Recently I was interviewed by a 16-year-old girl for a teen blog on the topic of self-esteem. Below is part of that interview.
How can a girl be a good friend to her peers who seem to have personal struggles?
Having a close friend, a “best friend” or a group of friends that you can talk to openly is incredibly important for every girl. Sometimes there are things you just want to talk to a friend about. If a peer is dealing with a struggle and she comes to you/confides in you, that’s very important. It means that she feels safe with you and trust you as a friend. First and foremost, just being there to listen is always appreciated. Don’t think that you have to have all the answers. Just talking about something that maybe you have struggled with as well helps her feel not so alone in her situation. However, if your friend is struggling with something that could be damaging to herself, you can be supportive and listen, but you may need some input or guidance from an adult. That is a lot of responsibility for you to take on and you may need to talk to someone who has more experience in that area. A few suggestions would be: You can go with her and talk to your school counselor or you could go with her and talk to a family member. Bottom line, letting her know that you’re there for her whether you have all the answers or not is probably the most important thing.
How does a girl’s self-esteem in high school affect what happens to her later on?
The high school years are a critical time in a teen’s life. This is the time that developmental psychologists call “identity vs. role confusion.” Which just means, you are trying to figure out what you like , independent of your friends and family, and you are trying to decide who you want to become. So much is going on with a girl at this age mentally, physically and emotionally. Being comfortable with who you are is key. Having a positive relationship with your parents and having a group of girlfriends who you can trust is also important. If issues or challenges aren’t worked out during this phase in your life, chances are a girl will continue to deal with the same issues and struggles into college. Don’t keep things inside. Tell others how you feel. The #1 mistake I see from teens is not telling their parents when they are dealing with a big issue. Trust me, if you are dealing with something that you see as a struggle, your parents want to know about it and want to help you.
Can you imagine what a world would be like if young girls and women were healthy, happy, confident, and found themselves beautiful and worthy of love and respect all the time? Think of how much that could change our society. Eating disorders and other forms of self harm would diminish. Cosmetic surgery would reduce. The diet industry would falter. Girls and women could better reach their full potential and engage with their community in support of one another. That is what New York CityMayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to achieve. It’s a campaign called NYC Girls Project and it’s the first major city funded effort in support of influencing a healthy body image and self-esteem targeting young girls age 7-12. The project runs ads on buses and subways containing messages for building positive self-esteem. It’s also calling for physical fitness classes and after school programs looking for concrete ways to combat the beauty ideal that consumes American culture and the pressure to maintain a perfect appearance. The endeavor has created a buzz, with a mixture of positive affirmation as well as criticism on the effectiveness of the project. “Will it work?”
By now, most people know about the Dove Campaign For Real Beauty that was launched by Unilever in 2004. Similar to the NYC Girls Project, Dove created a team to help spread a wide variety of media coverage criticizing narrow beauty ideals while promoting healthy body and self-image in girls and women. This effort garnered attention from both supporters and naysayers. Regardless, studies have shown the project has been successful in helping build confidence and self-esteem in girls.
At this point, we are wise to think critically of campaigns that attempt to tackle this large issue, and we also need to remember that it won’t work magic overnight. It will take time and effort to make a change. The more communities, teams, schools and every day people that come together for this cause, the better we can find effective solutions to fight against poor self-esteem in girls. We need to not only understand when in a girl’s life they start to struggle from poor self-esteem, but we also need to realize specifically how it comes to be and then determine what can be done about it before the damage is done. Hopefully over time, actions taken in support of this movement can start a cultural shift and help change the way society views women and physical appearance, which in turn will start to shift the way girls and women feel about themselves and see themselves. I applaud the mayor for this effort, but time will tell if the support is there to have a truly lasting effect. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
The Latest Teenage Obsession “Thigh Gap.” How does it affect your self-esteem?
Most females can relate to the concept of looking at another woman and thinking; “I wish I looked more like her.” Maybe it’s her smile, her wavy hair or even her full lips…… but her thigh gap? In the past year the growing trend of “thigh gap” propaganda on the internet has changed passing thoughts of admiration for someone else, to being dangerously pursued by teenage girls who are seduced by the belief that having the coveted thigh gap (inner thighs which do not touch) is the ultimate touchstone of beauty. Experts Blame The Media For Promoting This Trend Amongst Teenage Girls and I think they are right. Thigh gap? Are you serious! What’s next…ear lobe envy.
The increasing infatuation that teenage girls have with “thigh gaps” grows even more disturbing when you begin to investigate it further. Just a simple Google search, shows several top page results not only advising young girls on how they can achieve thigh gaps, but also promoting Pro-ana thigh gap culture. Only buried underneath a collection of Thinspiration and other pro-thigh gap tumblrs and blogs, you can find actual informative research articles that explain the dangers of this new body obsession and why it is physically unachievable for most people. Most experts say that this demonstrates a new low in self-esteem and body acceptance amongst young girls caused by the social pressures to achieve this ridiculous standard of beauty.
When you consider the negative health and psychological ramifications of pursuing “thigh gap” status, it is a lot darker than one would initially want to believe. Young girls are cheering each other on, in online forums to purse “thigh gap” status. Encouraging anorexia and bulimic behavior as well as self-harming, and suicidal tendencies if the thigh gap is not achieved. Again, for many females thigh gap is physically impossible at a healthy weight. We are not talking about changing ones hair color or personal style. This practice condones seriously damaging behavior.
We can’t let our younger generations of women be defeated by this kind of propaganda. There needs to be more action taken to inform young girls about self-esteem and body image AND less emphasis placed on promoting and literally “selling” beauty to the vulnerable and young.
As far as I am concerned, we have all become victims of our cultural obsession with being “perfect” (whatever that means.) The “thigh gap” obsession is just one more expression of this that breeds peer pressure, anxiety and depression triggered by the bullying that coincides with the “Thigh Gap” pursuit culture that is found online.