For simplicity in defining self-concept we will break it down into two words because clearly it is one word made up of two.

Self: the reference by a subject to itself.

Concept: awareness, knowledge, understanding, perception a person has about something.

Self-concept: the awareness understanding, knowledge, perception an individual has of himself/herself.

Self-concept has four elements:

  • Body image
  • Self-image
  • Ideal self
  • Self esteem

    Body image

This is the perception one has concerning the attractiveness of his/her own body. This could be affected by a person’s external environment or his internal environment. The way one thinks about oneself is not necessarily how other people will view the person. A person’s body image can be cognitive (what one thinks about oneself body), affective (how one feels, what causes happiness or what does not), perceptual (it is basically the wrong perception one has about oneself, one could say that he/she is short when he/she is tall), behavioural.

Some of the factors that influence how a person thinks and feels about his/her body include:

Family: especially those who are dieting or generally obsessed with their bodies. Teasing or criticism may result if one is not living up to their standards.

Cultural expectations like media. Most adverts are full of thin women who look happy and amazing. Young people look at them, getting the wrong idea that to be happy one needs to be thin. Most societies have a body size they appreciate. Boys who are not super toned may feel insecure in this age where even superman and batman or even several cartoons are well toned. In some communities’ women with figure 8s are more appreciated or accepted. It depends on where one comes from.

Peer influence: one’s friends or people he/she comes in contact with can shape how he thinks or feels about himself/herself. For instance, in a group where well tones guys are appreciated, one is likely have the desire to fit in, look like everyone else.

Personality traits: there are some teens who are perfectionists. They want their life to work out in such a way that everyone would look at it and see something extraordinary. When it comes to the body type they want, it should just be that and nothing less or more.

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It is important to note that, one does not have to wear the shoes everyone thinks are the best to be worn. Shoe sizes are different, shoe preferences vary, a person only needs to feel comfortable in his own. There is so much pressure, especially on young people when it comes to how their bodies should look like. Succumbing to these pressures only lead to depression, low self-esteem, obsessive exercising, excessive dieting, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa, taking part in risky habits (like drug and substance abuse, unsafe sex) skin lightening, cosmetic surgery for those who can afford. The only problem with succumbing to what the world is that it is dynamic; people change, things change, situations change. What is interesting today may be disgusting tomorrow. So love your body the way it is, respect it, accept it, then if need be, exercise and diet wisely. After all you can never please everyone.


This is an internalized mental picture of oneself based on strengths, weaknesses, what others think, personality, relationships, performance.

Negative self-image is where someone focuses on the weaknesses and heavily criticizes oneself. It is characterized by depression, doubt, insecurity, pessimism, discouragement, self-blame, loss of control, shame among others. Teens who have a high chance of having negative self-image include perfectionists/top achiever since they set unrealistic high standards that they fail to meet almost every time, those who have undergone sexual, emotional or physical abuse before as they feel good for nothing and helpless, those with perfectionist parents who are too hard to please or siblings who they are always compared with.

Positive self-image is when one has embraced him/herself with the weaknesses or strengths. This person works on making him/herself better each day. Limits self-criticism or totally avoids it. Happier or comfortable being themselves.

Ideal self

This is a persons idealized view of themselves. How they would want themselves to be in a few months or years. If one’s ideal self is in line with his real self, then the person will be at peace but if not the person is likely to be disturbed. For instance, if someone wants to be a medic but hates sciences and mathematics then the teen is likely to be disturbed. But if the vice versa is true about the teen, then he will be least worried. The ideal self is shaped by one’s personal experiences, societal demands, what one admires in the role models, parental demands.

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Self esteem

This is the value or worth that an individual has put upon oneself.

Signs of low self-esteem include: dissatisfaction with oneself, always criticizing oneself, exaggerated fear of mistakes, perfectionism, pessimism, over dwelling on past mistakes, irritability without cause, isolation of oneself from people, excessive shyness, lack of confidence, easily succumb to participation in risky habits, depression, settling, fall short of one’s potential.

Signs of healthy high self-esteem include satisfaction with oneself, avoiding self-criticism unless necessary, risk taking despite the fact that mistakes can occur, optimism, living in the present, interaction with people, confidence in oneself, confidence in one’s ideas, assertive, avoiding risky behaviours. When one gets to the point of arrogance, inability to accept or learn from mistakes, entitlement, despising peers or authority then it is no longer healthy high self-esteem.

Low self-esteem is dangerous since people can easily take advantage of such a person and he/she is likely to succumb to risky behaviours like drugs or substance abuse, unsafe sex, theft or even bully others. So how can one improve his/her self-esteem.

Stop criticizing oneself: the next time you don’t meet a deadline or make a stupid decision do not beat yourself up about it. Remember man is to error. Mistakes are normal.

Put effort in doing your best: in everything you do, whether it is class, extra curriculum activities, helping out with the chores, your hobbies. Put your best foot forward without dragging yourself into the perfection mood.

Think of something that you would like to accomplish. Make plans. Work towards it. It does not have to be something huge, even if it is learning how to change the baby, ride the bicycle or make a certain type of meal. You could also think of big things like starting a business, even a small business.

Accept compliments: some people are so prone of brushing of compliments because they feel whatever that person said cannot just be true about him/her. Chances are, that person really means it. So the next time you get a compliment, smile, thank the person and embrace it.

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Contribute: it does it hurt if you contribute somewhere, in fact you could have had an idea that no one else did. Just say it, especially if you think it will help in the situation. It will help you.

So how do you generally improve your self-concept?

Most of the things have already been mentioned under the different elements.

Exercise and watch your diet: do not wait until you are obese to start exercising. Dance, go for a run, do sports, just find an exercise routine that you actually enjoy doing then it will not look so cumbersome. Watch what you eat (and by this I don’t mean skip meals I mean eat healthy food stuffs that will supply your body with sufficient necessary nutrients).

Manage your inner critic: do not criticize yourself unless what you did s extremely big and you need to. Even when you do so, do not overdo it. Avoid being a perfectionist who also dwells on past mistakes and fears making others. Go out there, explore, forgive yourself if you have done something wrong, enjoy life.

Live life on your terms: it is your life after all. This does not mean you suddenly become a rebellious teen who no one can handle. It means you accepting yourself the way you are. Not allowing what everyone else thinks sink into your head. If your friends want to hang out with extremely thin or well-toned people, let them, then get out of the group and enjoy your body because fact is you are lovely just the way you are. Do not let the world around you determine how you feel about yourself. If there is need to improve on something, then work on it but do not let your motivation be what people think.

We realize that how a teen perceives him/herself predisposes them to being a teen mum or dad, so work on improving how you view yourself.


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