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Body Image



The results of a UK survey of 500 pupils carried out by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) revealed that one in three thought about their body shape all the time. The survey discovered that only 14% of teenage schoolgirls are happy with the way they look.

The association’s manifesto says, “Young women are vulnerable to the pressure to conform to an ideal. Worrying about their weight and dieting is commonplace among young women, resulting in low self-esteem..” The survey discovered that only 14% of teenage schoolgirls are happy with the way they look. The YWCA urged that poor self-esteem and a low body image must be tackled in schools. They also found that ethnic minority and disabled young women rarely receive a positive portrayal in the media. The group is calling on the media and fashion industry to put greater emphasis on images of women, which reflect the diversity of shapes, sizes and ethnicity of the modern-day British woman. (BBC News Education: Schoolgirls ‘suffer poor body image’ 30th April 02)

Speaking at the Body Image Summit in London Dr. Vivien Nathanson said: “We see that women with poor self-image do a lot of damage to themselves, not only because some will go on to get eating disorders, but because they are often more likely to smoke, they may indulge in other harmful activities including drug taking, they are probably less likely to push themselves in terms of their career opportunities and educational opportunities.” (BBC news article broadcast on the 21st June 2000)

“Within three years of the introduction of US-based television to Fiji the Western ideal of beauty has caused bulimia in 15% of adolescent girls.” (Susie Orbach, Essay: The fight for our bodies)

  • 50% girls will diet during adolescence (at least).
  • Anorexia affects one 15 year old in every 150.
  • 30% of children with anorexia are boys.
  • At least 2% of female university students have an eating disorder.
  • Over the past 30 years reported cases of anorexia have doubled every decade.
  • Research shows that there is a genetic disposition to anorexia.
  • There are people in their 70s with anorexia.
  • The average teenager watches 10,000 adverts per year. There is a lot of pressure from the media to be thin, and generally in western culture thin is considered beautiful. By controlling their eating patterns some young people hope to deal with unhappiness, depression, stress, confusion and seek to overcome a lack of self-confidence.
  • 68% of men and 58% of women in the UK are overweight or obese.

Some teenagers harm themselves. “Self-injury” is any sort of self-harm which involves inflicting injuries or pain on one’s own body. It can take many forms. The most common form of self-injury is probably cutting, usually superficially, but sometimes deeply.

There are always powerful reasons for self-harming. Self-injury, though more shocking, bears many similarities to other “ordinary” forms of self-harm. Like drink or drugs, hurting him/herself may help a teenager block out painful feelings. It may provide danger and distraction, relieving feelings of guilt or shame.

  • As your daughter begins to mature physically, do not stop doing activities together.
  • Being uncomfortable with your daughter’s changing body will cause her to be unhappy with herself, resulting in low self-esteem.
  • Treating women with respect will show her how she should expect to be treated by men.
  • Tell her you love her. It is very important that a daughter hears that her father loves her. Don’t assume she knows it, tell her anyway. She needs to hear the words.
  • Talk about magazine covers and television advertisements. Explain how producers and publishers use computer imaging, photography touch-ups, clothes, hair colouring, and make-up to make their models look that way. Explain that they can add or take away breasts, hips, muscles, uneven teeth, silky hair, and even tattoos.
  • Think about what you say about your own body and weight. If you think you need to lose weight, do it quietly. Talking about it, only draws attention to your opinion that a healthy body is one that weighs a certain amount.
  • Be aware of how you use food. If food is used as a reward, stress reliever or something that has to be avoided as “bad for you” your teen will model your behaviour. Instead, try to view food as something you need to maintain a healthy body. When you have a “treat,” enjoy it don’t describe it as “bad” for you.
  • Be aware of what you say about others. Making comments such as “that fat kid on your team” or “the fat lady at the check-out,” you are telling a child that weight is the determining description of a person.
  • When you talk to your teenager about body image try to listen more than you talk. You can’t impose your standards on them, but you can teach by example. How much value do you place on your physical being? Is it more than on your spiritual being? If so, maybe you need to re-evaluate your priorities.
  • The most important thing you can do if you suspect a young person is bingeing and purging is to act. Take professional advice. Eating disorders are “coping mechanisms.” Your son or daughter needs to understand what caused them to turn to the behaviour in the first place and then develop better coping mechanisms in order to deal with those underlying causes and, thus, change the coping behaviour.
  • Above all, know that bulimia is a “learned behaviour.” It becomes “ingrained,” second nature, with practice. The more the cycle continues, the more self-confidence becomes eroded, and the more easily a young person will succumb to the behaviour. The sooner it is dealt with, the sooner this destructive behaviour can be “unlearned.”
  • Find out what your child knows about ‘chicken scratching.’ A term used by UK school children to describe’ a person cutting themselves. (Note: Naturally, you may feel upset, shocked or angry if someone you care about is hurting himself or herself. Try to focus on the person in pain behind the injuries. The most precious things you can offer are acceptance and support. Let a child know you understand that self-injury is a strategy for coping. She/he is not “bad” or “mad” for doing it. Invite him/her to talk about their feelings. Try to assess how serious a problem it is and decide if you need to seek further help then act accordingly.)

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