Have you ever looked into a mirror and thought about all the reasons why you’re just absolutely hideous? Ever thought “my thighs are HUGE!” or “my eyes are too close together,” or “my arms are too flabby,”? I know I have. So have many teen girls all over the globe. We’re all obsessed with looking perfect, being beautiful, or hot or skinny. We’re so quick to hate ourselves for things that we can’t change. The question is, why do we do it? Why do we torture ourselves about being imperfect if everybody is?
The answer? The media. In our eyes, NOT everybody is imperfect. We are constantly bombarded with images of thin, provocative ‘beautiful’ teens on the covers of magazines, on the runway, on TV, everywhere. It’s inescapable, and it affects everyone. From the way you dress to the way you see your reflection in the mirror, it even affects the activities you partake in. According to Sharon Lamb, “Some girls won’t participate in sports because they’re afraid they’ll bulk up” It’s crazy and out of control, a complete epidemic forming of girls obsessed with being thin.
The obsession is fairly new, most girls are surprised to find out that the popular sex symbol, Marilyn Monroe wore a size 14 in jeans. Though the problem is a new one, it’s growing rapidly. Surveys show that 63% of girls think about improving their body in some way every single day. If you think the media only affects teenagers, picture this. A 16 year old Virginia native states that “I was babysitting for an 8 year old girl, and she asked me how many calories a bottle of clearly canadian had. She’s 8! What does she need to be thinking about that for?!” However, it’s not that little girl’s fault. Her world is being transformed around her. 8 year olds no longer play with dolls. They wear makeup, they go to the mall, they act like the average 16 year old would have YEARS ago. Adult, skimpy clothes are being sold in sizes small enough to fit 7 year old girls. Advertisers are starting to market their clothes to the younger age group because they know they are more susceptible. They’re being pressured and taught at 1st or 2nd grade that beauty is thin, that’s what they want in life, and if they want that, they had better get started on achieving it now. Most girls are told that they need it all. A successful career, amazing body, independence and smarts, but they don’t realize how much pressure is being set on themselves by it. They can’t stop, even though the goal is obviously atrociously unattainable.
Modeling agencies beg to differ. Kelly Cutrone states that her models are completely natural. She says, “If they bend over, are you going to see the rib cage? Yes, they are naturally thin,” Statistics show differently. Sure, SOME models are naturally thin, but there are many who are starving themselves to stay on the job, even girls passing out on the set because they have not eaten in days. However, the people booking the models try to make it seem like the girls they hire are healthy, when it’s so obvious they’re not. As a result, average teenage girls think these unhealthy models are beautiful, and strive to be like them, even if it’s totally irrational.
Reaching for an impossible goal can lead to their depression, self harm, and in some cases, their suicide. With pressure from parents, peers, school, sports AND the media, who could blame a girl for feeling less than stellar? Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents. Do you want to be the cause of a teen’s death? Would you want to be responsible the loss of some daddy’s little girl, a center on the school soccer team, an amazing actress, a future doctor, of so much potential? Girls with low self esteem are more likely to commit suicide. It’s a fact of life. Not a pretty one, but it’s a fact all the same. Suicide and self harm amongst teens can be prevented. Are you willing to go the extra mile?
Most teens are influenced by their parents, friends and boyfriend or girlfriend. ?Studies show that teens in a healthy home environment with supportive, loving parents have better body images than girls in less stable environments without so much support in the home. Studies also show that the majority of girls, (56%) feel that their friends have better bodies than them. It’s all part of this irrational fear we have of being overweight.
This fear is often just what forces teen girls into an eating disorder. One out of every 100 girls aged 10-20 has anorexia. That may not seem like a lot, but it DOES mean that an estimated 31% of girls have anorexia world wide, and that’s a huge problem. It’s self esteem issues that is causing one out of every 100 girls in the world to struggle through a silent war, one not every girl wins. One in ten people diagnosed with anorexia die, either from suicide or complications of the disease. So why do we do it? Why do we become so obsessed with being thin that we actually make ourselves sick?
Think about this: You’re a 13 year old girl. You’re at your best friend’s house, watching TV when all of a sudden, an ad comes on for your favorite brand of clothing. The models are beautiful, what are you thinking? This may not be the case, but in my case, I would be thinking, I wish I looked like her. That’s where the problem starts. You find yourself skipping meals, counting pounds, doing whatever it takes to look like her, when in reality, she doesn’t even look like her. Her image has gone through extensive photo retouching and “fixing”. Her blemishes removed, eye color changed, flyaway hair put back in order, pounds shed from her photo like skin from a snake. However, you don’t know that. Soon you’ve got a real problem, but you can’t seem to stop. Some girls get help, but for many others, it’s too late. They starve themselves to death because of a model with unrealistic appearances that made them think less of themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. Some girls DO have the power to resist the images thrown at them through the media, though the percentage is small at a mere 18%. That also means that if only 18% of girls have the power to resist, 82% of girls don’t. Shocked yet? I was when I started researching for this paper, especially when I came to the facts about the necessity to be thin to make it in the acting business. A comedian, Jackie Guerra was told by her producer, “Jackie, I’d rather you smoke two packs a day than eat more than 1,000 calories a day.” So where does it end? If producers would rather girls smoke enough to give them serious health side affects than eat more than 1,000 calories a day, when will they finally be good enough? The average teenage girl needs roughly 2,200 calories per day. An 800-1,000 calorie diet can be dangerously low and have serious consequences. Think about it, you would be getting less than half of what you need per day, at the very most. So should we be listening to the things that are told to us by the media when the consequences can be serious health risks, and in some cases, death?
If you’re still not convinced that this is a big problem, consider this. The average teenage girl weighs 138 pounds at around 5’3” to 5’6”. The average model averages out to height of 5’10” and up, at a weight of 120 to 124 pounds. Girls are going to extremes to fit the mold given to them by these “abnormalities, or freaks of nature” as Cutrone put it. While some just don’t eat at all, others eat large meals, then feel bad about it and make themselves vomit to get the food out of their systems. This can lead to serious respiratory problems, it can make your esophagus bleed, it dries your hair, discolors your nails and rots your teeth from the constant flow of acid coming from your throat through to your mouth. Now, doesn’t that sound just so glamorous? However, that’s not all that girls do to attempt to lose weight. Some overtake dieting pills or exercise to the point of exhaustion. You may think it’s just a girl’s way of gaining attention, however science shows that the part of the brain that gains pleasure from taking in food has died out in anorexics. They literally can’t stop, even though many may want to at that point.
In conclusion, this is an important topic to me. I have seen a couple of my friends struggle through anorexia or bulimia, I have witnessed, the confusion, the hurt, the desperation, all first hand. Where’s it coming from? The media. So next time, maybe you should think before you press the “retouch” button on that photo.