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Teaching Our Girls to Love Their True Selves
The media can be a dangerous animal. Whether it is magazines, movies, music or television, we are constantly bombarded with images of what is and isn’t considered to be beautiful and how we can fit the standard. As adults, we are able to logically decipher these messages and recognize what is truth and what is a deception. However, it usually isn’t that simple where you are entering your teen years and beginning to learn who you are.
Young girls today are faced with the huge issue of having to attempt to fit into society’s expectation of them and can easily fall into the traps of developing low-self-esteem. Not only can it be detrimental for their confidence, but it can also lead to health issues should our young girls take a more dangerous route towards correcting their body dissatisfaction.
Studies have shown that young girls who regularly looked at women’s magazines and watched music videos had higher levels of dissatisfaction with their appearance and became more aware of dieting practices. Moreover, according to statistics presented by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 47% of girls in grades 5-12 admitted to wanting to lose weight due to images seen in pictures. Over time, the desire to emulate women in the media can lead to bigger problems such as eating disorders, if it is not addressed early on.
Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder where individuals possess an intense fear of becoming fat, is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents. Those dealing with anorexia adopt unhealthy dieting and exercise practices in an effort to achieve a distorted body image. Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa include significant weight loss, dental decay, dehydration and dry skin. If left untreated, it can lead to shut down of major body systems, infertility, heart attacks and in worst cases, death.
Bulimia Nervosa is when an individual consumes large quantities of food and then proceeds to engage in some form of purging activities (i.e. vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, etc.) to prevent weight gain. Those who suffer from Bulimia Nervosa tend to be at a healthy weight so it’s important to look for other signs indicating the disorder such as foul-smelling breath, damaged teeth and gums, persistent sores in the throat and mouth, and frequent visits to the bathroom during and after meals.
Depression and anxiety are other common occurrences that can plague young girls when it comes to self-image. The pressure to fit in and mirror the unrealistic images fed to them can lead to destructive emotions that may grow into a state of depression. In fact, nearly 50% of individuals who deal with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression.
Studies have found that exposing girls to healthy practices at a young age can help them to develop a more positive perception of themselves, improved focus and mental clarity and a better overall psychological development. Activities such as sports and exercise have been shown to create higher levels of alertness and greater focus and attention. Additionally, they can have a positive effect on behavior.
When asked if they wanted to be thinner, 42% of girls in grades 1st-3rd stated that they did. It is for this reason, amongst others, why young girls should be exposed to positive images of women and taught how to love themselves for exactly who they are. Encouraging them to take part in activities they truly enjoy will motivate them to love and appreciate the natural talents and beauty with which they have been gifted. Over time this will allow them to develop a natural and positive self-image of themselves.
By teaching our young girls what it means to have a healthy self-image, we are able to empower the future women of tomorrow to love themselves unapologetically. They deserve to know that the media images directed towards them are not realistic representations of who or what they should aim to become. Us women who fill roles as mothers, big sisters, aunts, godmothers and other mentoring capacities must do our part to stir our young girls in the right direction so that they may love themselves exactly the way they are.
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