by Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC
If you tweet on Twitter, you will see many #Thighgap. There is always something new, and it appears thigh gap is the new way girls are comparing themselves with one another to feel thin and pretty. Thigh Gap is the space between your legs, and our tweens and teens are starving themselves to achieve it. In a recent TED lecture by a popular Victoria's Secret model, she states that 58% of all thirteen-year-old girls report disliking their bodies! And by the time girls are seventeen years of age, 78% of them don't like their bodies. This model goes on to explain that outside of plastic surgery and lighting, there is little anyone can do to alter their body. Genetics basically determine our looks, our bodies and whether or not girls have thigh gap.
Websites such as thinspo, and thinspirtation promote starvation. However, the body is more vulnerable to bad nutrition especially during the tween and teen years. Social media has made it possible for girls to compare their bodies, makeup and hair twenty--four hours a day, and Pinterest helps them pin only the best looks on their Facebook page. It's become a game or way of life for many girls to try and achieve what lighting, makeup artists and genetics do for models. Parents don't become concerned until their child becomes ill, and a pediatrician/doctor tells them that their child is suffering from severe malnutrition.
Beauty is power, and no one can deny that we judge and treat people based on looks. However, when achieving "the look" means you are willing to forfeit your health, social life, and school, it becomes a sickness. Girls who starve themselves and feel bad about the way they look cripple themselves way beyond their school years. Their body image suffers through much of their adult life as well. One of the underlying causes of addictions is due to a poor self-esteem due to body image.
The key to helping girls deal with their self concept, self esteem and distorted body image is being aware that it is happening, listening to your daughter, and talking to her about it. As a parent, you don't have to help them starve, but you do need to be in touch with the pressure they are feeling, and offer healthy options as a way of coping with their stress.
Below are a few more suggestions that can help build your daughter's self concept and help repair her distorted body image.
Feeling pretty and popular is important during the teen years. Self-esteem isn't stagnant it continues to be built throughout children's teen years and on into adulthood. Helping your child build a healthy self concept is part of parenting, but their friends and the community at large influence what makes your child feel better about themselves as well. Telling your child that they are beautiful and shouldn't worry will not repair a distorted self body image as much as listening to them and helping them make a healthy plan. Moms struggle with their distorted body image no matter how old they become. Taking the opportunity to help their daughter heal may have the additional benefit of helping them heal.
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.