsessed  with  body aesthetics.

An article  in the Journal of Exercise Physiology  states:

“The concern is a result of the imposition by the media of a stereotyped body image that corresponds to an unreal appearance of thinness”.[1]

In short, How teenagers perceive their appearance, including their body image, can have significant impact on health and wellness.

This is called Body Image Dissatisfaction (BID), which is the the negative evaluations of one’s physical body, shape and weight [1]

Upward Comparison

Remember when your angel accompanied you to the supermarket?  Maybe she became giddy and her eyes lit up as she saw Tony The Tiger  or another cereal buddy. You didn’t mind  because it was a fun experience for her. It was all smiles and sweetness—literally.

“Mommy want some of my cereal,” she may have asked  the next morning. “Sure”. It was a bit too sweet for you but maybe you tried not to make a funny face or maybe you did.

Hey, your kid was having fun being a kid. It was all good.

But as she got older, things maybe changed. She perhaps became familiar with something called upward comparison[2]. This is the concept that people compare themselves with someone who is perceived better at things that their culture deem important. So for example, when a teenager or young lady sees an ad that emphasizes physical attractiveness, she may compare herself  with the models in the ad[3]. This may lead to low self-esteem and feelings of inferiority [4].

A Very Thin Woman in a Dress, shoulders Showing.
Photo of A Very Thin Woman

This social comparison  theory was reinforced in a study which compared the role of celebrity involvement in adolescents body image dissatisfaction [5].

A high number of participants said the following statement was true about them:

“When celebrities I follow on SNS share new photos, I tend to compare my physical appearance to their physical appearance”, and “ I sometimes compare my figure to the figure of celebrities I like when I see new photos they show on SNS.”

Another study, focusing on friends,  found a similar result.

It found that:

“Of 600 Facebook users aged 16 to 40, 50?% reported that Facebook content made them more body-conscious; 31?% feeling ?sad? as a result of comparing photos of themselves to those of Facebook friends, and 44?% reported desiring the same body or weight as Facebook friends” [6]

The Credibility of Facebook

Here is the thing that you as a parent trying to help your sport active, but maybe too thin precious daughter,  have to worry about. Facebook may have “street credibility” that conventional mags don’t have.

You see most teens are  sophisticated about what they see on a magazine cover. Yes, they may want to look like that super model. However, most instinctively know that the model doesn’t really look like that in real life. There was some “touching up and camera magic “ going on.

However, they are inclined to believe that a picture from their friend is the real deal. So if that friend looks hot in her “skinny jeans” that teen looking at that picture may want to look the same way.

This Can Lead to Drastic Weight Loss

If she decides that running is a good way to keep that weight loss, that’s when big trouble can happen.

You see, if you are underweight the bones and muscles that support your body will steadily  lose strength. According to a study in [7],

Dr. Timothy Miller, assistant professor of clinical orthopedic surgery and sports medicine talks about something that I have covered intensively  in other posts– the impact of pounding when a foot strikes the ground.

Miller says “ runners endure repetitive pounding on hard surfaces and, without enough lean muscle mass for dissipation of impact forces, the bones of the legs are vulnerable.”

He further states:

“When body mass index is very low and muscle mass is depleted, there is nowhere for the shock of running to be absorbed other than directly into the bones. Until some muscle mass is developed and BMI is optimized, runners remain at increased risk of developing a stress fracture,”.

In short, your daughter’s low weight can lead to a stress fracture that takes a longer time, according to Miller, to heal than if it were someone with more body mass.


From the time you saw that giddy  girl introduce you to her cereal friends, you thought  she was a hoot. The last thing on her mind was worrying about what she looked like. And she sure didn’t worry about snacking too much.

Munchies, more munchies, puff, crunchy, sweet, gummy things is what she wanted.

Body image—what’s that? Oh yeah, it felt good for your little girl to just be a healthy kid. And all that moving, sometimes annoying when you wanted her to stay still, did her a lot of good.

Now perhaps things have changed. She is all grown and has become, through no fault of yours, more focused on body image. As a parent  you can help by being more aware of  body shaming language prevalent in conventional  and social media. You can talk to her and help her develop a positive image of herself.

You can also consult fitness experts that may suggest a strength training and diet program that will add weight  but also make her feel good about herself.

It’s also possible that your daughter is fine with no body image  or self esteem issues. In that case, get her a new pair of shoes every six months or so and just let her run to great health. If ,however, you have noticed or eventually notice some red flags as a result of reading this post, you’ll be more ready to take action that will help her. Feel free to leave any comments about your views on body image.

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I like to hear from the readers so please leave me a comment below to let me know if this post helped you or if you have any questions.


1.  journal of Exercise Physiology online 20.2  Body image and eating disorders in female athletes of different sports  (Apr. 2017) : pA1.

