Victor Kesten, Sweden, 16, has lived in Beijing for eight years
Elizabeth McMillan, Canada, 17, has lived in Beijing for three years
Anne Sophie Kristiansen, Denmark, 16, has lived in Beijing for two months
Noak Jonsson, Sweden, 16, has lived in Beijing for five years
The topic of body image could be an uncomfortable one for teens, as it can be such a personal and subjective issue. Of all the phases of adolescence, high school is difficult enough without having to worry about how you look. Students from the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), however, brought an upbeat and positive light to the subject, explaining how teens are not only aware of and affected by body image concerns, but how they know what’s good for them and what to do to stay well.
How much pressure do teens feel to be a certain size or shape?
Elizabeth: It varies, but there is definitely some kind of pressure for everyone, whether it’s to be a certain size or to look a certain way.
Victor: It’s a social competition sometimes. You compare yourself to other people even though maybe you don’t say so, but you do it internally.
Noak: In the back of their [minds], everyone compares themselves to others. They look at how other people look and they adapt to fit in.
Anne Sophie: Same with teen idols. We don’t want to say we compare ourselves to them, but we’re all thinking we wish we could achieve what they have and be like them. We don’t want to admit that, because we want to [prove]we are just as confident.
How difficult is it for you to keep fit in Beijing?
Victor: Gyms are accessible for any one of us. There’s a gym here at school and we have Tony.
Elizabeth: Tony Nicholson is a personal trainer who comes after school to our adrenaline gym. Whoever has any questions about diets or how they would want to improve the way their body looks, he has the answers and [can]give you exercises and suggestions for diets.
Noak: WAB offers almost every sport that you can think of. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head in high school that doesn’t play a sport.
Anne Sophie: But also, throughout middle school we have P.E., [which introduces]the basics of all the sports and gives you a clear mind of what you like to do.
What eating and exercise habits did you have growing up that were beneficial to you?
Anne Sophie: At my house, there’s no candy or cake throughout the week; that’s a Saturday type of thing. And there’s no Coke for dinner; it might be juice or milk or water.
Noak: My parents were also very strict about candy and soft drinks. I was 4 when we moved to the US from Sweden, and we had the rule that we could have candy one day on the weekends.
Victor: At home, we also have vegetables on the table every [day for]dinner, and my mom always says that we should eat fruit.
Elizabeth: Even as a younger student, my mom would always talk to me about proper ways to keep healthy – to exercise and to eat fruits and vegetables. Whenever I have big tests, she makes sure I don’t eat simple sugars.
What bad habits do you wish you hadn’t started or that you could stop?
Anne Sophie: Sometimes I just don’t have the motivation enough to exercise. It sounds good to say, “Yeah, I’m going to go to the gym.” You get there and after about 15 minutes, [you think], “Good, let’s go home.”
Noak: I have phases where I snack a lot and can’t stop eating. Late at night when I’m doing homework and everyone else is asleep, I’ll go get a cookie or something. In my head I think, “It’s harmless, I work out, it’s just one cookie.”
Elizabeth: Sometimes I feel like I drink too much coffee for my age. It’s really hard to stay up late to finish all of my school work, just to make sure I can hand it in on time.
Do you think people are obsessed with the way they look?
Anne Sophie: Some more than others. A lot of girls spend hours in front of the mirror doing their make-up, doing their hair, and switching their outfits. But we all do it. I know I do it and I know a lot of my friends do it, too.
Elizabeth: For me, the way I feel good is by appearing good to myself. So even on the weekends when I’m doing homework, I’ll go take a shower and get changed and fresh, and then I’ll be able to sit down and concentrate. I will have woken myself up and I just feel like I work better that way.
Victor: It’s not really that big of a deal for guys, I guess, compared to girls. Of course, there is a little pressure, but not that much.
Noak: What I remember from Sweden was that for boys the pressure with clothes and fashion was a lot more than here [in Beijing].
Should cosmetic surgery be allowed?
Victor: Sure, it could be an option if anyone really, really wants it, then why not?
Noak: I think it’s dangerous. They try to change everything just because they have the money for it and they have the possibility to.
Anne Sophie: There should be a limit, but if there’s something you’re truly unhappy with and you can change it to make yourself happier with whom you are, then I say go for it. But if you’re going to [change your]whole body, you’re not yourself anymore.
Elizabeth: When people get into car accidents, they don’t have their real face anymore and they want it back. I think that really affects confidence level and self-esteem.