Imagine girls worrying about whether they’re thin enough at age 10. Yes, the issue of body image is beginning younger and younger with each generation. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Robin Goodman, “Girls’ self-esteem peaks when they are 9 years old, then takes a nosedive.”
The low self-esteem seems to be caused, in part, by the influx of media images.
“Sixty-nine percent of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape,” according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
With the impact of magazines, television, Internet and social media, women’s and girls’ bodies become the center of criticism.
Kathleen French, WCC sociology professor said, “Women’s bodies tend to be public. The typical body image is typically thin, white and certain proportions — for instance, breast size.”
With the technology wave, girls are exposed to more images of women compared to the past. It’s common to see, in magazines especially, articles and ads promoting certain looks for hair, makeup and clothes.
Marley, a 14-year-old interviewed by Ka ‘Ohana said, “It (my unhealthy body image) has to do with the people I see in magazines.”
When girls begin puberty, they start comparing themselves to grown women. In elementary school, looks may not be a priority; however, their views begin to change in middle school.
“We focus too much on looks,” French said. She recommends that parents say to their daughters that they are “smart or a great athlete” instead.
Not only is body image an issue, but it comes with a dose of low self-esteem and bullying.
Marley added, “It started in 6th grade. A lot of posts (on social media) promote being thinner.”
If girls don’t look like the images they’re exposed to, it causes them to feel bad about themselves. Weight today has become an issue for teens, involving eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
With social media, cyberbullying happens more often than we may think. The problem with anonymity is that people are not accountable for what they say and it makes the problem of cyberbullying much worse.
How can parents help to prevent problems such as cyberbullying? Are schools doing enough to support students? Both teachers and parents can instill a sense of empathy — to understand how the other person might feel if teased.
French added, “A parent can make their children accountable for their actions, make them say they’re sorry.”
A documentary called “Bully,” directed by Emmy award-winning filmmaker Lee Hirsch, follows five children who have been bullied in school. It shows how the Internet has only made it easier for bullies to continue to affect their victims and what families can do about it.
Children will have to learn how to protect themselves, with the help of their parents, not only at school, but also on the Web.
As for girls’ self-esteem, French noted, “Our idea of what it means to be female is changing.”
For instance, the possibility of electing a female president, the increase in women CEOs, athletes, scientists and more can send positive messages to young girls.
French said, “Body isn’t the only thing we see and (we can tell girls) we value their intellect and contributions to the world.”
by Madison Cole, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter