Emma Newman staff writer
Candice Anvari staff writer
Sophomore Warren Jacobson wasn’t born self-conscious. After hearing other people insult him behind his back, his struggles with body confidence worsened from middle school and still exist today to the point where it keeps him up at night.
Jacobson, whose main insecurity is his weight, is not the only student at Beverly who has struggled with body image. Body image is an issue that affects most students at Beverly. In fact, according to a poll of 45 students administered by Highlights, 58 percent of students at Beverly struggle with body confidence.
In addition, 54 percent of students have insecurities that affect their happiness. Some of these traits include acne, fat and thigh size.
“Body image and distorted eating is high at all high schools,” Alison Norman-Franks, the intervention counselor, said. “This is the age where teens are more looking for approval from their peers and really evaluating themselves, so that’s why we see a heightened body image and low self-esteem throughout late middle school and high school.”
Jacobson’s insecurities about his body are influenced by his belief that attractiveness and a lack of body fat are prerequisites to popularity. Specifically, Jacobson believes that as a member of the gay communtiy, there’s a norm in which you need to look a certain way in order to be acknowledged by other guys.
“There’s always that stereotype of the skinny, tall and more lean type of a person. When I don’t fit that, it affects me, like ‘Oh, I will never be able to achieve the type of happiness and relationships that I want in life because I look this way,” Jacobson said.
One of the major reasons teens like Jacobson and Lightner have body confidence issues is due to the influence of others on their self-esteem and how they compare themselves to others. Jacobson barely finds himself posting on social media due to the fact that his self-esteem is reduced by comparing his pictures to the pictures of others on his feed.
“I’m scared to post my photos of myself. My actual feed is just shots where I’m not the main focus or some other thing I would look at other people and see that they were wearing stuff that makes them look really good, but they’re a lot thinner than I am and that’s the reason that it looks so good on them,” Lightner said.
Like Lightner, junior Mia Decastro Basto, whose main insecurity is her acne, has compared herself to others.
“There was a point where you see yourself as so much less than everyone else because nobody else goes through the struggle or that’s how I felt,” Decastro Basto said. “Even if other people struggled with it, it wasn’t to the degree that I did. That’s how I felt, so I always felt like I was worthless, or I wasn’t as pretty or I didn’t live up to the standards.”
As a result of her acne, Decastro Basto was treated in a poor, sour manner. The most difficult part of her journey was the way people looked at her and treated her as if she was completely different than they were.
“I didn’t really realize until this year how people would treat me,” Decastro Basto said. “Now that I have clear skin, people will treat me differently, and they’ll hold doors open. And it’s [because of] things like that I started to realize that, wow, people really just treated me poorly.”
In contrast, the opinions of others did not worsen Lightner’s body insecurities. Instead, her lack of body confidence stemmed from her unhappy feelings about herself as a whole.
“For me, I was having a problem with myself,” Lightner said. “I was going through that phase where you try to find yourself and who you are, and I didn’t like who I was. I wanted to be something else, so I was really upset about that.”
Despite the trials and tribulations Jacobson, Lightner and Decastro Basto have gone through to alleviate their feelings of low confidence, it’s only made them more aggravated.
“It was really frustrating to me to see people who had perfect skin and didn’t take care of it at all,” Decastro Basto said. “It was just like, ‘Why me? What am I doing wrong?’ I went through this whole process of trying to change everything in my lifestyle. I came to a point where I just wouldn’t eat anything. I had a very, very strict diet.”
Jacobson also attempted to diet in order to change his appearance. However, it has been difficult for him to stick with them in the past and present. His main issue with dieting is the fact that he doesn’t have the time and the motivation to do so.
“Societal norms [tell you to] slim down and become that kind of person that applies all society’s norms to your everyday life and obsess over losing weight and eating healthy,” Jacobson said. “There’s always been that pressure to get that and I work towards it, but life and school just always puts me in a place where [I think], what’s the point?”
To help teens like Jacobson with body image struggles, NormanAid offers service and counseling to people who are struggling, like during the month of April. April is NormanAid’s “Accept Yourself” month, which is a month dedicated to on body image, distorted eating and self esteem.
In other months, their focus is broader in regards to the help offered. During this time of the year, NormanAid’s approach to self-esteem is to have students feel comfortable to share their feelings.
“The main way that we work through it is by talking to students, giving them a safe place to be able to share and to be able to feel that there are people who are not going to judge them,” Norman-Franks said.
This is because of the large number of students who could benefit from counseling in regards to their body image.
“This is a time period where it is hard,” Norman-Franks said. “People are questioning how they’re viewed amongst their peers, and the best way to get support through that is by talking about it with people that you trust and that will support you and keep it confidential.”
Jacobson did not utilize the Norman Aid services to find support on body confidence, but Decastro Basto did utilize it and was also able to find support from the acne community on Instagram. She has documented her skincare journey, from the beginning, in order to spread positivity and show that acne is not something to be ashamed of. Decastro Basto documented her ups and downs on her Instagram to give a sense of support to those who are on the same journey that she is on.
“A key idea in this journey is doing what I think is right and what makes me happy, regardless of what others, even society, tells us to think,” Decastro Basto said on her Instagram. “People should not be judged or critiqued so harshly, nor should they be defined by a single attribute.”
Decastro Basto reached a realization that she is not alone on her journey once she reached out and found the support of others.
“You’re not alone, even though it may seem like everyone else has clean, clear skin,” Decastro Basto said.
Lightner stopped giving into societal norms once her parents made her realize that she didn’t need to give into the pressure society was instilling in her. She has finally learned to love herself for who she is.
“After I figured out my problem with myself, my eyes opened, I finally accepted myself for who I was, I was fine with my body for the most part and I was okay with myself, ” Lightner said. I was more comfortable and I was confident in expressing who I was.”