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Help! Is This My Body?

Growing Up and Out (or Not)

Most of us are prepared to deal with the 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 to come.

Getting Used to to a New Body

We become more aware of looks right around the time our bodies begin changing. This can make physical changes hard to deal with emotionally.

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. As bodies change, they can make it harder or easier to play certain sports.

Changes in our bodies — 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.

Bewaredon't compare! It's natural to look at our friends for comparison. But it's not a good idea. 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 they’re too small. It's usually hardest for the people who develop first or last.

It's also a bad idea to compare ourselves with celebrities, models, and influencers. 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.) Ads and posts sell fantasy, not reality.

Treat your body well. Making smart 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. Even just going for a walk, playing with your dog, or throwing a Frisbee with your friends can help you feel good.

Many teens quit sports around the time their bodies develop. Often it's because the changes in their bodies influence which sports they compete in. But you can still do any activity you’re interested in. Some people do decide to switch to another activity if they find that the changes in their body may help with another sport.

Sometimes people quit playing organized sports in high school because schoolwork gets 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 things. 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 anymore? Just like a friendship that grows and changes, 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 do.

Walk talleven 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 probably will become more confident.

There's not much you can do about your height or development, but you can focus on the things that you like about yourself. Maybe it's your curly hair or the dimple you get when you smile. Maybe it's that you’re a really thoughtful person or are good at making people laugh.

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 twenties 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 use the powers of exercise and healthy eating: You've probably heard of the "freshman 15," when college students become 100% in charge of feeding themselves. Many 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 is less likely to happen to you.

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, and — just like a good friend — it can do a lot for you in return!

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: January 2021