Attractive Teens Don't Have More Self-Esteem Than Peers

Research indicates that good looks don't boost teen confidence

Teenager looking in mirror

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It's widely believed that beauty and self-esteem go together, but this may not actually be the case for teens, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Photographs of 230 13- to 15-year-olds were rated for facial attractiveness and compared to their levels of self-esteem over five years.

They found that the adolescents who were rated as most attractive actually had lower baseline levels of self-esteem than their less-attractive counterparts.

Over the course of the study, they found that for most, self-esteem increased and became more stable as the adolescents transitioned into early adulthood, especially for those who reported higher levels of education.

Researchers found that girls had lower levels of self-esteem than boys overall—and notably, the adolescent girls were rated as more attractive than boys.

Why Attractiveness Hinders Self-Esteem

The study authors offer several explanations (not explored in their study) as to why more attractive teens might have lower levels of self-esteem:

  • Changes during puberty: They suggest that the more attractive adolescents may perceive the actual or impending changes of puberty as negatively affecting their appearance, while less attractive young adolescents may view these changes as having a positive impact on their appearance.
  • High expectations: It's possible that peers, teachers, and parents often unconsciously expect higher levels of social functioning and academic performance from attractive children. These expectations may be overwhelming for children and create a sense of self-doubt or low self-esteem if they feel they cannot live up to other people's expectations.
  • Perception of attractiveness: Very simply, young adolescents may have had a different perception of their attractiveness than the research team that rated their photographs. It is likely that many factors contribute to a person's perception of attractiveness, which was not accounted for in the study.

Low Self-Esteem and Depression

It is thought that low or unstable self-esteem may be a vulnerability for depression. It is also known that during early adolescence when children are often going through puberty, rates of depression increase, especially in girls.

One study found that low self-esteem was a predictor for depression in adolescence and young adulthood. This suggests that having poor self-esteem can be a risk factor for depression.

It is important to know that low self-esteem does not always lead to depression. Certainly, attractiveness does not always lead to depression. However, parents should be aware that a child is susceptible to low self-esteem regardless of appearance and may be especially vulnerable in early adolescence.

Talk to your child's pediatrician or another mental health provider if she has low self-esteem and other signs and symptoms of depression, such as:

Providing extra support, encouragement, and love during the sometimes trying early adolescent years can only have a positive impact on your child's development.

How to Spot Low Self-Esteem

The teen years are a time of transition and often upheaval. As kids test boundaries and explore their identity, it is important for parents and guardians to watch for signs of low self-esteem. These signs are not always easy to spot, however. Unfortunately, parents sometimes dismiss some symptoms of low-self esteem as normal teenage behavior or adolescent moodiness.

Some behaviors to watch for include:

  • Blaming themselves, often excessively, for mistakes
  • Having a fear of failing
  • Avoiding opportunities
  • Refusing to try new things
  • Poor social relationships
  • Being unmotivated or disinterested
  • An inability to accept compliments or praise
  • Always comparing themselves to others
  • Negative self-talk
  • Self-critical comments

Low self-esteem can manifest in a variety of ways. Some teens may experience anger, lashing out or blaming others to avoid facing their own perceived shortcomings. Others may withdraw and avoid situations that expose them to potential failure or judgment. You know your child best. If you begin to notice patterns of behavior indicating that your teen is feeling unwanted, insecure, or unloved, look for ways to boost your child's esteem.

Ways to Help

Self-esteem takes time to develop and your teen has a whole host of influences that also contribute to their sense of personal worth. The media, friends, family members, co-workers, and their lifetime of personal experiences can all play a part in how teens feel about themselves. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to help teens develop better self-esteem.

  • Model positive self-esteem. Negative thinking often contributes to feelings of low self-esteem. One way to combat this is to talk through things in a way that shows a more positive, healthy approach. Don't engage in negative self-talk in front of your children. Don't just tell your teen to "think positive" or "look on the bright side." Instead, point out aspects of the situation that are a cause for positivity or pride.
  • Talk about it. Be willing to discuss the things that your teen is dealing with. Let them know that you recognize what they are going through. Don't be dismissive or trivialize their feelings.
  • Encourage your teen to focus on strengths. Negative thinking causes people to give too much weight to weaknesses or failures. Instead, make it a point to remind your child of their abilities and strengths. Remind them that their worth is not contingent upon their appearance.

Reach Out for Help

If you are concerned about your teen's self-esteem or feel that it is contributing to feelings of depression, don't be afraid to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. Early intervention can provide solutions and ideas that can help improve esteem and address any underlying conditions that might be affecting your child's ability to cope and function.

A Word From Verywell

The teen years can be turbulent and struggles with identity and appearance can challenge how kids feel about themselves. Parents can help by making sure that their children know a person's value does not hinge of their physical attractiveness.

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