Even as women have made enormous strides in education, politics, and the workplace, girls report struggling with body image and self-esteem at younger and younger ages and stories abound about bullying around appearance and sexual behavior.
Girls’ dissatisfaction manifests around body image, particularly weight, at an alarmingly young age:
- Over 80 percent of 10-year-old girls are afraid of being fat.1
- By middle school, 40-70 percent of girls are dissatisfied with two or more parts of their body, and body satisfaction hits rock bottom between the ages of 12 and 15.2
Notably, girls’ self-esteem plummets at age 12 and doesn’t improve until 203, an-unhappiness attributed to changes in body shape, as “females first experience a decline in self-esteem between the ages of 12 and 13, a time when most females have entered puberty.”
A fair amount of this unhappiness and pressure results from media– which presents images that tend to portray a narrow standard of beauty.
According to a 2010 study 5:
- 81 percent of girls would rather see “real” or “natural” photos of models than touched-up, airbrushed versions, yet 47 percent say fashion magazines give them a body image to strive for.
- 63 percent of girls think the body image represented by the fashion industry is unrealistic and 47 percent think it is unhealthy, yet 60 percent say that they compare their bodies to fashion models, 48 percent wish they were as skinny as the models in fashion magazines, and 31 percent of girls admit to starving themselves or refusing to eat as a strategy to lose weight.
In short, girls see images that – despite recognizing as unrealistic, unattainable, and often not even real – they aspire to meet and then suffer when they can’t help but fail to do so.
The impact of these struggles on girls’ psyches may be incalculable. But there are additional real and measurable health consequences that make this a policy obligation for our office: including eating disorders, bullying, alcohol abuse, early onset of sexual activity and, perhaps, counter-intuitively, and obesity.
Eating disorders: Deadly, pervasive, and triggered by “garden-variety” dieting (35 percent of normal dieters progress to pathological dieting and, of those, 20-25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders), eating disorders typically begin in adolescence or early adulthood.6
- An estimated 24 million people suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, all of which can be triggered by “garden-variety” dieting.7
- Up to 4.2 percent of women have suffered from anorexia; up to 4 percent will have bulimia; 2.8 percent of American adults will struggle with binge eating disorder.8
- 13 percent of women smoke to lose weight.9
- Teenage girls often start to smoke to avoid weight gain.10
- Teenage girls with low self-esteem are twice as likely to report alcohol use.11
- 12-year-old girls with low self-esteem are two-and-a-half times more likely to engage in heavy alcohol use at age 15.12
- Obese children were 63 percent more likely to be bullied regardless of gender, race, family income, social skills, academic achievement, or school composition.13
Early Onset of Sexual Activity
- Girls who had high self-esteem in seventh grade were three times more likely to have remained virgins than were girls with low self-esteem.14
- The risk of teenage motherhood is raised – by up to 50 percent – among teenage girls with lower self-esteem.15
- Young girls who dieted had three times the odds of being overweight five years later compared with girls not using weight-control behaviors.16
- Persistent use of dieting and unhealthy weight-control behaviors predicted greater increases in body mass index (BMI) 10 years later in overweight and non-overweight respondents.17
- People who feel discriminated or stigmatized against because of their weight were two-and-a-half times more likely to become obese, regardless of their actual weight.18
While there are groups that advocate and provide support for girls, no city government in the United States has addressed the issue of girls’ self-esteem and body image. New York City is uniquely positioned to leverage the work of colleagues and contribute new and compelling content.
Our multi-pronged, cross-agency approach will seek to change social norms with a public education campaign that provides a counter message of positive, aspirational images to combat the media that girls are influenced by every day and a curriculum that promotes healthy eating, positive body image and self-esteem and teaches girls to think critically about, and challenge, constructed media images.
1 Andrist, Linda C. "Media Images, Body Dissatisfaction, and Disordered Eating in Adolescent Women." MCN: The American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing 28.2 (2003).
2 Cash, Thomas F., and Thomas Pruzinsky. Body Image: A Handbook of Theory, Research, and Clinical Practice. New York: Guilford, 2002. Print.
3 Hoffman, J.P., and S.A. Baldwin. "The Dynamics of Self-Esteem: A Growth-Curve Analysis." Journal of Youth and Adolescence (2002).
4 Fouts, Gregory, and Kimberly Burggraf. "Television Situation Comedies: Female Body Images and Verbal Reinforcements." Sex Roles: A Journal of Research 40.5-6 (1999): n. pag. Print.
5 Girl Scouts of the USA and The Dove Self-Esteem Fund
6 Shisslak, C.M., Crago, M., & Estes, L.S. (1995). The Spectrum of Eating Disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18 (3): 209-219.
7 "Eating Disorder Statistics." ANAD.org. National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc, n.d. Web. 29 July 2013. http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.
8 "Eating Disorder Statistics & Research." Eating Disorder Hope RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. http://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/statistics-studies.
9 Preidt, Robert. "Disordered Eating Is Widespread Among U.S. Women." ABC News. ABC News Network, 24 Apr. 0000. Web. 26 July 2013. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Healthday/story?id=4726783.
10 U.S Department of Health and Human Services. Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2001. http://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/about-smoking/facts-figures/women-and-tobacco-use.html.
11 "Fact Sheet: Girls and Alcohol." CasaColumbia.org. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2007. Web. http://www.casacolumbia.org/articlefiles/412-GIRLS%20AND%20ALCOHOL_CASA%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.
13 Puhl, Rebecca M., Jamie Lee Petersen, and Joerg Luedicke. "Weight-Based Victimization: Bullying Experiences of Weight Loss Treatment–Seeking Youth." Pediatrics. N.p., 24 July 2012. Web. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/1/e1.abstract?sid=fc5b80c8-5518-4e81-890a-4663f645b4a2.
14 Spencer, J. M., G. D. Zimet, M. C. Aalsma, and D. P. Orr. "Self-Esteem as a Predictor of Initiation of Coitus in Early Adolescents." Pediatrics 109.4 (2002): 581-84. Print.
15 Dennison, Catherine. "Teenage Pregnancy: An Overview of the Research Evidence." Teenage Pregnancy Unit (n.d.): p. 6. Nice.org. 2004. Web. http://www.nice.org.uk/niceMedia/documents/teenpreg_evidence_overview.pdf.
16 Neumarksztainer, D., M. Wall, J. Guo, M. Story, J. Haines, and M. Eisenberg. "Obesity, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in a Longitudinal Study of Adolescents: How Do Dieters Fare 5 Years Later?" Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106.4 (2006): 559-68. Print.
17 Neumarksztainer, D., M. Wall, J. Guo, M. Story, J. Haines, and M. Eisenberg. "Obesity, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in a Longitudinal Study of Adolescents: How Do Dieters Fare 5 Years Later?" Journal of the American Dietetic Association 106.4 (2006): 559-68. Print.
18 Sutin, Angelina R. and Antonio Terracciano, “Perceived Weight Discrimination and Obesity,” Web, PLOS One http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0070048.