Improving Your Self-Confidence And Outlook As A Teen

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated March 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever looked in the mirror and not liked what you saw? Maybe you’ve had thoughts like, “Why do I feel so ugly?” or, “I hate how I look!” You’re not alone; about 40 to 60 percent of adolescents experience negative body image, or feelings of unhappiness related to their appearance.

Being a teenager is tough--you’re growing into your body, navigating the social world, and working hard to meet the demands of your parents and teachers all day long. You may be experiencing feelings of attraction towards others for the first time and worrying about whether people find you attractive as well. Plus, with the prevalence of social media nowadays, there’s no shortage of availing to Photoshopped, Facetuned, Snapchat-filtered beautiful people with whom to compare yourself, especially if you’re a girl or woman. It’s not hard to understand why you don’t feel good about your appearance.

If you or a loved one feels sad about your physical features, it is okay to reach out for help through means such as online therapy.

Why do some teenagers hate how they look?

The truth is that many teens happen to go through an “awkward phase,” and it’s just that--a phase. It’s temporary! Lots of teenagers find it difficult to cope with all of the changes taking place in their lives, both physically and emotionally. Teenagers are expected to begin to become adults and take on more responsibility, such as a more difficult course load or their first job, and it’s simply a lot to handle.

A teen girl with white headphones stands outside on a sunny day and looks down at the cellphone in her hand with a blank expressions.
Unhappy with your appearance?

Social media also plays a large role in the insecurity that many teenagers feel, but even before social media, teenagers still struggle with a negative self-image. For most people, it’s natural to focus on appearance; it’s simply an expected part of development. But even though it’s normal, feeling as though you are ugly is not an enjoyable experience by any stretch of the imagination. Luckily, there are ways to combat this feeling and improve your confidence and low self-esteem.

How can you be more confident?

First, know that it’s okay if you do want to make minor changes to your physical appearance.

Things like contact lenses, topical acne solutions, skincare, and regular exercise are an example of small steps you can take to make a difference in the way you look and how you feel about yourself and your own beauty.

Dressing in a way that allows you to express yourself and makes you feel confident is also a great method of improving your self-esteem.

But confidence is not all about looks. It has a lot to do with your awareness, your character, and who you are on the inside. Joining a sports team or an extracurricular group such as the drama club can help you recognize your abilities, skills, and talents. Knowing you’re good at something and being part of a team or group can also boost your self-esteem.

Making a list of your best qualities and attributes and reading over it anytime you feel ugly is one of the self-esteem tips for teenagers. Remind yourself that true beauty is who you are on the inside, which is always going to matter more than your body shape or how you look on the outside.

Spending time with a good friend or friends who make you feel good about yourself is another way to increase your confidence. Paying attention to your inner voice and how you speak to yourself can also make a difference. If the things you tell yourself are so mean that you’d never say them to a friend or anyone else, then you shouldn’t say them to yourself, either! In fact, try to treat yourself the way you’d treat a person you care about very much. You’re likely to find that your thoughts become much more rooted in kindness, and that such a mental shift feels good and increases your overall confidence.

Helping others is also an amazing way to make you feel better about yourself. Who cares what you look like when you can do things like tutoring a fellow student who’s struggling in class or helping an elderly neighbor carry their groceries inside? Many find that volunteering, giving to others, and finding additional ways to lead within the community really lets their character shine and helps them feel like they're making a difference.

What if I can’t stop thinking about my appearance?

A teen boy in a green shirt sits on his windowsill in his room and writes in a notebook while smiling.

While feeling ugly or unhappy with your appearance is a normal part of the teenage experience, if it begins to affect your mental health, it could be a sign of a condition known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

People with body dysmorphic disorder usually have several of the following symptoms:

  • An extreme focus on their looks
  • Feeling anxious, worried, or stressed about their appearance for the majority of the time
  • Constantly checking or fixing their appearance
  • Trying to hide or not to be seen by others or themselves (avoiding mirrors)
  • A distorted sense of reality when it comes to what other people notice about them or how others perceive them 

Those who have body dysmorphic disorder are typically focused on a specific part of their body, like their skin, nose, ears, or stomach, among many other qualities. Often, the flaw they see so clearly is invisible or hardly noticeable to others, which is an example of what psychologists call the “spotlight effect.” 

If you think you may have body dysmorphic disorder, reach out to a mental health professional for potential services. They can evaluate your situation and determine whether a diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder is accurate. They can also provide treatment; usually, body dysmorphic disorder is treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps you rewire your thoughts by examining negative thought patterns and replacing them with more constructive, positive ones. Sometimes, psychiatrists will also prescribe medication for body dysmorphic disorder. Always speak to your doctor before considering prescription medication.

Body dysmorphic disorder isn’t the only mental health condition that can cause teens to have a negative body image. Gender dysphoria or an eating disorder can also lead you to feel ugly or engage in negative self talk about the way you look. Ultimately, you may not even have a disorder, going through adolescence can be enough to keep you from feeling good in your own skin. Stress can lead to habits like nail biting or skin picking. No matter what the cause is, a therapist can help you learn to appreciate and love your own body so you feel confident about yourself.

Seeing a mental health professional for mental health services can seem scary or overwhelming the first time, but remember that they are there to help you. It’s best to be open and honest with them if you want to feel good and improve your mental health. You can also turn to your parents and friends for support during this tough time.

Try to have patience with the process and give it your all, and before long, you’ll likely find that you’re feeling better about your appearance, among other aspects of your life.

Where can you find help with body dysmorphic disorder?

A teen girl in a tan hoodie sits in a chair across from her female therapist as the woman reaches out to comfort the girl.
Unhappy with your appearance?

Many times, a quick Google search for “counselors near me” is an easy way to find local mental health professionals who can help treat your body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) or other mental health conditions. But if it’s hard for your parents to coordinate transportation to the counselor’s office, or if you’d prefer to talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own home, then BetterHelp (for people over the age of 18) or TeenCounseling (for people aged 13-19) are both excellent options. They are online counseling platforms that connect you with a certified therapist from the comfort of your own home. All you need is a stable internet connection.

You may wonder if seeing a therapist online is as helpful as seeing one in person, or if you may experience the same results. While every patient is different, multiple studies have shown that online therapy can be just as effective for treating a wide range of mental health conditions as in-person therapy. 

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While most people go through a phase in their adolescence where they feel awkward or unappealing, you may find comfort in the idea that these phases don’t last forever. Simple things like self-care and the right support network can make a difference and squash the thought that you’re ugly. If you feel that your discomfort with your appearance is affecting your quality of life or making you feel depressed, however, don’t be afraid to reach out for help or to let your parents know what you’re going through. Your mental health is important, and you deserve to be happy.

Learn to cope with the challenges of adolescence
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