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Admiring the Wrong Way…Adolescent Girls Who Imitate Movie Stars

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Adolescence is one of the most difficult stages in life, especially for girls. Once girls reach 11 or 12 years old, they go through a variety of emotional and physiological changes. They begin to develop greater self-awareness, and with that comes some areas of increased self-esteem.

More often than not, adolescence brings with it greater insecurity and lower self-esteem among girls, especially with regard to body image. Insecurity over weight is made worse due to the cultural pressure to be thin. These unhealthy messages can cause teen girls to have a distorted view of their bodies, which can lead to depression, stress, and even eating disorders.

What Our Society Is Communicating to Teenage Girls

The standard that most teens have for thinness and attractiveness is an extreme, unhealthy version of the female body which can only be achieved through food deprivation. Girls develop this view of beauty from magazines, TV, movies, and the internet. For instance, about one out of every four commercials communicates a message about what society finds attractive, and the typical teenager is exposed to more than 5,000 of these commercials a year.1

In a study of over 500 adolescent girls, 69 percent said that they get their idea of what their body should look like from magazine covers, and 47 percent said that pictures of models in magazines made them want to lose weight.2  Teenage girls’ self-esteem is directly connected to weight. This data suggests that adolescent girls’ self-image is heavily determined by social standards.

All of this research points to the fact that entertainment and media are contributing to girls having low self-esteem and feeling pressured to lose unhealthy amounts of weight. Movies, magazines, and TV shows subtly communicate to teenage girls that being stick-thin will make them attractive, increase their popularity, help them find a boyfriend, and win them success in life. Thus, many adolescent girls feel like if they don’t have a super model figure, then they’re not pretty and will not be accepted by their peers.

Eating Disorders

In light of what our society is communicating to teenage girls, this age group has the greatest risk for developing eating disorders. Adolescence girls are even more vulnerable considering the rapid body changes and hormone increases that come during adolescence.

During this time, girls are looking for acceptance, self-worth, and identity. And their standard for self-worth and identity is being dominated by the flood of images of anorexic models that seem to represent the ideal body type. Because of these societal influences, adolescent girls are driven to eating disorders in order to lose unhealthy amounts of weight so that they can achieve this ideal figure.

It’s no surprise that females make up about 85 percent of those who struggle with anorexia and they usually develop this disorder somewhere between age 13 and 20. In fact, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders states that one out of every 200 teenage girls has food deprivation issues.3 And 20 out of every 100 girls being treated for anorexia will die from it.

Healthy Weight Loss

Maintaining a healthy weight should be encouraged among young people but not at the expense of their self-esteem. There are certain body proportions that girls can’t control, and they shouldn’t be expected to. Thus, girls should strive to reach a healthy weight in light of their height and body frame, not the unrealistic standards of our culture.

You also need to encourage your daughters to get the adequate amount of calories per day. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that adolescent girls get somewhere between 1,400 and 2,200 calories depending on their body frame and lifestyle.4 It’s important to stress that weight loss should never happen through food deprivation. Rather, it should come through a nutritious diet and a regular exercise regimen. And once girls reach a healthy weight range, they should focus on maintaining their health and weight, not on losing additional weight.

We also need to reinforce positive messages to adolescent girls, communicating to them that they are beautiful just as they are, and that there is no such thing as a perfect body. We need to constantly be reminding our daughters that they don’t have to look like the models they see on TV in order to be pretty. It may also be helpful to expose teenage girls to role models who don’t fit the stick-thin model image, but who, nonetheless, are strong, courageous, smart, healthy women.

Ultimately, our society has to learn how to celebrate the various types of female figures, rather than making the ultra-thin body type the standard for teen girls and women. And our culture needs to highlight other aspects of femininity besides looks. In order to be confident, self-accepting individuals, teenage girls need to know that their self-worth isn’t tied to their weight or body type. Rather, it’s rooted in their character.

That’s not to say it’s wrong to start a diet and exercise program in order to improve your appearance, but if your sole motivation to lose weight comes from feelings of low self-esteem and insecurity, then that could lead to an unhealthy view of weight loss, and even result in an eating disorder.

That’s why you should pursue weight loss for positive reasons like wanting to be healthier and live a more active life. Teaching your teenage girls about the importance of adopting a healthy lifestyle will help them to view exercise and nutrition in a positive light. It will also help girls see that their life isn’t determined by the standards of society; it’s determined by their character and the choices they make, which is a much healthier standard of self-worth.



 References

Cassell, D., & Gleaves, D. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Obesity and Eating Disorders.New York: Facts on File.

Cassell, D., & Gleaves, D. (2006). The Encyclopedia of Obesity and Eating Disorders.New York: Facts on File.

3 American Psychiatric Association. (2002).Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.Arlington,VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.Washington,DC: Government Printing Office.

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