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Positive Body Image: Supporting Your Teen Through Weight-Loss Surgery

Childhood obesity is one of the most important public health issues in the United States. Children and adolescents affected by obesity face increased risks of developing diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease and stroke. 

For teens struggling with obesity, the challenges extend beyond physical health. They may experience low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, bullying and discrimination. 

Bariatric surgery, a weight loss procedure, offers a path to improved health and well-being for teens, boosting their body image and self-esteem. However, it’s not a quick fix. Support from parents and their health care professionals plays an important role in coping with emotional and physical changes with surgery. 

If your teen is considering or undergoing bariatric surgery, here’s how bariatric surgery can affect your child’s mental health and ways you can help your child along the way.

Understanding body image and self-esteem in teens

Navigating body image and self-esteem can be tough, especially during the teenage years. The journey to feeling comfortable in one’s own skin can be filled with challenges. And for those who are dealing with obesity, it’s even harder.

“In adolescence, we can be constantly challenged by peers, social media, family and celebrities of what we should look like and how we should behave,” said James Evans, PsyD, a psychologist specializing in bariatric medicine with Banner – University Medicine. “For teens struggling with the disease of obesity, trying to adhere to social norms can be particularly damaging for body image and self-esteem.”

Teens facing obesity face constant pressures to meet unrealistic beauty standards and societal norms. When they’re teased or bullied, it only worsens their self-image, creating a harmful cycle of low self-esteem and negative body perception.

The benefits of bariatric surgery on self-esteem and body image

Bariatric surgery has been increasingly considered for teens with severe obesity who have not been successful with traditional weight loss methods like diet and exercise. 

This weight loss procedure goes beyond physical changes. It has been shown to decrease the risks of long-term obesity-related health issues and helps teens get back on track, both physically and mentally. 

“Appropriate weight loss through bariatric surgery allows teens to ‘fit in’ and ‘be normal,’ navigating their environments at school, work and home with the same level of difficulty and ease as their peers,” Dr. Evans said. “They can also experience a boost in self-esteem, as they find they have more energy, maybe take fewer medications for diabetes or high blood pressure and no longer see themselves as unhealthy without much hope for the future.”

Weight loss surgery can also provide teens with opportunities to play sports and engage in other age-appropriate activities that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. 

The challenges teens face after bariatric surgery

While bariatric surgery offers hope for improved health and acceptance, it doesn’t erase all challenges related to a teen’s body image and self-esteem. 

“Just as in adult patients, teens may struggle after surgery with their body image,” Dr. Evans said. “Often the culprit to negative body image is rooted in what I refer to as ‘diet mentality,’ which is a set of societal norms or rules that we use to achieve ‘the perfect body.’ 

Pursuing the perfect body is common among teens, regardless of whether they undergo surgery. Following surgery, teens may set unrealistic expectations for their post-operative body, striving for an idealized image that may not be attainable or healthy. This perfectionistic mindset can undermine their self-esteem.

The diet mentality can also contribute to eating disorders, such as disordered eating or binge eating, and the development of mental health conditions like body dysmorphia

Ways to support your teen on their weight loss surgery journey

Bariatric surgery is a big decision, especially for teenagers, and you can play an important role in supporting your teen before and after surgery. Here are some ways to help your child on their weight loss journey:

Educate and understand

Understanding what your teen is going through can help you provide better support. “It’s important always to have family and/or caregivers involved in an adolescent’s pre- and post-op journey with bariatric surgery to ensure that someone is helping them safely navigate the world,” Dr. Evans said. 

Learn as much as you can about bariatric surgery, its risks, benefits and the lifestyle changes involved. Your child’s bariatric team can help you access information and support groups.

Encourage open communication

Create a safe space for your child to express their feelings and concerns about surgery and body image. Encourage open and honest conversations and listen without judgment. Validate their emotions and reassure them that feeling scared or uncertain about the changes ahead is okay. 

Focus on health—not appearance

Shift the conversation from weight loss to overall health and well-being. Dr. Evans advocates for focusing on improving health outcomes rather than achieving a specific body size or shape. “Focus on improving health outcomes versus losing pounds on the scale,” he said. For more tips, check out “Parenting Teens: 5 Ways to Promote a Healthy Body Image.”

Promote positive self-talk

Help your teen develop a healthy inner dialogue by challenging negative thoughts and emphasizing their strengths and accomplishments. Encourage them to practice self-compassion and remind them that their appearance does not determine their worth. 

Teach them to recognize and appreciate their unique qualities and talents, regardless of their size or shape. Here are some ways they can practice and make time for self-love.

Limit exposure to negative influences

“Teens are inundated with social media that is a double-edged sword, and without proper supervision it can become the arch-nemesis, antagonizing the need for perfection onto each child,” Dr. Evans said. Monitor your teen’s social media usage and encourage them to follow accounts that promote body positivity and self-acceptance. 

Involve the whole family 

Create a supportive environment at home by involving the entire family in healthy eating and physical activity. Lead by example and prioritize nutritious meals and active lifestyles. Foster a sense of teamwork as you work together to support your teen on their journey to better health. 

“Your child’s bariatric team will work with your family to assess your home environment, culture around food, willingness to change food in the family environment, access to food and basic needs,” Dr. Evans said. “This personalized approach can help address challenges upfront and provide resources and strategies to overcome them.”

Seek professional support

Children are resilient but don’t hesitate to seek help if your teen is struggling. Establishing care with a licensed behavioral health specialist, like a therapist or counselor, can provide additional coping strategies and support for your teen as they navigate the emotional challenges associated with bariatric surgery. 


Navigating body image and self-esteem as a teenager can be challenging, especially for those undergoing bariatric surgery. However, with the right support and resources, teens can develop a positive body image and self-esteem that extends beyond their weight.

Remember that every journey is unique. It’s okay to seek help along the way. Whether your teen chooses surgery or pursues other weight management options, what matters most is their health, happiness and sense of self-worth. 

To learn more about adolescent weight loss surgery, speak with your child’s health care provider or a Banner Health specialist

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