South Asian Teen Health
Having a healthy, confident body image is vital for any teenager. South Asian teenagers may face particular challenges in thinking about body image, especially if they have different features than their friends or others in the American media. All teenagers should be proud and confident about themselves and their personal image.
Some South Asians, especially those who don’t have many other South Asian friends, feel that their appearance sets them apart from everyone else. This can make them feel insecure about their physical appearance. While this is unfortunate, it is understandable that South Asian teens feel this way—they are bombarded by media images of an “ideal” of beauty which is impossible for them to attain. One South Asian teenager relates her experience with this issue as she was growing up:
“When I played with Barbie dolls as a child, I always got the blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls with flashy, pink clothing. I remember once my aunt brought me an Indian doll, dressed in a sari and with a complete kitchen set. I never once played with that doll, because I felt it wasn’t as pretty.”
Sadly, this experience is common among many minority teenagers because the lack of diversity of toys in the media promotes only one, idealized image of American beauty. South Asian teenagers should love and feel proud of their appearance.
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Many South Asians in America grow up with the struggle to “fit in,” which can lead to a dismissal of the traditional clothing of their heritage. One South Asian teenager relates her experience concerning this problem:
“Throughout middle school, I was always extremely self-conscious about my clothes. I always tried to wear the same clothes as my friends, and often refused to wear traditional Indian clothing. Now, I have realized that my own sense of style is what makes me feel original and confident.”
Clothing is a key element in how people present themselves to the world, and thus teenagers sometimes place a great deal of thought and importance into what they wear. But when it all comes down to it, self-esteem doesn’t come from certain clothes or makeup. It comes from accepting and respecting oneself—whether one identifies more as “South Asian,” “South Asian-American” or something else.
Some South Asian-American teenagers face problems if their parents are not accustomed to the styles of clothing they sport. One South Asian teenager explains, “My mom used to be pretty strict and traditional when it came to clothes. I wasn’t allowed to wear short shorts or tank tops in public. After talking to her about it for most of my middle school and high school years, she finally has pretty reasonable ideas about what is appropriate for me to wear.”
If you and your family often have disagreements about what you can and can’t wear, it’s important to discuss your feelings with them. Tell them why you believe a certain article of clothing is appropriate to wear, and come to a compromise about suitable clothing.
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It is important to be physically fit and have a healthy lifestyle. This may be harder for some South Asian teenagers to attain, because parents may prioritize family and education over sports and exercise.
One South Asian teenager says: “I run cross country and my parents think that running five or six days a week is too much physical exertion and an impractical use of time. They also insist that I shouldn’t exercise at all when I’m on my period.” If you have a disagreement over exercising or sports with your parents, it helps to discuss your feelings with them. You can tell them the benefits of exercise, and explain why it is important to you. Another way to show them why you care about a sport you do is encourage them to come to a game, match, or meet.
Being physically active is a vital key to good health for any teenager. However, some South Asian families may not place a great deal of importance on this aspect of life. If necessary, you can talk to your family about the importance of exercise, and what your family can do to become physically healthy.
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