2. Schilder P. The image and appearance of the human body. Oxford: Kegan Paul; 2013.

3. Cash TF, Pruzinsky TE.Body images: Development, deviance, and change. New York: Guilford Press; 1990.

4. Menzel JE, Krawczyk R, Thompson JK. Attitudinal assessment of  body image for adolescents and adults. In: Cash TF, Smolak L, editors. Body image: A handbook of science, practice, and prevention. New York: Guilford Press; 2011. p. 3-11.

5.Journal of Eating Disorders. Comparative effects of Facebook and conventional

media on body image dissatisfaction. 3 (July 2, 2015): p23.

6. Social Network Sites, Friends, and Celebrities: The Roles of Social Comparison and Celebrity Involvement in Adolescents Body Image Dissatisfaction. Available from:

7. [] Clemmer K. Body Image friend or foe? How is facebook affecting the way you feel about your body? The Center for Eating Disorders Blog; 2012. Retrieved from: <url> body-image-friend-or-foe-how-is-facebook</url>- affectingthe-way-you-feel-about-your-body/.


8 thoughts on “How to Overcome Body Image and be a Better Runner

  1. It is amazing how distorted body image can become. My daughter was a champion level cross country runner, making it to state two consecutive years. She oddly hated her body because she believed she was too thin and not at all pretty. Obviously, the opposite was true as it often is in these cases. She was always trying to cover herself up and found trouble in trying to relax if she felt exposed. The trouble we had with her was the same as one would imagine they would have with a young girl who felt overweight, however. She just would not commit to eating and certainly not eating correctly. Maintaining proper health and nutrition was imperative while running at a competitive level. This is when we should be careful and watch to see if a body image problem is not the result of a larger issue such as anxiety. In this case, it was, anxiety tells you that you are never good enough. We must be careful not to miss body image problems in our daughters who have the seemingly ‘perfect’ body, too. I do agree though that running is a great outlet for our kids. It certainly did remarkable things for her, body and mind, despite all the inner turmoil.

    1. I think that one of the things we forget is that People’s bodies are unique, there isn’t really a body that is alike, and too many people don’t remember that, we’re all different in so many ways. While we strive to be fit we should celebrate the idea of uniqueness. I think this acceptance that your body is unique also helps going forward to make decisions that are truly in your best interest and not dictated by one’s anxiety that they are not good enough. I thank you for sharing the story of your daughter and how you helped her cope with the challenges that face an athlete with a distorted body image. She is lucky that she had you as a support system.

  2. Thank you for this. This body image topic is huge right now. With social media including facebook and now the worst one, Instagram, photoshopping is so prevalent now. Also all these public figures, such as Kylie Jenner, now commonly get cosmetic procedures. You can tell me that her hips suddenly grew to look like a couple of “shelves”. That’s called body sculpting. Wake up people. No one looks like that naturally.

    Once again, thank you for this article. We need to educate our children waaaay more now and support them through teaching them to love themselves.

    1. Hi Melissa,

      Yes, indeed, it’s important that parents and all adults who are in a child’s circle  give them strong coping skills that will help them value and love themselves.

  3. I believe that today is very difficult to be pleased with your looks. We are bombarded with superficial images of beautiful people all around us. We see them on TV, Internet, newspapers, ads etc. This can lower our self-esteem, as you pointed out. Those “perfect” images are making millions of women anxious every day. But I believe that seeking professional help could also be helpful. What is your opinion on therapy, and should it be used if my daughter is showing signs that she hates her body?

    1. Hi George,

      The media indeed plays  a big part in how people “see” themselves. Yes, most of the time people get into trouble when they try to compete with, as you say, superficial images of beautiful people. Interesting enough, studies have shown that boys can also suffer low self-esteem  and that  may lead  to abuse of steroids which can have devastating effect on them in later years. I agree with you that professional help can turn things around and greatly enhance the feeling of self-worth. Yes, I think your instincts are correct in seeking professional help should your daughter show signs that she hates her body. The only stipulation  I would add is that you do careful research to make sure your daughter  is with a professional in good standing. I wish you the best.

  4. I am definitely going to be sharing this post. I have been talking to my friend, Jessica, about this topic. Her daughter is growing way too far into this obsessed world of having a body shape like the common celebrities, not knowing that most of them did not get their shapes naturally.
    We really need to talk to our kids because it is solely our responsibilities. If we don’t do it, no one will do it for us.
    This is a very good post!

    1. Hi Vivian,

      As I said in the post, most teens are sophisticated about what they see on a magazine cover. Yes, they may want to look like that super model. However, most instinctively know that the model doesn’t really look like that in real life. There was some “touching up and camera magic “ going on. However, they don’t use the same caution when it comes to social media platforms like FaceBook. By trying to live to the image they see on social media platforms, they may be in danger of developing issues such as stress fractures from running while underweight. This is something that all parents of young female athletes should be on the look out for.

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