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Girls' self-esteem coming under fire



Former member

At 10, she's a competitive swimmer, works hard to keep her grades up and has lots of friends to help her wile away her free time.

Despite being active, Catherine said she'd like to lose a little weight, maybe two or three pounds from her four-and-a-half-foot frame.

"My mom reminds me not to eat when I get bored," she said. "I know kids my age don't need to be overweight, but it's hard sometimes."

Catherine said she vividly remembers being made fun of as a kindergartner for being a little chubby and, when stepping on the Wii Fit, she hears a computerized voice tell her she's obese.

"I don't like that," Catherine said.

With everything going on in the life of an adolescent girl, why worry about being thin at all?

Jess Weiner, author and self-esteem guru, said it's no longer up to the girls to decide. As a result, their self-esteem has come under attack, leaving them with skewed body images and, potentially, a lifetime spent trying to achieve an unrealistic physical ideal.

"At the very core, adolescent issues haven't changed all that much over the decades," she said. "You can go back years and years, and the girls then would wonder, 'Do I fit in?' 'Will I be accepted?' 'Will I be loved?' These are universal and timeless questions. On top of those traditional issues is an intense bombardment and acceleration of information to young women."

Weiner estimates that, during her childhood and adolescence, a girl will see tens of thousands of media images - including clothing advertisements in magazines, display ads on the Internet and billboards - dictating to her how she should look.

"Women's bodies for a long time have been separated from women's lives," she said. "We're used to seeing women's bodies pulled apart and hyper-airbrushed so as to look like mechanized, robotic images of a woman's body."

The pictures of stick-thin models can be hard to ignore.

About-face.com, a Web site dedicated to combating negative and distorted images of women, has listed the Top 10 offenders of body image. Included are some familiar names, such as Allure magazine, which About-Face.com claims repeatedly prints images of women than are not real or achievable, as well as some newer brands, such as Miss Bimbo, an online game designed to help players earn bimbo bucks in order to achieve their goals of an eating disorder, breast implants and a new hairstyle.

For some girls, the constant barrage of images can lead to an obsession with weight and body image. Judy Ford, the counselor at Kilby School in Florence, said it's happening to increasingly younger girls.

Ford said she's had conversations with children as young as 6 about weight because of peers taunting classmates who were overweight. She's also incorporated a unit at the sixth-grade level about eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia, after seeing girls not eating during lunch.

In addition to media images, Ford said, "peers and parents are part of it, too. If the girls never saw it in the media, they might not think about it, but, because they do, we have many of these problems."

In her role as a human growth and development professor at the University of North Alabama, Ford uses a textbook relating how deeply entrenched the notion "thin is in" has become in the American culture. Research in the book reveals many 6-year-old girls worry about becoming fat while some 40 percent of 9- and 10-year-olds are trying to lose weight.

"Why? Their concern is most often the result of the U.S. preoccupation with being slim, which permeates every sector of society," reads the textbook.

But it has not always been that way.

As recently as the 1940s and 1950s, it was not uncommon to see advertisements in magazines and newspapers encouraging women to take supplements in order to gain weight. Ford said a shift occurred when Twiggy, the infamously thin model from the 1960s, became the fashion icon of the time.

Dr. Karen Landers, a pediatrician by training and the area health officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health, sees some of the effects the desire to be thin can have on young girls.

"It starts young," she said. "Girls come in to the office and want to look like the latest teen idol. It's been Britney Spears, and now it's Miley Cyrus. I see many girls who want to lose 10 pounds overnight and don't want to go through the natural process of watching their fats and sugar and diet, but they go to the extreme measure of cutting out all of those types of food, which leads to further problems, such as anorexia and bulimia."

These problems cut across racial and socioeconomic lines, which Landers said indicates the degree to which American girls feel a desire to achieve a certain body type.

There are organizations trying to combat the stereotypes and teach girls how to build their self-esteem.

Weiner is also the global ambassador for Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty, an initiative started by the Unilever brand in 2004 to serve as a starting point for change and act as a catalyst for widening the definition of beauty. One aspect of the campaign has been a print ad campaign using regular women to promote Dove products.

"What's so revolutionary about this idea is that it's the first time women saw others who look like them in print," she said. "It allowed them to feel part of the message rather than just a recipient of the message. It challenges people's ideas of beauty and opened the conversation for the possibility of change. But, remember, societal change isn't easy, and, if it were, we'd all do it."

Weiner said she believes it's "100 percent possible" to effectively change how young girls and women feel about their bodies.

"We need to engage the community in sharing the same positive message for girls, so that they're not just hearing it from peers or parents, but from coaches, priests and counselors," she said. "It's also important for a mom or stepmom or grandmom to have a conversation with her. Have a quality conversation where you turn the TV off, get away from distractions and be engaged. That's what so many fifth-graders want - to be valued and not taken for granted."

Girls Scouts of the USA has partnered with Dove on the campaign and, as a result, has adopted the uniquely ME! initiative.

Judy Schoenberg, the director of research and outreach for Girl Scouts, has researched the best ways to approach girls in the 8- to 17-year-old age range to meet their specific needs.

"In 2006, we released a report called the 'New Normal' about what girls say about healthy living, and we talked in terms of the childhood obesity epidemic, how they define health and what health means to them," she said. "What we found is that girls view health not just about physical health, but there's an emotional component to it, too."

The study also revealed that how a mother views her body will greatly influence how her daughter feels about her appearance, Schoenberg said.

"We've heard anecdotally that fathers and male role models are important, and we can't underestimate the fact that girls size each other up and dress for each other," she said.

Fifth-grader Bailey Sims acknowledged peer pressure as something she has to contend with at school, but, overall she said she's fairly happy with how she looks. If she were to change anything about her appearance, though, it would be her legs.

"I think they're a little chubby," Bailey said. "But my mom is an inspiration to me. She had gastric bypass and lost all this weight, so I know it's something I can do to change."

Keeping the focus on health - not weight - is the critical component, Weiner said.

"We must redefine what healthy is and that thin does not equate to health," she said. "Health is a combination of the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well being. We have to gauge what is healthy for each of us, and, for girls, that means working with families and physicians to define what that is."


Former member
Materialism, Capitalism, Body identification, celebrity worship, consumerism & monetary gain as the highest ideal, denial of anything other than a scientific reductionist world view as having any basis. Is it any wonder that so many people are getting so tied into image as the primary motivating factor in their identity & as being the primary focus of their lives?